Looking for a hot time? Build your next winter party around these bonfire party ideas.
Get Cozy with a Bonfire
Baby, it’s cold outside. But no matter. We’re embracing our inner polar bear and gathering around a roaring bonfire for some flame-kissed fun, food and games—and invite you to do the same. Whether you’re planning a hot date with your honey or just want to get cozy with 40 of your closest friends, here’s our guide to a blazing good time.
Plan Your Bonfire Party
- Pick a spot. Check nearby beaches and parks for after-hours or off-season availability. Review local ordinances for regulations—you may need a permit for a bonfire, even in your own backyard—and find out how far in advance you need to reserve a site. Make sure the area is spacious, with no nearby buildings, and free of debris and hazards such as trees and electrical cables.
- Choose a date. Check long-term weather forecasts. Look for a night with a full moon. The light will be better, and the werewolves might provide some late-night entertainment.
- Choose a theme (or not). Winter Luau, Survivor or the classic Drumand-Dance-Around-the-Fire are all fine party themes. Design your invitation accordingly, or create a mock-up of a matchbook.
Yes, that’s in caps, because we’re shouting at you. You’re combining volatile elements—fire and fun—and you’re responsible for the safety of your guests and your party spot. It should go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway: Have a water supply and fire extinguisher close by, just in case. Bring a flashlight with working batteries, a cell phone (in case you have to dial 911), a shovel for covering the fire with sand or dirt, and a first-aid kit. Do not under any circumstances leave a fire, even a smoldering one, unattended. We know you’ll be careful.
Build Your Bonfire
- Gather tinder, kindling and small, medium and large logs. You’ll need lots. It’s best to contact a supplier at least two weeks before your party to arrange for logs of different lengths. Hardwoods such as hickory or oak are best.
- Dig a wide shallow pit about 5 feet in diameter and 1 foot deep at the center of the circle.
- Start your blaze small, with tight bundles of tinder—thin twigs, bark, abandoned bird nests. Arrange the bundles in the center of the pit.
- Place kindling crosswise on top of the tinder. These should be twigs 8 to 10 inches long, slender enough to snap across your knee.
- Atop the kindling, place the two smallest logs. Place two more atop them at right angles, creating a frame. Fill the space in the center with additional kindling.
- With longer logs, form a tripod around the pile. Fill empty spaces with additional kindling.
- Keep adding logs to the tripod, using longer pieces as you go, to create a tepee-like shape. Leave a space at the bottom so you can reach in with a long match and light the tinder.
- As the fire burns, add more tinder, kindling and logs in the same aforementioned fashion.
- Do not add any products treated with salt, rubber, glue, plastic or foam to your bonfire. Do not use charcoal lighter fluid, aerosol products or combustible liquids to start your fire.
- When you leave, be sure to cover embers with sand or dirt so the fire is properly extinguished.
Bonfire Food and Recipe Ideas
There’s nothing more comforting—or deliciously primal—than cooking in the glow of a dancing bonfire. Stick with simple menu items and tools that harken back to childhood campfires. Heavy-duty aluminum foil, water-soaked wooden skewers, a freestanding grill grate, sturdy twigs and a tough enameled Dutch oven are good choices. (Avoid the straightened wire hanger—it’s often coated with nasty stuff that melts.) A few ideas for your menu:
- Remove a Camembert round from its wooden package and wrapping. Soak the wooden package in water; replace the cheese and top with honey and rosemary. Cook the cheese-filled package in the fire just until the box starts to char; carefully remove from the fire and serve the delicious, gooey contents with crusty bread and sliced fresh or dried fruit.
- Make a hearty soup, stew or chili at home and reheat in a Dutch oven over the embers.
- Pierce baking or sweet potatoes and microwave until just soft (check every two minutes). Then wrap each individually in foil; cook in the fire on a grate or in a Dutch oven over the embers until done. Serve potatoes with melted butter, sour cream, snipped fresh herbs, ground dried chilies and bacon.
- Wrap buttered and seasoned salmon fillets in buttered tinfoil, then several layers of wet newspaper. Place in the fire and cook about 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Carefully remove charred paper and serve in foil.
- Precook fresh vegetables at home; wrap in buttered foil and reheat on a grate in the fire.
- Wrap purchased garlic bread in foil (remove original packaging) and heat over ash-covered coals.
- A delicious idea for apples: Core, fill with butter and sweetened ricotta, and bake in foil.
- Don’t forget the drinks! Offer your guests a steaming mug of goodness and they’ll swoon with gratitude. Irish coffee, mulled cider, kicked-up hot chocolate, hot buttered rum and hot toddies warm you from the inside out.
S’New S’Mores – Bonfire Desserts
Oooh, yeah. The smooshy, chocolatey marshmallow treat is still a big-kid favorite. Amp up the flavor with these grown-up ingredients.
- Balsamic-Chocolate S’More: Make a sauce of balsamic vinegar and chocolate to drizzle over the marshmallow.
- Bacon S’More: Take milk chocolate to a darker place and top it with a slice of crisp apple-smoked bacon.
- Marinated Marshmallow S’More: Brush roasted marshmallow with blackberry liqueur before assembling.
- French Kiss S’More: Add a slice of pear and a crumble of blue cheese to a piece of high-cocoa chocolate.
Turn Up the Heat: A Bonfire Party Playlist
- Light My Fire, The Doors
- Burn Away, Foo Fighters
- Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash
- Some Like it Hot, Power Station
- She’s on Fire, Train
- The Roof is on Fire, Bloodhound Gang
- Hot Hot Hot, Buster Poindexter
- On Fire, Van Halen
- Burning Down the House, Talking Heads
- This Fire, Franz Ferdinand
- Fever, Peggy Lee
- Love Fire, Simply Red
- Eternal Flame, The Bangles
- Firelight, Snow Patrol
- I’m on Fire, Bruce Springsteen
Bonfire Party Ideas by Stephen Exel. Illustrations by Ed Reeve/Getty Images.