7 Great Tailgate Appetizer Recipes
Food and Drink

7 Great Tailgate Appetizer Recipes

No tailgate or backyard BBQ gathering is complete without an appetizer spread. Let’s think beyond a tray of veggies and ranch dressing. Try a few of these homemade munchies to keep your guests satisfied!

Slow Cooker Bourbon Meatballs

Recipe and photo courtesy of Heather Cabaniss of TotallyTailgates.com

"A far cry and step up from the usual tomatoey meatballs, this recipe has been honed through dozens of very appreciative tailgates and parties, says Heather. Plus they require zero attention as they sit out in their crock pot being devoured throughout the game."

Serves: 6


25–30 frozen meatballs, 15 ounce-size (about half the bag of meatballs)

½ cup good bourbon

½ cup honey

½ cup ketchup

¾ cup brown sugar

dash lemon juice

Spray the interior of a 6-quart slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Place the frozen meatballs in the bottom. Mix together the remaining ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Pour over the frozen meatballs. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Meatballs can stay in the slow cooker on a warm setting for 3–4 hours after the first hour of cooking.


Courtesy of McCormick® mccormick.com

"The perfect finger food for your tapas tasting, these warm, crisp turnovers are filled with spicy mixture of turkey, almonds, olives and raisins."

Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 35 minutes Makes: 24 servings Serving Size: 1 empanada


2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

1/2 pound ground turkey

1 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Garlic Powder

1 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Paprika

1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Cumin, Ground

1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Oregano Leaves, Mediterranean

1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Thyme Leaves

1/2 cup tomato sauce

2 tablespoons slivered almonds

2 tablespoons chopped pitted green olives

2 tablespoons raisins

2 packages (15 ounces each) refrigerated pie crusts (4 crusts)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper; cook 3 to 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Add turkey; cook and stir until no longer pink. Stir in garlic powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, thyme and tomato sauce.

Reduce heat to low; simmer 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in almonds, olives and raisins. 

Prepare crusts as directed on package. On lightly floured surface, roll each crust into 12-inch circle. Using 4-inch round cutter, cut each into 6 circles for a total of 24 circles. 

Spoon 1 tablespoon of filling onto half of each circle. Moisten edge of each with water. Fold in half; press edge with a fork to seal. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Pierce top of each with fork to vent.

Bake 25 minutes or until light golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Smoke and Fire Cheese Straws

Courtesy of McCormick,® mccormick.com

"Don’t let the size of these appetizers fool you—they’re bursting with cheese and the smoky, warm flavors of Ancho and Chipotle Chile Peppers. Be sure to include on your next tailgate menu!"

Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 12 minutes Chill Time: 30 minutes Makes: 18 2-piece servings


2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup grated smoked Cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Chile Pepper, Ancho

1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Chile Pepper, Chipotle

1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Cilantro Leaves

1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Rosemary, Crushed

1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Garlic Powder

2 slices bacon, cooked and finely crumbled

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (1/2 of 17.3 ounce package)

1 egg, beaten

MIX cheeses, ancho and chipotle chili peppers, cilantro, rosemary, garlic powder and bacon in medium bowl.

ROLL pastry into a 13- x 16-inch rectangle on lightly floured surface. Brush lightly with egg. Sprinkle bottom half of dough with half the cheese mixture. Fold top half over bottom half. Roll pastry into a 13- x 16-inch rectangle again. Brush with egg. Sprinkle with remaining cheese mixture, pressing lightly with rolling pin to adhere cheese. Cut pastry in half crosswise, and then cut into 36 (3/4-inch wide) strips.

PLACE strips on large baking sheets, a few inches apart. Twist the ends of strips to create a spiral. Refrigerate 30 minutes. 

PREHEAT oven to 400°F. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown and puff ed. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes. Serve warm or cooled.

Sticky Whiskey Maple Wings

Recipe and photo courtesy of Rufus Teague BBQ

"Crispy, fried, sweet and hot at the same time, these non-conventional nibblers can keep the gloaters chewing and the losers feeling satisfied."

Serves: 4, as appetizer


1 ½ pounds chicken wings

2 cups vegetable or peanut oil, for frying

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon Rufus Teague Meat Rub

jalapeno slices, to garnish


Whiskey Maple Glaze:

1 cup Rufus Teague Maple Whiskey BBQ sauce

1 tablespoon maple syrup

¼ cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon black pepper

2 tablespoons water, to thin as needed


Heat the oil in a large pot and allow it to reach 375 degrees. Use a thermometer to guarantee even cooking.

Mix the flour, salt and Rufus Teague Meat Rub in a medium bowl.

Dredge the wings in the flour mixture.

Lightly drop each wing into the hot oil and cook for about 15 minutes, or until wings look nicely browned and crisped. Doing this in batches is recommended, so the oil can retain even heat.

While the wings are cooking, combine the brown sugar, maple syrup, black pepper and Rufus Teague Maple Whiskey BBQ sauce in a medium-size saucepan. Allow the mixture to reduce significantly, until it has a sticky, but not dry consistency. If it is reducing too quickly, add some water to thin it out.

Add the wings into the reduced sauce mixture and coat thoroughly.

Top with jalapeno slices. Enjoy with blue cheese or ranch dressing or even more barbecue sauce.

Hoo-Ya Hoagie Dip

Excerpted from Tailgating Done Right Cookbook: 150 Recipes for a Winning Game Day by Anne Schaeffer; Photo courtesy of Fox Chapel Publishing

"You can skip the bread bowl and serve this slapped on hoagie rolls as stand-alone sandwiches."

Serves: 8


1 medium onion

2 pickled banana peppers

½ head iceberg lettuce

1 big tomato, seeded

1 3-ounce package thinly sliced genoa salami

1 7-ounce package thinly sliced honey ham

1 7-ounce package thinly sliced roasted turkey breast

¼ pound thinly sliced white cheddar cheese

½ cup mayo

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 ½ teaspoons dried basil

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 10–12-inch round bread loaf (I used ciabatta)

8 hoagie rolls

Chop the onion, peppers, lettuce, tomato, salami, ham, turkey, and cheese, and toss into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayo, oil, oregano, basil, and pepper flakes; add to the meat mixture, stirring until well combined. Chill until ready to serve.

Carve out the center of the round bread loaf, keeping the sides and bottom intact. Pack the meat mixture into the hollowed-out bread. Cut the bread scraps and the hoagie rolls into big chunks for dipping.

To serve, allow guests to mound the dip onto bread chunks and enjoy a mouthful.

Dragon Jalapeño Poppers

Excerpted with permission from The Bradley Smoker Cookbook: Tips, Tricks, and Recipes from Bradley Smoker’s Pro Staff by Lena Clayton, Steve Cylka, Kathleen Donegan, Brad Lockwood, and Jennifer L.S. Pearsall. Copyright 2015, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

"These little bite-sized treats are fiery hot and full of smoking goodness. If you’re making them for a party, be sure to prepare lots, since they will be gone in a flash."

Steve Cylka
Makes: 16 poppers


8 jalapeño peppers

1/2 cup cream cheese

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon chili powder

16 cocktail smokies

8 slices of bacon, cut in half

Slice the jalapeño peppers lengthwise. Using a knife, remove the seeds and membrane.

Mix together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and chili powder. Fill the hollowed out portion of the jalapeño pepper with the cheese mixture.

Place a cocktail smokie on top of the cheese mixture.

Wrap half a slice of bacon around the jalapeño pepper. Use a toothpick if the bacon is falling off.

Set the smoker to 250°F using wood Bisquettes of choice (Pecan, Maple, or Hickory work great).

Smoke the poppers for 2–3 hours or until the bacon is browned.

Muffin Tin Smokin’ Sliders & 647 Secret Sauce

Excerpted from Wicked Good Barbecue, by Andy Husbands, Chris Hart and Andrea Pyenson, FairWinds Press, 2012

"Nothing is more all-American than burgers on the grill. Sliders are burgers’ new-century party incarnation. Cooking them over fire in muffin tins is so much easier than flipping them all individually and lining the tins with caramelized onions imparts the vegetables’ sweet, rich flavor to the meat while they cook. Sheer genius, if we do say so ourselves. We like to serve them on our own buttermilk rolls because, really, what is better than homemade bread in any form? (You can buy rolls, but they won’t be as good.) Pass these babies with a few other appetizers, and you’ve got yourself a party."

Andy Husbands & Chris Hart
Makes: 18 sliders


Special Equipment:

Muffin tins with 4-ounce cups (or disposable aluminum muffin tins), enough for 18 sliders


For Caramelized Onions:

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 large sweet onions, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon water


For Seasoned Salt:

3/4 cup kosher salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon celery salt

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground thyme

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon


For Burgers:

21/2 pounds freshly ground chuck, 80% lean

9 slices deli-style American cheese, quartered

Buttermilk Slider Rolls, (Recipe here)

647 Secret Sauce, recipe below

1 16-ounce jar dill pickle chips


647 Secret Sauce:

1/4 cup (60 g) mayonnaise

1/4 cup (35 g) finely chopped dill pickles, drained well

2 tablespoons (30 ml) Dijon or spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons (30 ml) ketchup

1/2 teaspoon (2 g) sugar, or more to taste

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste


Prepare your smoker or kettle grill and bring temperature to 300°F.

To Caramelize the Onions: Heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and salt and cook, stirring often, until onions soften and just start to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions collapse completely and turn a rich, jammy brown, about 30 minutes. When onions are nearly done, add the water and stir, scraping the browned bits on the bottom of the pan into the onions. Set aside to cool.

To Make the Seasoned Salt: In a bowl, mix all ingredients together, then grind in a spice grinder.

To Make 647 Secret Sauce: In a bowl, mix all ingredients together. Cover and chill. Before serving, taste to correct seasoning with sugar and pepper. The sauce will keep, covered tightly and refrigerated, for up to 2 months.

To Make the Burgers: Divide the ground beef into 18 golf ball–sized rounds (about 2½ounces each). Spread about¼cup seasoned salt on a plate and roll the balls lightly in the seasoned salt to coat.

Spread 1 tablespoon of caramelized onions in the bottom of each muffin cup (A). Place 1 meatball on top of the onion in each cup and press down with your fingers to form into an even burger (B). Put the muffin tins on the grill grate, close the lid, and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the muffin tins, overlap 2 quarter-slices of American cheese on each burger, and tent the muffin tins with foil (C).

If your slider rolls are not fresh from the oven, wrap in foil and place on the smoker for 5 minutes, or microwave for 20 seconds. You want the slider rolls to be soft and squishy inside.

To serve, use tongs to transfer the burgers from the tins to the slider rolls. Then, with the tongs, pick up some of the remaining onions and place on top of the burger. Garnish with a generous schmear of 647 Secret Sauce and pickle chips.