7 Easy Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining in the Winter
We may have to put up with mosquitoes and suffocating heat in the summer, but there's no denying that our temperate winters are one of the South's greatest selling points. Small outdoor gatherings are a comfortable possibility year-round: Cozy bonfires take the place of summertime barbecues, and ice-cold beers are swapped for hot festive sippers. But even with our mild temperatures, there are still ways to make cold-weather backyard get-togethers even more comfortable for your guests. Here, "Hey Y'all" host Ivy Odom shares her best tricks for warming up intimate outdoor gatherings this winter.
Build a fire.
Ivy's method for sparking a crackling fire is nearly foolproof. Build a base with smaller logs (she notes that split wood sometimes burns more easily than round pieces), kindling, and newspaper. Then, moving from the inside out, add larger logs in a tent shape and toss in a few more pieces of newspaper for good measure. She recommends starting the fire just before guests begin to trickle in.
Make guests feel at home (and safe) right off the bat.
Set cozy and appropriately distanced places with blanket scarves that guests can take home as party favors. Wrap hand warmers and masks in cloth napkins, then top with people's names for thoughtful place cards.
Warm up décor with layers of fabric.
Score fabric remnants on the cheap from your local craft store, then use them to decorate the most inviting picnic tables ever. Wrap smaller pieces around potted plants to easily elevate their look without spending a fortune on repotting or a lot of time on an involved craft project. Don't be afraid to mix patterns, says Ivy: As long as you stick to a uniform color palette, they'll feel cohesive.
Bring out the slow cooker…but not for the reasons you'd think.
Make a DIY drink warmer by filling a slow cooker with water and setting it to warm. Place jarred or bottled drinks in the pot to serve drinks at the proper temperature all night. Be sure to screw on drink lids tightly and place a dishtowel next to the slow cooker so guests can wipe off any excess water when they grab their beverages.
Keep drinks simple.
For the kids, pour hot chocolate into individual jars and pair them with single-serve ramekins filled with marshmallows and peppermint sticks. For the booze-drinking set, pour a swig of bourbon in a small mason jar, add hot apple cider and a cinnamon stick, then shake for the easiest-ever hot toddy. Be sure to label lids with Sharpie so the kids don't accidentally get into the adult beverages.
Serve snacks in individual portions.
Minimize food handling by making individual charcuterie plates and s'mores snack trays ahead of the party. Personalize the mini charcuterie boards with various types of meat and cheeses, fruits, nuts, and super-Southern additions like pickled okra. For the s'mores, tie a few graham crackers with kitchen twine and serve in a small paper container (like you'd get at a concession stand) with an entire Hershey's bar and marshmallows.
Set up a fun game.
For easy entertainment, order an oversized Jenga set from Amazon. If you want to personalize your game with custom colors, opt for an unpainted set of blocks and break out the spray paint.