7 Staples That Double as Last-Minute Party Food
Stash these basics and barbecue upgrades in your pantry, freezer, and fridge and you’ll have party food ready for any surprise guest.
When it’s time to host a party, often the most stressful part of the process is getting all the party food ready. Even if you’re picking up ready-made food or have a catered situation, making sure everything is ready, tasty, and in enough quantity can overshadow the point of the party: to have a good time. Well, no more. Stocking a few pantry or fridge essentials can make putting together a full spread of party food ideas easier and turn basic snacks or treats into delicious ones without too much effort, even if the party is last-minute.
Specialized condiments can dress up low-key mains, such as sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, or tacos; your go-to dessert can satisfy a crowd when paired with the right party supplies straight out of the freezer. The key to turning your household food essentials into easy party foods (or party food accompaniments) is to stock enough to share and to make sure your favorites have a little extra magic that can help satisfy guests. Versatile foods or drinks can help, too, by zhuzhing up everything from snacks to side dishes. Most importantly, every item should have some meaning. Whether it’s the dessert you tried on your first date with your now-spouse or the soda you drank on all your family vacations as a child, sharing a story with each dish can give it the oomph it needs to dress up your party offerings.
Not sure what constitutes a party-ready pantry essential? These suggestions—from Real Simple editors and entertaining experts—might spark some ideas. (Or you can just try these ready-to-go party food ideas for yourself.)
Billy Bee Squeeze Honey Mustard
“I grew up eating my granny’s homemade chicken fingers, and she always served them with Billy Bee Honey Mustard. It’s perfectly sweet and has a delightful tanginess that adds a welcome zip to chicken salad, chicken fingers, or even hamburgers,” says Brandi Broxson, Real Simple senior editor.
To buy: $27 for 6; amazon.com.
Sir Kensington’s Special Sauce
“Sir Kensington’s Special Sauce adds a little something, well, special to sandwiches,” says Ananda Eidelstein, Real Simple food editor.
To buy: $33 for 6; marasgreen.com.
Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
“I also love a sprinkle of flaky sea salt on meat or grilled vegetables as an elevated finishing touch,” Eidelstein says.
To buy: $5; amazon.com.
Yellowbird Hot Sauce
Polar Seltzer in Ruby Red Grapefruit
Anyone can make a fun boozy drink with items they likely already have in the fridge, says Dawn Mauberret, a Brooklyn, New York–based wedding and event planner. She suggests mixing rosé or white wine with flavored seltzer (grapefruit or blood orange is ideal, with a ratio of one bottle of wine to one liter of seltzer) and tossing in some fresh herbs, like basil, mint, or rosemary. Serve it over ice in a punch bowl.
To buy: $20 for 12; amazon.com.
Minute Maid Pink Lemonade Frozen Concentrate Fruit Drink
Pickart keeps pink lemonade concentrate in the freezer because it’s easy to spike with alcohol and looks great served from a dispenser with a spigot.
To buy: kroger.com for stores.