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11 easy game day party shortcuts

Less time cooking means more time for beer and TV.


Mingle store-bought items with homemade for an easy and delicious spread.

Anjelika Gretskaia/Moment/Getty Images

While we're strong advocates of home cooking, we don't think there's anything wrong with using a few store-bought items now and then if it makes entertaining easier. Don't panic: We're not going to tell you to fill a store-bought angel food cake with raspberry Jell-O, top it with Cool Whip and cover it in sweetened coconut and chocolate chips (although, if you want to, we won't judge). But we do have a few ways to cheat on our recipes if you're pressed for time at your football party on Sunday, because sometimes you actually want to spend your time watching the big game.

Read more: The best game day food to order online

Here are 10 store-bought saviors from our sister site Chowhound that we like to sneak into semihomemade recipes from time to time, and one indispensable time-saving tool (we bet you can guess what it is):

1. Rotisserie chicken


Let someone else cook the chicken -- and we don't mean a friend, unless you're all down for a big game potluck, which is totally an option. The easiest tack if you're doing it yourself is to simply pick up a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat to use however you please.

Here are some particularly delicious ideas:

2. Frozen pizza (the good stuff)


Getting a good-quality frozen cheese pizza from your nearest Target, Trader Joe's or Costco and topping it with fresh vegetables or meats is a no-brainer. Try pancetta and peppers or marinated mushrooms and blue cheese to jazz it up.

Then again, if you spring for a truly gourmet frozen pizza -- from the likes of Lou Malnati's or Roberta's, which, in this glorious age, you can now have delivered straight to your door -- you won't need to do anything to it but heat it up and watch it disappear. Check out Chowhound's picks for the best frozen pizzas you can have delivered. And really, you can order all your game day grub online if you like.

3. Flatbread


Flatbread -- from naan to pita -- is easy to find in most stores these days, and it makes a great base for high-end ingredients that transform it into a fast, easy appetizer (similar to but distinct from pizza!). Try Chowhound's creme fraiche, red onion and lox flatbread recipe or chorizo and olive flatbread recipe on your store-bought base, then cut into bite-size pieces and place on a platter where guests can help themselves.

4. Microwave popcorn


Pick up a no-salt, no-butter microwave popcorn like Newman's Own, then make a seasoning mixture like the one from Chowhound's parmesan and black pepper popcorn recipe, black sesame and mustard popcorn recipe or spicy cinnamon-sugar popcorn recipe if you've got a sweet tooth. Put the popcorn in a bowl after it's popped and drizzle the mixture over it. Toss and serve. Boom (pop)!

Bonus: This fulfills the game day party playbook rule of having something people can eat without needing to look at it, in case they can't tear their eyes away from the TV screen.

5. Hummus


For an incredibly easy yet impressive appetizer or snack, buy a good-quality plain hummus and doctor it up with mix-ins, like those in Chowhound's easy chipotle hummus recipe. Alternatively, simply stir in jarred pesto for a quick take on Chowhound's spinach and basil hummus recipe. Or take a shortcut on eggplant and hummus pita crisps by using store-bought hummus and store-bought eggplant dip.  

6. Marinated steak strips


Premarinated steak strips picked up from the meat counter can be seared and wrapped in corn tortillas for steak tacos, steak fajitas or used to top a steak salad (Chowhound's recipe calls for a tomato vinaigrette, but you can substitute a dressing of your choice, like blue cheese). If you're not convinced of the quality of your local options, you can always order steak online and toss it in a good store-bought rub the night before.

8. Precut veggies


Hack your dip tray by simply swapping out the foil-lidded goop that comes along with a store-bought veggie platter for a flavorful homemade option like gooey queso, Chowhound's slow cooker French onion dip recipe or easy blue cheese dressing recipe. Or go with your favorite game day grub in dip form. Lightly steam cauliflower, broccoli or tiny waxy potatoes and serve them alongside the raw, crunchy stuff to add some variety.

Just choose carefully when you buy precut vegetables -- depending on how long they've been on the shelf, they can be really dried out. But that's less of a concern if you're going to cook them (say, if you're setting up a taco or fajita bar).

8. Frozen limeade concentrate


Because you need to have something to drink besides beer. (And maybe you don't want to mess around with game day wine pairings.) In that case, make a round of Chowhound's easy slushy margaritas by using frozen limeade concentrate instead of freshly squeezed limes.

9. Ice cream


Sure, you could serve it straight from the tub, but just a little more work nets way more impressive results (just don't tell anyone how easy it actually was).

Chowhound's pistachio-strawberry ice cream cake looks stunning, for instance, but it's ridiculously easy to make when you use store-bought ice cream. Ditto these raspberry brownie ice cream parfaits recipe. Or you could always set up a football sundae bar.

10. Precut melon


While they're not particularly seasonal, Chowhound's booze-soaked watermelon pops are always a hit at parties (and technically count as a healthy game day snack). Use precut melon and soak it in vodka and Chambord, then freeze. It's a great dessert option if you're not a baker -- and other fruits like honeydew and pineapple chunks take well to the alcohol infusion treatment too.

11. An Instant Pot

Instant Pot

No, it's not an ingredient, but you knew it was going to be in here, and for good reason: The Instant Pot (or whatever pressure cooker you might have) is a perfect tool for making big batches of party food in a fraction of the usual time, from carnitas and queso to chili and cheesecake. With an air fryer attachment, it can even crisp up wings and fries on game day, so put it to good use!

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