The Best Hacks, Tips, and Tricks for the Most Delicious, Least-Hectic Super Bowl Party Spread

published Feb 8, 2023
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Triptych of left to right: Chicken wings, Hawaiian sliders, and chicken nachos.
Credit: Left to right: Brittany Conerly, Joe Lingeman, Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Brett Regot/Kitchn

The Super Bowl isn’t just an excuse for a casual little cocktail party or pre-game tailgate. It’s a nearly four-hour marathon of indulgence and overstimulation. 

As a seasoned party host, I’ve noticed that the Super Bowl doesn’t follow the same rules as a regular holiday gathering or a casual backyard cookout. And I’ve taken my years of observation and experimentation to hone what I believe is the perfect Super Bowl rollout. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re making everything from scratch or doing a store-bought buffet. The trick is in the timing. Here’s how to plan the food flow for a Super Bowl party, maximizing your dish deployment for the natural highs and lows of the game.

The Pre-Game

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Before the guests show up, it’s time to get your field of play ready for the game. Clear space in your refrigerator for all the drinks that everyone will be bringing with them (or make sure a cooler is chilled and filled halfway with ice if you don’t have extra fridge space).

Plus, you can take a cue from ReddyIce, and use their ice calculator to know exactly how much ice you’ll need! You’ll want to be sure to account for ice used for chilling as well as ice for putting in drinks.

If you really want to impress guests while also keeping drinks cool, you can make an ice ring by filling a Bundt pan halfway with water, freezing it, and placing it in the punch bowl.

Another must-have hosting tip comes from Kitchn Senior Contributing Food Editor, Kelli Foster: Make beer-serving a breeze by tying a bottle opener to the side handle of the cooler using twine or string!

Along with making your hot dishes for the first and second quarters, now’s the time to prep a few single-serve appetizers that can be served cold or at room temperature, like veggie and hummus cups or antipasto skewers.

Place other room-temperature snacks, like popcorn, chips and salsa, and pretzels, in smaller serving bowls and distribute them throughout the seating area. This gives guests options within reach so they’re not always getting up and missing the best commercials or a big play.

If you’re making apps for a crowd, like ground beef nachos, be sure to store pre-portioned raw ground beef flattened in a gallon zip-top bag in the freezer. This will help save space in your freezer and the beef will defrost quickly, allowing you to cook it in no time.

Credit: Photo: Eric Kleinberg; Food Stylist: Kristina Vanni

First Quarter

There’s a lot of leadup to the game itself, so you have time to start strong with the main components of your buffet.

When prepping hot foods, such as wings, creamy dips, and hot sandwiches (like these Cubano sheet pan sliders), portion them into two halves so each can be heated up separately. If you do go with the ever-popular wings, be sure to use this method for the absolutely crispiest results!

Set out half of the hot dishes now so people can eat them at their freshest. Leave the remaining portions in the kitchen so they can be replenished in the second quarter. 

You can (and definitely should) break out the slow cooker for party favorites like cocktail meatballs, mini smoked sausages, or queso. This is the best way to keep them warm throughout the game without monitoring. In fact, you should consider using slow cooker dividers in order to keep different types of apps warm at the same time.

Second Quarter

Heat up the reserved hot food portions and replenish the buffet table, and check on any empty snack bowls throughout the room. If you want to bring out one or two other dishes that are good for grazing, such as seven-layer dip, oven-baked Chex-Mix, or puppy chow, go for it.

This is also the time to restock fresh ice, mixers, and other beverages. People tend to go hard at the bar area (whether for boozy or non-alcoholic drinks) at the beginning of the night, with activity tapering off as the game goes on.

Halftime Show

Even if some attendees don’t care about the actual football portion of the evening, chances are that the halftime show is something everyone is interested in catching. As the commentators fill time while the stage is set up, you have about 10 to 15 minutes to make sure your guests’ glasses are refilled and all butts are in seats before Rihanna hits the stage.

A good way to make sure guests’ drinks never run low is to consider making large-batch cocktails and putting them into gallon-sized drink dispensers or punch bowls. This way, you can avoid questions about where the drinks are before Rihanna is on.

If you want to make a special drink in honor of the halftime performance, the rum runner is certainly a showstopper. A pineapple rum punch is a simpler option and can be big-batched ahead of time. Or go simple and serve Rihanna’s favorite cocktail: Jameson and ginger.

Third Quarter

As play resumes, it’s time to do one more status check on snacks. Everyone should be well-sated at this point, so there’s no need to bring out any new dishes, with one categorical exception.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

It’s not a hard-and-fast rule to include a dessert lineup at your Super Bowl party, but if you choose to do so, stick with simple, nostalgic, and handheld sweets. Rice Krispies treats, cookies (like these sweet and salty pantry cookies), or brownies work best here. This is not the moment for elaborate layer cakes or frozen desserts that will just melt on the buffet table.

Fourth Quarter

The funniest commercials are starting to be repeated during each break, and unless the game is a nail-biter, guests might be trickling out to finish watching at home. (On the East Coast, 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night is a bit late for some of us.) Make sure your non-alcoholic beverages are well-stocked so everyone can rehydrate.

It’s also a pro host move to make sure all serving dishes brought by guests are cleaned and back in their hands before they depart.