A Texas-style bonfire party
The upside to generally warm-to-hot Texas weather? A long outdoor entertaining season. Make the most of it by throwing a Texas-style bonfire party. You can even do it in January!
Texas weather tends to get a bad rap, and not without good reason. Summers are scorching, and depending on which part of the state you live in, either incredibly humid or dry as a desert.
But there's an upside to unrelenting sunshine of the great state of Texas: you get after-dark outdoor lounging for eight months out of the year. Hot days give way to warm nights, which means there’s almost no wrong time to throw a classic Texan boots-and-bales backyard bonfire party. So before you call up some friends and get fired up to enjoy a special evening outside, make sure you’ve taken the necessary steps below to ensure your gathering is a complete success.
The right fire pit is perhaps the most crucial part of any good bonfire party — for obvious reasons. However, before you set get started, you'll want to cover a few bases. While bonfire parties are enjoyable affairs, it can be easy to forget how dangerous starting controlled fires can be. Before the drinks get flowing and the food gets passed, make sure that you're building a fire at least 15 feet away from any flammable structures. Also take care to pay attention to which way the wind is blowing in order to keep your fire lit. Lastly consider the functionality of your fire pit. Will you use your fire pit to cook a full meal or just smaller finger foods? Or will the fire just be there to warm your friends and family?
Building a fire pit is a relatively easy, DIY project if you pick up a pre-assembled kit. If you aren’t looking to dig up your backyard, large metal fire pits are always attractive and affordable option, and many of them come with a simple grill grate placed on top.
Making your backyard look like a modern barn without veering into cheesy hoedown territory is all about finding the right accents. Apple bushel baskets are great for holding almost anything: utensils, plates, snacks and even a few colorful saltillo blankets if temperatures start to dip in the evenings. Skip the cheery gingham checkboxes and opt for rustic linens on serving tables, like blue-and-cream farmhouse table runners. Hammered metal tubs are an easy way to keep drinks cold and stay on theme. For some extra flair, a few glow sticks tossed into the buckets make it easy for guests to find a drink even after the sun goes down.
When throwing a bonfire party, you’ll want to make sure guests stay around the actual fire. For that to happen, not only does the seating need to be comfortable, it needs to be a focal point. A simple, crowd-pleasing option is to encircle the bonfire with hay bales. Top each one with a saltillo blanket, or linens that match the table theme, to tie everything together (and avoid clothing snags).
You have to be careful when mixing backyard games and open flames. But smaller affairs, like a classic cornhole bean bag toss set, are a fun way to let guests stretch their legs without accidentally melting a ping pong ball in the middle of your dinner. In general it's a good idea to try sticking to games that aren't inherent fire hazards.
Consider gathering everyone up for a round of charades. If you have a friend — or two — that can carry a tune, invite everyone to join in on a sing-along.Food and drink
There is almost no other dish that goes with a bonfire party quite like a hearty bowl of chili. This take on the classic, loaded with jalapeños, ancho chilies and guajillos, is an easy-to-make dish that tastes even better a day or two after prep. If you want to make it truly Texan, sub out the lager-style beer in the recipe for Shiner Bock, a beer from the state’s oldest independent brewery. Heat up some slices of buttery Texas toast on a grill grate over the fire pit, and guests can ladle themselves a meal.
If you’re cooking dinner over the fire, Anne Bryn's grilled chicken recipe is an impressive, yet rustic, dish. Serve this fool-proof, lemon- and herb-marinated grilled chicken with cole slaw, roasted sweet potatoes, fresh cranberry sauce and some braised kale or turnip greens.
Having plenty of ice-cold beers makes any Texan bonfire complete, but you can also use your outdoor space to set up a post-dinner cocktail bar. This is the ideal way to serve up signature cocktails, like Texas margaritas or palomas made with Texas' favorite sparkling water, Topo Chico.
Of course, as a Southerner it is your job to make sure that your guests have the best possible time, which means you can't let anyone leave without dessert. Keep it tradtional and functional by offering guests desserts that you can cook right over the fire.
While there’s ultimately no escaping Texan heat, throwing your own country western bonfire party is a clever way to embrace the Lone Star State, no matter where you are in, or outside, the South.
Photo (fire pit): Maura Friedman
Photo: (chili) Ramona King