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40 festive 4th of July appetizers to get the party started

Make way for these show-stopping starters.
/ Source: TODAY

Fourth of July gatherings are upon us and it's time to get moving on one of the many wonderful courses that we love to make during the holiday: the appetizers! Whether you're entertaining at home, headed out to a party or just taking it easy, putting together at least one starter is a must.

Why? We're so glad you asked! In this roundup of fun, sometimes festive and always delicious appetizers, we gathered a list of go-to recipes that make it easy to wait for the main course, whatever big-deal dish you're filing up on the grill. From finger foods that pack a lot of flavor, to vibrant, seasonal salads, from chilled noodle dishes to delicious dips, there's a little something to make everyone happy. Plus, we can't forget to include some hearty dishes to make sure guests don't go too hard on the Fourth of July cocktails before the main dishes are served (but be sure to same some room for dessert … specifically the cake!).

So before hitting the grocery store this week and stocking up (because we know the first weeks of summer means the kids are eating everything), map out your menu — starting with the apps!

This pasta salad takes advantage of all the top-of-its-peak summer produce, packs a flavorful punch, and the light pepperoncini and pecorino vinaigrette is the perfect pairing on a hot day.

Chopped Cheese Tots

Add this beefy, cheesy mixture to crispy tots to take them to a whole other level.

Steak Sushi

Steak Sushi

Erica Blaire Roby

We love how fun and interactive this recipe is. The rich savory favors of the beef are a perfect base for the bright garlic and onion favors in the toppings.

We love a salad that’s loaded up with goodies, and this one definitely fits the bill! With lightly pickled cucumbers, grapes, blueberries, pistachios and gorgonzola cheese, it’s got a ton of amazing flavor going on.

Chef D's Potato Salad

Chef D's Potato Salad

Damon Stalworth

The mayo, the mustard, the pickled relish: Damon Stalworth's potato salad has all of the classic potato salad ingredients. A delightful addition to a rack of barbecued ribs slathered in sauce or a quick standalone lunch, this is a simple recipe mixed with hard-boiled eggs for a little extra protein.

These meatballs have layers upon layers of flavor … literally. The onion shells help keep the meatballs moist and add both flavor and texture. You may need some extra napkins with all that juicy goodness (or just serve with toothpicks for easy eating).

Smooth, creamy and vibrant, this dip can be an easy finger food for the Fourth served with a variety of sides, from pita chips to flatbread to crunchy and colorful veggies.

Cobb Salad in a Crispy Bacon Cup

Stuffed with creamy avocado, chopped egg, tomatoes and crisp lettuce, these bite-sized bacon cups are the perfect way to enjoy a classic Cobb salad.

Pearl couscous is especially hearty and toothsome, with means it stands up perfectly even when made days ahead, and it makes for especially tasty leftovers to enjoy the whole week through. Just be sure to keep the herbaceous vinaigrette separate, and combine just before serving.

"There's something so refreshing about the combination of juicy watermelon and salty feta," says Siri Daly. "When you add sweet blueberries, you have the perfect, patriotic summer salad."

Mexican-Style Street Corn Macaroni Salad

The bright and tangy flavors of Mexican-style “street corn” add a fun twist to this summer party-ready elbow macaroni salad. Prep it just before serving, or make it the night before and chill in the fridge for an easy and ready-to-go potluck recipe that will be an instant crowd pleaser at all your summer bashes.

Southern Barbecue Chicken Wings

Making your own barbecue sauce is the key; this one is super tangy and bright. These wings are perfect with cold beer! You could probably eat the whole platter on your own, but we'd caution against it: There are too many other good foods to enjoy.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Meredith Brokaw

Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, fried green tomatoes are a quintessential summer staple. We recommend pairing these delicious bites with fresh homemade ranch dressing.

Mini Italian Tuna Tacos with Guacamole

These tuna tacos blend traditional Mexican and Italian flavors into tasty little bites that are perfect for entertaining.

Layered Veggie Salad

Layered Veggie Salad

Robbie Shoults

This salad is so simple to make but it looks like you worked all day making it so presentable. It sits beautifully in the bowl. Such a great recipe to use when you want to feed a crowd and look good doing it but without much effort!

Kardea Brown ups the ante in her crudités spread by grilling the vegetables instead of serving them raw, using a medley of red bell peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots and asparagus served alongside her smoked red pepper dip, a mix of feta, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and smoked paprika.

Adding tuna to pasta in a zippy vinaigrette is a great way to make this salad shine as an entrée. And with fresh herbs and red onion, it's a perfect foil to the heavier dishes on the table.

Roasted Tomatoes with Strawberries

This unexpected duo is a match made in sweet, vibrant heaven. You can roast the tomatoes in advance and assemble the dish just before serving. You can use strawberries that are slightly underripe for this so the "green" flavor complements the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Brats in a Blanket

Brats in a Blanket

Jyll Everman

A twist on classic pigs in a blanket, these beer-boiled bratwursts are wrapped snugly in puff pastry and paired with a creamy beer cheese dipping sauce. One bite and you'll never go back to eating the traditional version again.

Twice-Baked Potato Bites

Buttery, creamy and cheesy — with bacon on top! — these potato bites are the perfect union of flavor and texture. Adding crushed potato chips and fresh chives to garnish takes this dish to the next level.

Spicy Bacon-Cheddar Deviled Eggs

In this garlicky, cheesy and bacon-packed recipe, deviled eggs are exciting again. If you're ever left tasked with bringing an appetizer, these come in handy because you can make them ahead of time, they take under 30 minutes to put together and you can customize them to your own tastes.

This chilled appetizer (which can double as a side or main) has bright citrus flavors, smoky and spicy notes from the chiles and loads of freshness from an assortment of vegetables. The best part about this recipe, other than the fact that its flavor improves as it sits in the fridge, is that you can customize it, adding whatever vegetables or pasta you have on hand.

Cornbread Salad

Cornbread Salad

Elizabeth Heiskell

Is it a salad, a dip or cornbread? Well, it's all three! This wonderful trifle is bursting with sweet corn, crunchy bell peppers, sharp and creamy cheeses and salty bacon. It can be served in a clear dish for a fun appetizer or on the side of your main dish.

Skillet Nachos with Pulled Pork

This recipe calls for slow-roasting a pork butt on the grill for the ultimate nachos recipe — but, truth be told, you can still use this skillet-on-the-grill technique to whip up any variation of the popular appetizer. It's all about layering the chips with an even distribution of cheese and toppings for a great bite every time.

Corn relish has traditionally been eaten throughout the South and stored in the larder for leaner months. Bryant Terry's family has found multiple uses for this tangy condiment: stuffing it into tacos, serving it atop beans and simply sautéing it to serve as a fresh starter or side.

No need to boil water to prep this no-cook grain salad! Couscous just needs to be rehydrated before serving. For this recipe, you'll combine the couscous with a few staple pantry ingredients, then let it soak in the dressing for a couple hours (or even overnight, if you'd like to prep it in advance). Serve it chilled or room temperature — no heat required!

Simpler than quiche, this veggie-filled summer galette is a beauty on the table. It's perfect for potlucks as it can be put out as an appetizer, side dish or even a vegetarian main.

Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad

Grilled vegetables add a naturally smoky touch to this classic pasta salad tossed in a tangy vinaigrette originally created by Matt Abdoo's mom. (Mom always knows best!)

"In my American South, fresh shelled lady peas, crowders, cream peas — delicate and pearl-shaped — show up at the neighborhood market as a welcome sign of summer," says Nicole A. Taylor.

As vibrant as it is fresh, this salad is all about using ripe, in-season ingredients. Juicy tomatoes, cool watermelon and zesty herbs make this summery salad sing. It's also best served at room temperature, so there's no need to occupy extra space in the fridge.

5-Minute Chunky Guacamole

Need something to satiate your guests while you tend to the grill? Whip up this classic dip in no time and serve as a snack with store-bought or homemade tortilla chips or raw vegetable crudités.

Pimento Cheese-Stuffed Deviled Eggs

Looking for a richer take on deviled eggs? Add some pimento cheese. Looking to make it even more festive? Add popcorn shrimp.

Loaded with sweet and spicy pickled vegetables to go along with the herby and briny feta dip, this platter requires only a few minutes of cooking, which means you'll have a cool kitchen while preparing a veggie-packed dish that is light, fresh and robust in flavor.

This recipe is as seasonal as it gets! Tomatoes are at their peak right now, and so is sweet and juicy corn. It couldn't be a better time to throw all these seasonal vegetables together to make a delicious salad. Add a little Middle Eastern flair to the salad with grilled halloumi. Halloumi is the only cheese you can grill, and once you grill it, it changes its texture and flavors completely, which goes so well with the rest of the salad. Make this super simple but super flavorful salad for your next party!

Burrata Caprese Salad

Burrata Caprese Salad

Valerie Bertinelli

Valerie Bertinelli's go-to recipe for warm-weather entertaining, this recipe no-cook, full of flavor, only requires a few ingredients. All the elements pair so well together and make for an easy and impressive starter or side dish.

Ginger-Miso Pasta Salad

Ginger-Miso Pasta Salad

Valerie Bertinelli

No mayo alert! This Japanese-inspired pasta salad is filled with edamame, carrots and bell peppers, and its dressing is made with miso, ginger, soy and sesame. It gets better as it sits, which means it's perfect for picnics.

This dish reminds Laura Vitale of some of her best summer days on the Amalfi coast. It's so light, bright and flavorful — not to mention quick to prepare!

This recipe is really tasty and easy to throw together for a picnic or an afternoon barbecue. It lasts for days in the fridge, too, so you can make it a few days before your picnic without worrying about a soggy salad.

White barbecue sauce is a North Alabama tradition dating back to 1925 and one of our favorites to serve with smoky grilled wings, the ultimate Fourth of July finger food.

Perfect Potato Salad

The key to a perfect potato salad — as with all cooking — is having the best ingredients. When you stumble upon the most precious baby potatoes, it's time to make potato salad. Then, instead of making a heavy, mayonnaise-y salad, toss just-tender potatoes with olive oil, shallot vinaigrette and whatever fresh, green herbs you can get your hands on.