So the big game is only hours away and you have a bunch of friends coming over. You want to prove yourself worthy of hosting such an epic afternoon, so you splurged on themed décor, created a funky playlist to get guests grooving, and cracked yourself open a pre-game brewski to loosen up and calm the nerves. But, there’s still something missing, and it’s the most vital part of the whole extravaganza: Food! Now, unless you have a knack for working pre-party magic in the kitchen, figuring out what appetizers to serve a bunch of hungry game-enthused buddies can get overwhelming. With all the booze flowing, you need a nice spread of appetizers to soak up the alcohol and prevent that dreaded "hangry" feeling from quickly creeping in.
Luckily, if you have two left feet in the kitchen, there’s a vast world of frozen appetizers you can whip up within minutes that’ll not only put smiles on everyone who indulges, but they save you precious time so you can pour that next drink and mingle with your company. However (and this is a big however), it’s imperative you do your research before plowing through the frozen appetizer aisle at the supermarket and start loading up your cart willy-nilly. Not everything you can pop in a microwave or oven for a few minutes is worth your money. Pay close attention to this list of frozen appetizers that are guaranteed smash hits and others that immediately strike out at the plate.
Should buy: Trader Joe’s soup dumplings
When it comes to frozen appetizers, soup dumplings simply don’t come to mind. If you’ve ever had authentic soup dumplings before from a Chinese restaurant (if you haven’t, we highly suggest you try them), it’s tough to imagine how a frozen version of the delicately wrapped morsels of meat and rich broth could ever compare to the dumplings served by chefs in professional kitchen settings. There’s just some food that shouldn’t enter the world of frozen appetizers. Or, so you’d think.
Fortunately, a popular Trader by the name of Joe took the risky leap to incorporate microwavable soup dumplings into their arsenal of products, and they absolutely crushed it in the best way possible. The steamed chicken — or pork and ginger — soup dumplings are ready within a few minutes, and you never have to worry about chomping into an icy center (the worst!). The broth that surrounds the pork is rich and flavorful, and with every bite comes a warm flood that sends your taste buds into a mesmerizing abyss. This is likely something many of your guests never tried before, so it’s a great opportunity to turn newcomers onto the wondrous journey that is the soup dumpling.
Should not buy: José Olé taquitos
Mexican cuisine is tough to turn down. When are you not in the mood to bite into a crunchy taco or quesadilla complete with all the fixings? However, when it comes to frozen appetizers, just because the picture on the box makes the item inside look incredible, many companies pull the old bait-and-switch technique with actual food that isn’t appealing at all. Just think about how many times you’ve seen a picture of something on a menu and excitedly ordered it, only to quickly realize the image that sold you isn’t even close to the product you expected. This is exactly the problem with José Olé Taquitos.
Don’t let those crispy chicken-stuffed taquitos that look so delectable on the box fool you into opening your wallet. Even though you can make them in both the microwave and the oven, the end result isn’t worth the effort. The tortilla is advertised as "crispy and crunchy" on the box, but rest assured they’re anything but. In reality, the texture is gummy, and the shredded chicken and veggies inside tend to cook into a thick molten liquid capable of scorching your throat. When it comes to these taquitos, just say, "No way, José."
Should buy: pigs in a blanket
There are always a few appetizers that are a guaranteed hit. Veggie platters are always popular because guests feel healthy munching on broccoli and carrots, however, a quick dunk into that ranch dressing cancels out most of the nutrition the vegetables offer. Of course, a plate of chips with salsa always goes quickly. One savory appetizer you can always rely on is pigs in a blanket. Who can resist mini hot dogs wrapped in a buttery flaky crust? Very few, that’s who.
While hot dogs aren’t exactly known for astounding health benefits, people usually step off their nutrition-forward pedestals at parties to enjoy the foods they normally stay away from. Hebrew National’s pigs in a blanket are perfect because you get to enjoy the flavor of a hot dog in one bite without having to take down a full link. Always accompany them with a bowl of zesty mustard for dipping, of course. There are few snacks more popular at gatherings than pigs in a blanket, so don’t make the mistake of skipping over them at the supermarket.
Should not buy: jalapeño poppers
Now, we know what you might think about this decision: "Everyone loves jalapeño poppers! You can’t go wrong with a golden crust surrounding melty cheese with a kick of heat!" While that description does sound tough to turn down, when it comes to frozen poppers, they just don’t stack up the same way as homemade jalapeño poppers that use fresh ingredients. There are a lot of different companies that offer poppers, but unless you’re willing to deal with some serious disappointment, it’s best to stay away.
There are a couple of major issues with store-bought frozen poppers. First, the cheese in the middle doesn’t heat up evenly, so the first bite you take might be cold, but the next might set your mouth ablaze with boiling cheddar. If that’s not risky enough, the actual jalapeños that are used are flimsy and rather bland. When you want something that has a spicy kick to it, these things don’t come close to leaving you satisfied. Do yourself a favor and put in the effort to make them yourself (if you have the time) in the comfort of your kitchen.
Should buy: White Castle sliders
Unless guests are actually visiting for a full dinner, all you need are a few trays of small bites that won’t fill people up quickly so they can make their way through the other various assortment of snacks available. This is what makes sliders so darn efficient. You can offer up the savoriness of a burger without forcing people to inhale a half-pound patty. And, as any fast-food connoisseur knows, no other establishment slings up sliders quite like White Castle, which is why their frozen burgers are the perfect addition to any appetizer spread.
It’s no secret that White Castle sliders aren’t the epitome of a healthy indulgence (in fact, they’re pretty much the complete opposite), but when you’re enjoying time with friends, do yourself a favor and let your taste buds travel to places they don’t often venture. In just a few small bites everyone can enjoy a small — but rich — cheese-topped patty (there are also cheeseless options, as well). It scratches that burger itch so many of us often get, but not in a way that leaves anyone feeling bloated. In fact, people will likely find themselves going back for seconds and thirds.
Should not buy: Totino’s pizza rolls
Okay, so this decision is sure to ruffle the feathers of Totino’s fanatics. As one of the most popular brands of frozen pizza rolls, Totino’s often finds itself smack-dab in the middle of kitchen freezers all over the world. While the rolls might send excitement shooting through the brains of young kids who both love pizza and bite-sized snacks, the rolls have some obvious downsides that would instantly turn off a more mature palate. Sorry Totino’s TikTok hack fans, but people must know the truth.
On the company’s website, it says the following about their pizza rolls: "Imagine a pizza. Now imagine it bite-sized, baked to a golden finish, and filled with delicious toppings." While that sounds great and all, the description is far from what the rolls actually are. Because they’re sealed pockets of dough with a pizza filling, the cheese and marinara sauce inside reaches temperatures high enough to make Lucifer cringe. So, when you bite down into one, your brain clicks into panic mode as you suffer potential third-degree burns on your tongue. And, let’s be honest: The pizza flavor that erupts from inside isn’t exactly like biting into a delicious New York slice. The ingredients are cheap and bland, which is a second reason to file Totino’s Pizza Rolls in the "skip over" category.
Should buy: mozzarella sticks
While cheese in general isn’t exactly best buddies with your cholesterol levels, your palate likely thinks otherwise. Just watch as people’s eyes light up when that charcuterie board makes its way from the kitchen onto the appetizer table. It’s go time! With so many different flavor profiles, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have their own personal favorite. But, what’s one way you can take cheese and make it exponentially better? Drop it in a deep fryer for an extra layer of golden crunch around the melty center. This is why frozen mozzarella sticks are a must-buy for anyone who loves their marinara!
Now, even though it’s totally possible to make homemade mozzarella sticks, no one wants to deal with a pot of boiling oil when they have company to tend to. This is where the magic of the microwave (or oven) comes into play. Just pile those breaded bad boys onto a tray, nuke them for a few minutes, and get ready to see smiles plastered across everyone’s face when they emerge ready to eat. Just make sure you have a hefty bowl of marinara sauce available for the full experience.
Should not buy: spanakopita
You’ve likely seen these appetizers before and probably never knew the official name. They’re small bite-sized morsels of phyllo dough with spinach and feta cheese. On paper, spanakopita sounds awesome. The strong flavor of the feta cuts through the buttery phyllo dough, and the spinach is an added bonus so you get your daily dose of leafy greens (kinda). However, there’s an unfortunate difference between homemade spanakopita and the frozen kind that takes a fraction of the time in the oven or microwave.
Phyllo dough is a super flaky type of breading, and it offers a delicate mouthfeel as opposed to other doughy breading that quickly fills you up. The issue with the frozen phyllo bites is the texture of the dough. It’s not the flaky experience the picture on the packaging leads you to believe. The phyllo feels gummy, almost as though it’s not cooked all the way through. This alone is enough of a turnoff, but pair that with an often over-spinached bite without enough kick of feta and you have yourself a losing option.
Should buy: P.F. Chang’s pork dumplings
Regardless of whether you’re at a friend’s house enjoying some food or out at a fancy Asian restaurant, dumplings are always a hit. The bite-sized dough-wrapped morsels of meat and veggies hit that umami area of a palate like a sledgehammer and will leave any appetite craving more. But, if you’re entertaining a large group, it’s never cost-effective to order trays of dumplings from a local restaurant, and that’s where the wonderful people at P.F. Chang’s swoop in with a delicious answer.
Now, hardcore foodies might insist P.F. Chang’s isn’t "real" Chinese food. They likely opt for something far less mainstream. However, there’s no denying the food is tasty, and that’s why they have a whole line of frozen appetizers available. There’s a bunch to choose from, but make no mistake, it’s the pork dumplings you want to settle on. Ground pork, cabbage, and scallions all come together in one bite that’s made even better with a hearty dunk into the signature sauce, which is included. There’s no reason to take a trip all the way to P.F. Chang’s when the frozen food section of your grocery store has your bases covered.
Should not buy: T.G.I. Friday’s chicken wings
There are certain frozen foods that make for acceptable replacements to their freshly made counterparts. But, there are a whole bunch that don’t even come close to tasting as satisfying. Chicken wings — so long as you aren’t eating them wrong — are one of those appetizers that are absolutely delicious when you get a fresh batch of them from a local pizzeria. A crunchy golden crust that envelopes succulent chicken is a guaranteed way to get everyone jacked up at a social gathering. Plus, who can resist that luscious dunk into creamy blue cheese dressing? Unfortunately, the frozen options totally fall short of their freshly fried brethren.
One of the most popular options for frozen wings comes from T.G.I.Friday’s. The chain restaurant knew how big a hit their restaurant-served wings were, so why not develop a frozen option to expand the brand name? Well, they should have opted out of that decision. The great thing about chicken wings is the crispy outer skin, which is completely lost on the frozen option. The skin comes out mushy, and the chicken itself often has cold spots. Never something you want to experience when biting into a wing.
Should buy: T.G.I. Friday’s spinach and artichoke dip
Nothing hits the spot quite like a tortilla chip doused in a flavorful dip. Chips and dip are to a party what a baseball bat is to a ball game. The experience just isn’t the same without it. However, there are so many flavored dips to choose from it’s often hard to settle on something everyone can enjoy. That’s where the iconic spinach and artichoke dip comes in. Don’t worry about putting in the legwork to make it yourself. There are plenty of frozen options that hit your appetite exactly right, and T.G.I.Friday’s has one available sure to get people stoked.
Besides the fact the dip itself is just plain delicious, it’s also served hot so you get that melty pull of cheese with every chip you send in. The balance between the spinach, artichoke, and variety of cheeses is perfect, so every bite you take has a bit of everything. Also, don’t let the fact there’s spinach and artichoke in it fool you into thinking it’s some overly healthy snack that won’t satisfy that craving for saturated fat. It’s chock full of all the stuff doctors would tell you to avoid, but isn’t that what makes party appetizers so appealing anyway? Grab a chip and jump on in.
Should not buy: Hot Pockets
Ahh, Hot Pockets … The frozen snack famously ridiculed by comedian Jim Gaffigan in a hilarious bit about how disgusting he thinks they are. He embellishes his disgust for comedic purposes, but many of the points he makes do have truths to them. Hot Pockets are one of those convenient frozen foods parents can easily satisfy kids with if there’s no time to make a full dinner, but try giving one to an adult and you’ll likely get a totally different reaction. One that results in a scowl across the face.
Past commercials for Hot Pockets touted flavorful ingredients nestled inside a "crispy, crusty, tender, flaky crust." If only that were true. The crust comes out more doughy and chewy than crispy or crusty, so immediately it disappoints. Then, if that’s not enough, the Hot Pocket innards, like many other microwavable foods that come in a breaded pouch, often emerge from the microwave scalding hot. The kind of hot that turns the skin inside of your mouth to ribbons. And, to top it all off, no matter what kind of variation you purchase, the ingredients are far from flavor-packed. They’re cheap, full of preservatives, and completely unsatisfying.
Should buy: Mrs. T’s pierogies
Now, it’s highly unlikely the thought of pierogies pops into your head when hunting for worthwhile appetizers. Even though they taste great, there are a lot of people who’ve never had the chance to try them. So, naturally, you might find it risky to include them in a snack spread. However, once you try the frozen Mrs. T’s pierogies, you and everyone you know will find yourself die-hard fans.
The person we have to thank for this great creation is Mary Twardzik, a woman who grew up in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. A lover of all things food, she would make homemade pierogies and sell them every week at local churches, and they were always a massive hit. So, her son, Ted, took her passion to the next level and started the Mrs. T’s company so millions more had the chance to enjoy his mom’s classic cooking. And, with flavors like 4 Cheese Medley, Cheddar and Bacon, and Broccoli and Cheddar, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Should not buy: loaded potato skins
Y’all ready to get your spuds on!? Loaded potato skins are a super popular appetizer that frequently pops up at parties. While the origin of who exactly created the first batch is somewhat murky, the idea was fantastic. Using a scooped-out potato skin to act as a vessel for cheese, bacon, and any other topping your little heart desires seems like an automatic win. And, if you harness your inner Gordon Ramsay and make them at home they are a win. But, if you go the route of the frozen stuff, chances are you’ll find yourself in a hole of regret.
The problem with potato skins is they cool off way too quickly. Sure, if you grab them when they’re fresh out of the oven or microwave you’re treated to a rich potato canoe filled with gooey cheddar cheese and the savory kick of bacon. However, let them rest for just a couple of minutes and the skins themselves harden, leaving you with a starchy firm bite that completely cancels out the taste of the other ingredients. Have you ever tried eating a hard potato? It’s not a pleasant experience, and that’s exactly what you get when you invest in frozen loaded potato skins.