Some of my favorite Thanksgivings have been spent at my cousin Paula’s annual gatherings. She always encourages us to come early so we’ll have plenty of time to relax and chat — or watch the Dallas Cowboys game.
Of course, as soon as she opens the door your appetite roars to life from the aroma of Thanksgiving turkey and savory side dishes bubbling in the oven. But since dinner won’t be ready for quite awhile, appetizers — not to mention some bubbly to go with them — are always an important part of the occasion.
Finger foods are my favorite way to eat, so I love preparing an appetizer to bring to special occasions. This year, the holidays are likely to be a smaller affair. But regardless of how many people are sitting at your table, there’s bound to be a variety of dietary needs, so cooking for special occasions can get a little complicated. One person might be gluten intolerant, another is vegetarian, and someone else decided to launch their low-carb diet during the biggest food holiday of the year.
No problem. We’ve put together a carefully culled list of 36 wonderful hors d’oeuvres — organized for almost every special need from kid-friendly to keto, as well as some fabulous favorites for those lucky folks who can eat anything.
Whether you make just one platter or a whole array of these scrumptious munchies, it’s a great start for a Thanksgiving dinner that will joyously include everyone!
The ultimate list of Thanksgiving appetizer recipes
One way to create perfect appetizers for your Thanksgiving feast is with special seasonal touches to the classics, like pumpkin hummus, autumn pear, and prosciutto hors d’oeuvres, or a spectacular crudité platter designed to look like a turkey.
No matter what your tastes — or which current diet trends your family members are following — these Thanksgiving appetizer recipes suit a variety of needs without sacrificing flavor or style.
Jump ahead to:
Kid-friendly Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Vegan Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Vegetarian Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Gluten-free Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Low-carb Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Paleo Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Keto Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Make-ahead Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Favorite Thanksgiving appetizers >>
Kid-friendly Thanksgiving appetizers
Thanksgiving creates the warm holiday memories children carry through life, and the dishes below have such enormous kid-appeal, they might just become a tradition that your kids will pass down to their own.
Kids’ eyes go wide with pleasure when they see this adorable crudité platter shaped like a turkey — and it will wow the grownups, too. It’s made with a French boule that cradles a cream-cheese-based spinach dip, and kids can help make the turkey face and dramatic fan of “feathers” created by raw carrots, peppers, celery, breadsticks, and pretzel rods. And feel free to swap the dip for one of these — Spinach and Artichoke Dip by Yummly; Caramelized Onion Dip by 101 Cookbooks, made with sour cream and yogurt, or Lemon Dill Ricotta Dip with fresh chives by Local Food Rocks.
Here’s another adorable turkey the kids can help you prepare. The recipe calls for Swiss and cheddar slices, but you can use whatever cheeses you love best — like Swiss cheese’s more pungent cousin, gruyere, or buttery fontina.
For most kids — even kids who now have their own kids — anything Harry Potter conveys a little lightning bolt of excitement. These Ron Weasley–inspired nuts are sweet and dragon-breath spicy, but you can turn down the heat to suit your family’s palate.
Where I grew up, the only people who ate fondue were in the movies, so it seemed an impossibly glamorous dish — and so much fun. This is an easy Thanksgiving appetizer, and you don’t even need a fondue pot and Sterno. Any stove-to-table cookware will do. Your kids will love dipping veggies, fruit slices, or chunks of whole-grain bread into this warm, gooey delight.
Vegan Thanksgiving appetizers
Can you make satisfying, sinfully good appetizers without meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, or honey? Absolutely. And the proof is in the tasting with these to-die-for Thanksgiving recipes.
It’s not easy to find a dish that will please both vegans and the rest of us — but portobello mushrooms and pecans are so satisfyingly meaty, your vegan guests better grab these stuffed mushrooms before the carnivores beat them to it.
You won’t find a more elegant appetizer than this sweet and savory combination of Medjool dates, caramelized onions, and cremini mushrooms, with a terrific cashew cheese made from scratch.
Garlicky barbecue “wings” are the perfect pop-em-in-your-mouth food before the big Thanksgiving dinner. They’re made with just cauliflower, garlic powder, a little salt and pepper, coconut oil, and barbecue sauce — either the bottled kind or this vegan-friendly Homemade Barbecue Sauce by The Pioneer Woman. Serve them up with Vegan Ranch Dressing by The Spruce.
Bring a Mediterranean touch to the table with this vegan version of a Greek classic. The grape leaves are filled with long grain rice, perfectly seasoned with garlic, scallions, onion, fresh dill, and lemon juice. So good, you’ll know why they’ve been popular for centuries.
Vegetarian Thanksgiving appetizers
Vegetarians have a little more leeway than vegans. No meat, fish, or poultry, but they can make wonderful use of dairy and egg products.
Hummus is quick and easy to prepare in a blender or food processor, and this recipe brings together three trademark notes of Thanksgiving — pumpkin, cranberries, and sage. The hummus itself is vegan; serve with veggies and pita chips for a vegan app platter.
With a bread crumb and parmesan crust outside and tender zucchini inside, this recipe is one of Yummly’s most popular. It’s not only a delight, but a cinch to prepare with our step-by-step video instructions. For a dipping sauce, try Homemade Ranch Dressing by Let’s Dish, Homemade Marinara Sauce by Recipe Girl — or both.
From the oohs when you set the plate down to the aahs when guests take their first bite, this dish brings a wow factor to your Thanksgiving festivities. They’re not as labor-intensive as they look, thanks to pre-made puff pastry sheets. And the portobello mushrooms and mozzarella cheese filling, accented with fresh basil, deliver pure pleasure.
With just three ingredients, these sophisticated brie bites — velvety smooth cheese, strawberry-fig jam, and sliced baguette — couldn’t be simpler to prepare. For a version with more bite, try them with gorgonzola, a tangy contrast to the sweet complexity of the jam.
Gluten-free Thanksgiving appetizers
Wheat, rye, and triticale are all taboo on a gluten-free diet — so toast, crackers, and breaded appetizers are usually out. But we’ve found some great recipes that either bypass grains completely or use gluten-free substitutes, like almond flour.
Guests on a gluten-free diet don’t have to pass up dips or eat a bare slice of cheese with only a toothpick for company. These crackers, made with almond flour, are seasoned with sea salt and fragrant rosemary.
Refreshing spring rolls are a light Thanksgiving appetizer that are not only delicious but leave plenty of room for dinner. They’re filled with minced pork and vegetables, seasoned with aromatic garlic and ginger, and wrapped in gluten-free rice paper.
The brilliant substitute for crackers in this Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvre is sliced salami — a spicy, chewy, satisfying way to transport artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella cheese directly from plate to palate.
For this exquisite gluten-free crowd-pleaser, just top pear sections with bleu cheese and thin-sliced, dry-cured prosciutto, then finish with a drizzle of honey and some fresh basil. Be sure to use pears that are crisp when ripe, like the Bosc and Asian varieties.
Low-carb Thanksgiving appetizers
Low in carbs but high in flavor, these tempting appetizers mean that even dieters can enjoy pre-meal nibbles this Thanksgiving.
Kale and addictive — two words you don’t often see paired. But these chips offer all the delicate crunch of potato chips with virtually no carbs. To ensure they bake up crispy, don’t overdo the lemon juice and olive oil.
These crunchy low-carb onion rings seem to whisper “Oh, go ahead, grab another.” And though that may seem dangerous for someone trying to lose weight, it’s not. They’re actually low-carb and paleo, with a crispy coating made of, yes, almond flour.
There’s just one gram of carb in each serving of this retro classic, and they’re so simple to make. Just combine hardboiled egg yolks with mayonnaise and honey mustard, fill the egg white hollow, and garnish with tomato, fresh basil, and the killer touch — a sprinkle of candied bacon.
Hard to believe they’re low-carb, but three of these sumptuous appetizers have just 4 net carbs. The secret — a wrapping made of mozzarella, cream cheese, egg, and almond flour, filled with melted brie and homemade Low-Carb Cranberry Sauce. You might want to make an extra batch of the sauce for the main course, too.
Paleo Thanksgiving appetizers
The Paleo diet is all about eating like cavemen in the days before agriculture developed, when the only way to get food was hunting and gathering. This means no grains, no sugar, no dairy, and definitely no processed food.
Honey — spiced with garlic, chili powder, cayenne, coriander, thyme, and more — make these flavorful ribs so amazing, you may hear some satisfied caveman grunts as your guests devour them.
These plump fried shrimp are breaded with egg and shredded coconut, then deep-fried in coconut oil to a golden brown. Try them with this sweet and spicy Mango Dipping Sauce by Food Republic, made from ingredients a (tropical) cavewoman could have gathered.
Sometimes the simplest recipes make the best Thanksgiving appetizers. In this two-ingredient dish, bacon lends its smoky richness to the unique layered texture of Brussels sprouts. Serve them hot, straight from the oven.
Suitable for a variety of diets, including paleo, these cocktail meatballs get their distinct Aegean flavor from oregano, fresh mint, and Greek olives. Serve them with Paleo Tzatziki Sauce by Jay’s Baking Me Crazy.
Keto Thanksgiving appetizers
Keto is the ultimate in low-carb diets, but it’s also high in fats, so minimal carbs yield maximum flavor with these specially designed recipes.
Made with almond flour, three types of cheese, and butter, these rolls are fragrant with garlic and have just 4 grams of carbs. The aroma will draw people to the first batch, and the taste will have them coming back for more.
A crisp shell, made from scratch with low-carb almond and coconut flour, provides a perfect contrast to the cream cheese and crabmeat filling. And the dipping sauce is a wonderful combination of spicy hot and sweet — sugar-free, of course.
The amazing thing about keto is that you can eat all kinds of foods that are taboo for most dieters — like the sausage, cheese, and butter that make this dish so totally satisfying. No wonder it’s drawn a slew of raves from Yummly reviewers.
This is true guacamole — just fresh avocados, tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, and fresh cilantro, seasoned with a little lime juice, salt, and pepper — as it’s traditionally made in Mexico using a pestle and a stone molcajete. Scoop it up with these Tortilla Chips by Lazy Keto.
Make-ahead Thanksgiving appetizers
Thanksgiving is always labor-intensive, but with these make-ahead appetizers, you’ll have a lot more time to enjoy your guests on the big day.
You can prepare the outrageously yummy topping of creamy blue cheese and sweet red onion jam well before Thanksgiving Day. Then all you have to do is slice and toast the fresh baguette before serving.
The aesthetic arrangement of shapes and colors — red tomato, fresh green basil, and fresh white bocconcini balls or cubed mozzarella — is a feast for the eyes and a refreshing treat for the palate.
The interesting thing about liver paté is that even people who hate liver (like me) can’t get enough of it. Butter, onion, and port wine combine with liver to create a satisfyingly complex delicacy. You can prepare it a day or more in advance and serve it with crudités, fresh cocktail rye, or your favorite crackers.
This colorful dish is so festive to look at, and the taste is full of interesting contrasts —fresh goat cheese, coated with crunchy pecan, honey, and dried fruits, herbed with rosemary and fresh parsley, and spiced with Sriracha. Make them ahead of time and keep them in the fridge until a half-hour before serving.
Favorite Thanksgiving appetizers
For guests who can eat anything they want, here’s our last word on pre-dinner Thanksgiving nibbles.
Light, flaky phyllo dough creates a crispy cup for creamy butternut squash seasoned with fresh sage and topped with a flavor-burst of bacon. For an artistic touch, use a pastry bag to create squash rosettes or another decorative filling.
Emeril Lagasse created this sumptuous appetizer with an ideal blend of textures — creamy baked brie with a heavenly center of caramelized sugar and walnuts blanketed by a flaky puff pastry crust. This party snack looks impressive but is a snap to whip up. Serve it with crackers and pears, and your taste buds will go “Bam!”
One of my cousin’s regular Thanksgiving guests is Philippine-American, and she steals the show with traditional lumpia. Preparation is easy with ready-made wrappers that you’ll fill with ground pork, shrimp, onions, green onions, water chestnuts, and seasonings. Just a warning: Grab one before you set them out, because they’ll be gone in a flash.
Chef Gordon Ramsey’s version of this classic Italian specialty is pure perfection, with a crisp-fried shell surrounding a center of wild mushrooms, risotto rice, and melted mozzarella. Bonus perk: You can make the risotto the night before and eat a bit for dinner.