Summer Party Foods Checklist

Of course, your party or dinner menu will dictate what's in your fridge, but we've compiled a list of pantry and refrigerator staples that will come in handy as you're prepping for your summer party.

  Salt and pepper. Use kosher salt for seasoning while you cook; have table salt handy for guests to season their own dishes. Table salt also should be used for baking. Buy whole peppercorns and a pepper grinder; the flavor difference with freshly ground pepper is worth the extra effort.

  Chicken or vegetable stock or broth. Buy stock in resealable cartons, which are more convenient than cans.

  Lemons and limes. Perk up seafood, vegetables and salads with a squeeze of lemon; serve cocktails with a wedge of lemon or lime.

  Fresh garlic. There's no substitute for the flavor of fresh garlic, so skip the jarred cloves and always keep a bulb on hand.

  Onions and shallots. Many of your recipes this season will call for these ingredients. Store in a cool, dry place to ward off spoilage. Keep them away from potatoes, which can speed up the spoiling process.

  Potatoes. Whip up a quick potato salad for your barbecue, but don't make it with mayonnaise if your salad will be sitting in the sun.

  Good-quality olive oil. Re-create the restaurant experience by letting guests dip bread into small bowls of olive oil. You can whisk olive oil with vinegar to create a quick salad dressing, or drizzle it over grilled vegetables just before serving.

  Vegetable oil. This healthful oil is perfect for cooking; it has a lower smoke point than olive oil.

  Balsamic vinegar. Whisk with olive oil and season with salt and pepper for the easiest salad dressing ever.

  Mustard. This versatile condiment is a must-have for hot dogs and sausages; you can also use it as a dipping sauce for crackers or pretzels.

  Ketchup. An essential condiment for burgers, ketchup is a pantry must-have for last-minute barbecues.

  Pickles and relish. Keep an assortment of these condiments handy and set them out for guests to add to their grilled burgers and hot dogs.

  Barbecue sauce and other marinades. Keep store-bought barbecue sauce and marinades in your pantry for a easy way to flavor meats, poultry and fish.

  Roasted almonds and spicy nuts. Set out bowls of nuts for an instant hors d'oeuvre when guests drop by.

  Crackers. Keep an assortment of crackers on hand to serve with cheese or for dipping into sauces.

  Jars of salsa, tapenade and other dips. Always have these in your pantry for an instant party snack; spread on bread or crackers, or dip chips or raw vegetables.

  Cocktail sauce. Serve with thawed, precooked shrimp from your freezer whenever you need to entertain in a flash.

  Store-bought cookies. Buy elegant-looking butter cookies, shortbread or tuiles in case you're ever in a jam for dessert. They can be served on their own, or with a bowl of ice cream or whipped cream.

  Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. You'll reach for these spices again and again for sweet and savory dishes.

  Vanilla and almond extracts. Buy the real thing—not flavored imitations—to help your baked goods taste their best.

  All-purpose flour. Store in a sealed container or tightly wrapped in order to preserve freshness. You can also store it in the refrigerator.

  Granulated sugar and brown sugar. Store tightly covered in a dry place; make sure brown sugar is in an airtight container to prevent moisture loss.

  Powdered sugar. You'll need this for cookie icings and cake frostings. You can also dust over plain cakes and cookies to dress them up.

  Baking powder and baking soda. Baking soda has an indefinite shelf life, while baking powder will last only for 6 to 12 months.

  Coffee and tea. It's always a nice gesture to offer guests coffee or tea at the end of a meal.

  Butter. If you're not going to use butter right away, you can store it in the freezer.

  Eggs. Don't store eggs in your refrigerator door, as they'll get too warm each time you open and close the fridge.

  Milk. Keep whole milk on hand for cooking and baking, and low- or nonfat milk for guests.

  Heavy cream. You can whip this with a little sugar for a quick whipped cream' that's much tastier than the kind that comes from a can.

  Olives. Serve with martinis or in a bowl for your guests to munch on.

  An assortment of fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, mint and rosemary. The herbs will add instant flavor and freshness to all your grilled foods and salads. Try using whole rosemary sprigs as skewers for your kebabs, stir mint into a pitcher of lemonade or toss basil with ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella for a light summer salad.

  Assorted vegetables such as carrots, celery and broccoli. These staples can be cut up and served with dip for an appetizer; they can also be cooked and tossed with pasta and a light vinaigrette for a simple pasta salad.

  Dried pasta. An outdoor gathering wouldn't be complete without a pasta salad; cook according to package directions and then toss with whatever you have on hand, like pesto sauce, veggies, seafood or chicken.

  Ice. Make sure you have plenty of ice on hand to keep your guests and their drinks cool.

  Ready-to-eat shrimp. Just thaw and serve with cocktail sauce for a quick, upscale party appetizer.

  Ice cream. Top slices of cake and pie with a scoop to make dessert extra special, or serve ice cream with some of the cookies in your pantry for an instant dessert.

  Drinks. When you're serving alcohol to your guests, make sure you have all their tastes covered. So keep your favorite wines and beer on hand, and stock up on a variety of liquors to lift everyone's spirits. A well-stocked bar may include an all-purpose red wine (pinot noir works well with many foods), an all-purpose white wine (pinot grigio is a crowd-pleaser), sparkling wine (Champagne or anything bubbly), tonic, club soda, seltzer, sodas for mixing (such as ginger ale or cola), juices for mixing (such as cranberry or grapefruit), beer, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, bourbon, single-malt scotch, after-dinner liqueurs (for example, Irish cream or coffee liqueur), dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, bitters, sour mix, flavored liqueurs (for example, triple sec or amaretto). For guests who don't drink, offer nonalcoholic alternatives such as iced tea and lemonade, and make sure there's plenty of water available, so your guests can stay hydrated.

See more summer entertaining essentials.

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