Bonfires can be called many things: weenie-roast, camping out, backyard shin-dig, kumbaya circle… but whatever you may call it, you need to read these Kentuckian tips on how to throw a better bonfire.
1. Safety First
Always remember safety comes first when around a bonfire. To create your own fire extinguisher kit, just grab the biggest bucket in your garage, fill with water, and keep it nearby, just in case.
Pro-tip: Be mindful of burn bans and don’t leave fires burning all night, especially during dry seasons.
City folk can throw just as fun of a bonfire party as country folk with a fancy fire pit, but generally any flat empty clearing in a field or backyard will work just as well. You can usually tell that you are going to get an authentic bonfire experience if guests have to park in the grass. If you receive directions such as, “Turn when you pass the collapsed barn on the gravel road,” this would classify as a “Backwoods-Bonfire.” Chances are you’ll have a hootin’ and hollerin’ good time, but you might also get lost out in the boonies or get your car stuck in a cornfield.
Pro-tip: Never wear open-toe shoes to a bonfire. Some old boots or grass mowin’ shoes will do just fine.
3. Collect Burn Materials
There are three types of materials you need to start a fire and keep it going: tinder, kindling, firewood. Newspaper works great and is often laying around. Dried up corn husks work great too. The tinder catches the kindling on fire, usually small twigs and branches (for a single-ladies-themed bonfire, photos and t-shirts of ex-boyfriends can work great for kindling).
Unless you’re a bonfire pro with your own set of roasting sticks, look for long thin branches for s’mores ahead of time (hunting for s’mores roasting sticks during nighttime might leave a guest itching with poison ivy). By now you’ve probably guessed you also need wood. If you are familiar with Kentucky, you know Mother Nature changes the weather on a dime. Go ahead and collect your firewood about a week ahead of time. Soggy wood can ruin a bonfire for certain. The more wood you collect, the longer your bonfire party lasts.
Pro-tip: Collect a few extra logs for those guests that always forget to bring chairs (see tip #5 for other seating options).
4. Building the Fire
Some may try to lazily toss a bundle of wood in a heap (wrong). Others may tell you that criss-cross stacking Lincoln-Log style will be easier and also efficient, but as the logs eventually burn through and shift, you might have a runaway burning logs on the loose. Stacking logs in a tee-pee fashion may be harder than it looks at first, but this is key to having a successful and traditional looking bonfire. The triangle shape provides air access to your fuel wood, and as the logs burn through, gravity will pull them into the fire, keeping your DIY fleece throw-blanket safe from runaway logs.
Pro-tip: Assign a responsible group member with the task of loading fresh logs on the fire. Just because someone is wearing a plaid flannel shirt does not mean they are automatically qualified.
5. For A Great Bonfire
In order to enjoy a great bonfire, you will definitely need seating. Most Kentuckians know ahead of time to bring their own folded lawn chairs, but hay bales are an additional comfy and festive option for seating. If you want to sound like an experienced bonfire host, toss out some cliché sayings such as, “Smoke follows beauty,” or “If you play with fire too much, you’ll wet the bed.”
Most importantly, you can’t have a good bonfire without good food. Wrangle up a few people for a party planning committee. Include menu items such as chili, hotdogs, baked beans, chips, mac’n’cheese, a few cold brews, and an overabundance of marshmallows and grahams for s’mores making.
Usually sitting out in nature playing with fire is enough to keep a lot of people entertained, but it’s always nice if you have additional entertainment. Recruit a friend or two that would enjoy telling ghost stories, can play guitar, bring corn-hole boards (or hillbilly golf games), or organize a hay-ride!