Texas weather tends to get a bad rap, and not without good reason. Summers are scorching, and despite what others might tell you it’s not a “dry heat” (check your undershirt for proof).
But there's an upside to unrelenting sunshine: 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.
The right fire pit is a crucial part of any good bonfire party. Before you set anything aflame, you want to cover a few bases: Is your fire at least 15 feet away from any flammable structures? Do you know which way the wind is blowing to keep it lit? And will you use your fire pit to cook a full meal or just smaller finger foods?
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 Mexican 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. I top each with a saltillo blanket, or linens that match the table theme, to tie everything together (and avoid clothing snags). If you want to take the country theme a step further, these wooden tripod chairs with leather seats are showstoppers that scream cowboy chic — and all they take to make is a little elbow grease and about $25 worth of materials.
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.
Expand on the usual post-dinner snack by skipping the Mason jar-stocked s’mores bar and opting for the s’mores wagon instead. All it takes is securing a vintage Radio Flyer and filling it with s’mores essentials (skewers, chocolate bars, marshmallows) stored in small metal tins. Then, after adding some hay to the wagon for style points, you have a delivery method that allows guests to refuel without even getting up.
Food and drink
If you’re cooking the night before, Texas chili is hard to beat. 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 Negra Modelo in the recipe for Shiner Bock, a beer from the state’s oldest independent brewery. Grill 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, Martha Stewart’s Campfire Chicken Under a Brick is an impressive rustic dish. The secret is that it is very easy to make — just place your entire cast-iron skillet over your grill grate and throw a (clean!) brick on top of your chicken. The result is a meal that would make the roughest rancher proud.
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 whiskey bar. This is the ideal way to serve up signature cocktails, like the Texas Whiskey Revival, crafted by Kendra Thompson of Austin favorite Lucy’s Fried Chicken.
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.