Make-Ahead Appetizers | Advance Planning is Key to Enjoying Lakeside Entertaining


The doorbell rings. Guests are here! When entertaining at Smith Mountain Lake, few tend to tarry too long in the house. Friends and family move quickly outside to the decks and porches, yards and piers, where they can soak up the beauty and tranquility of the lake.

As the host, where would you rather be? Outside enjoying yourself and your company or trapped in the kitchen, chopping, baking and scrambling to plate enough appetizers to feed your crowd?

From last-minute, drop-in guests to larger planned gatherings, entertaining is more fun when you’re part of the party, not a slave to the kitchen. Smart hosts know the trick to pulling off a gathering that is as enjoyable for you as it is for your guests: Do as much as you can in advance, so when that doorbell rings, you can whisk off the apron and join the party.

By following a few easy guidelines, you can prepare your appetizers weeks or days ahead, freeze or refrigerate them until needed, and enjoy peace of mind of knowing you can have a lovely spread of hors d’oeuvres ready and waiting at short notice.

Weeks Before

There are tons of delicious appetizers that can be made weeks ahead, frozen and pulled out on the day of your lake gathering. Many savories fall into this category. Think pot stickers, sliders, meatballs, mini quiches, and most doughs for making cheese sticks or puffs. Crab cakes and twice-baked potato bites are also crowd-pleasers that freeze nicely. These appetizers are hearty and can also double as light dinners, if necessary, when paired with a soup or salad.

When freezing prepared food, it is important to follow certain guidelines to ensure your apps come out of the freezer looking and tasting as good as when they went in. You want your creations to freeze as quickly as possible after preparation and stay frozen until you plan to use them. In general, the faster food freezes, the better condition it will be in when thawed. A few helpful tips:

  • Package your appetizers in small, freezer-safe containers. Don’t forget to label and date.
  • Chill containers of prepared food in the refrigerator before freezing; this will help them freeze more efficiently. Move containers to the freezer once cold.
  • Don’t place unfrozen items next to each other (though it’s perfectly fine to go back once they are frozen and stack them together).

Days Before

A few days before you plan to entertain, make a list of appetizers you have on hand (remember those you froze a few weeks ago?) and the ones you still plan to make. The goal of this planning is to minimize your workload on the day of the party, so think of what can be shopped for and assembled a few days ahead.

There are several good options for appetizers that can be made a couple of days in advance and brought out at party time, including layered dips, terrines, cheese balls, salsas and deviled eggs. These often are the appetizers that require substantial chopping, mixing or peeling and perhaps the aid of a food processor or counter mixer—invaluable time-savers to be sure, but not what you want out on your countertop on the day of the party! 

This classification of appetizers can be refrigerated for a day or two and can even be plated, so that (as in the case of dips, salsa or terrines) you can simply pop them out of the refrigerator and add fresh tortilla chips, sliced baguettes, or whatever you have planned for your guests to enjoy with your creations. These accompaniments can also be purchased several days to weeks in advance, and many seasoned hosts simply keep their pantries stocked with various chips and crackers that can be pulled out at a moment’s notice to serve alongside homemade appetizers.


Party Day

If you’ve planned well, on the day of your gathering (or perhaps the night before) the only things you will need to remember to do are defrost your frozen appetizers and preheat your oven.  Everything else is ready to bring out just before guests arrive.

The most gracious hosts understand that entertaining that appears effortless is really just entertaining that is well planned. So get out there and enjoy! Instead of spending precious time at your own party making appetizers, make memories with your friends and family. Having a menu of delicious, no-fuss appetizers ready and available, with minimal effort once guests arrive, is the key to enjoying those unforgettable lakeside gatherings from the porch, not the kitchen.