Enjoy the roaring warmth outdoors, a menu fresh off the grill, and, of course, s'mores.

By Rachel Dube
July 22, 2021
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Bungalow Great oceanside fire pit
Credit: Douglas Friedman

When hot summer days give way to cool nights, a backyard bonfire is precisely what you've been dreaming about. Just picture it: the stars twinkling above, a cozy campfire built over a pile of wood, and a roasted marshmallow for your s'mores. What's more, it's a great alternative gathering idea during a season that's packed with endless barbecues and pool parties. And with the right preparation and safety in mind, it's easy to partake in this seasonal tradition and treat family and friends to a night they'll remember.

If you're not sure where to begin, we've rounded up everything you need to host a picture-perfect backyard bonfire with help from the experts.

Pick a date.

Before you start inviting guests to your backyard bonfire, you'll need to check the weather. The bonfire can't be held on a rainy day but you don't want to host guests on a night that's too hot, either. Try to pick a breezier night, if possible, as the fire will keep you warm and toasty without leaving you melting. However, you should remind your guests to bring a light sweater, in case they feel a bit chilly.

Set up the bonfire.

When it comes to establishing the bonfire itself, you can opt for a firepit or assemble one with firewood. "You'll want to start by cleaning the ground out to at least 10 feet around the site, removing anything that can burn," explains Gary McCoy, a store manager at Lowe's. "Dig a pit one-foot deep and place rocks around the perimeter of the pit." For this, he advises using four types of wood: small twigs, dry bark, and small sticks up to one inch in diameter to act as kindling and larger pieces of firewood three to 10 inches in diameter.

Before you start your fire, explains McCoy, make a loose pile of tinder in the middle of the fire pit. "Don't pack it tightly—oxygen needs to get to the fire." To create the tinder, he explains, start by stacking the large pieces, placing two pieces of firewood parallel to each on either side. McCoy recommends stacking two more pieces on top and perpendicular to the first two, continuing to alternate the sides. "As you build, use smaller pieces of wood to make the rectangle a bit smaller." When you get to the top, lay the smallest pieces inside the structure and over the top. After you complete that, light the tinder with a lighter or match and add kindling to the fire. "Once the fire is burning strongly, you can add larger pieces of firewood, but keep the fire small enough that you can control it."

When assembling a firepit at home, safety should be your top priority. McCoy recommends that you always keep water nearby and never light a fire in windy conditions. "Your bonfire needs to be on level ground and a minimum of 15 feet away from any objects such as tents, trees, and bushes." He further advises, when the fire has burned down, extinguish it by pouring plenty of water over the area. "Douse the embers whether they're red and glowing or not and keep adding water until you no longer hear the hiss of water contacting hot material." Another thing to keep in mind? "Avoid using lighter fluid or any type of flammable liquid on the fire," advises McCoy.

Decide on food selection.

Invite guests over before the sun goes down for a little evening dinner. Put some grilled chicken with figgy barbecue sauce, easy barbecued spare ribs, and barbecued salmon fillets on the grill, whip up your favorite layered summer salad, and throw together some summer vegetable and bean tacos. Don't forget to mix up some berry spritzers for your guests. Just make sure you leave room for the ooey-gooey s'mores your guests will compile later in the evening.

Decorate the space to be comfortable and cozy.

Set up a comfortable area for guests to sit around the fire to keep things cozy. You'll want to offer some soft chairs, blankets, or throws to make your guests feel right at home. Allow guests to decide where they sit on their own to make it a casual atmosphere for everyone.

Grab your s'mores essentials.

To make the bonfire experience truly authentic, make sure you have all the materials needed to make your own s'mores. Don't forget to buy the essentials like graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. If you're feeling fancy, you can take them up a notch with unique shaped or flavored marshmallows, gourmet chocolate, homemade graham crackers, and the addition of sauces like caramel.

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