Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Four years ago, when we moved to the Dallas area, one of the first things we learned was that Texans like to have fun. They know how to throw good parties, particularly barbecues. We’ve been to quite a few of them, and we’ve also hosted a few hoe-downs ourselves. We just had one recently. Actually, it’s the time of year when you want to be outside grilling and barbecuing, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of get-together.

Now you don’t have to live in Texas to throw a “Big Tex” country western party. In fact, one of the best hoe-downs I’ve ever been to was in Wisconsin, about five years ago. Okay, the host was a displaced Texan, temporarily living in the North. He served us some bold and spicy steaks—big enough to take up a whole dinner plate (after all, everything’s “bigger in Texas” right?!!), decorated his home with Texas stars, and played us down-home tunes like “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” It all underscores my point: You can have a little “Lone Star State” kind of fun anywhere you live. Here’s what you need to do to throw one of these parties yourself:

Make big invitations by cutting out the shape of Texas out of card stock. On the front of the write, “Come to a Big Tex Party!” Inside, you can give all the details: location, date and time, what to wear, an overview of the activities for the evening, what to bring, etc.

Or, create a WANTED poster out of 8X10-inch light brown colored parchment paper as the invitation to your party. Underneath the word “Wanted” in large black letters, write “Party Guests” and state all the details about the event. Roll up each invitation and tie it with twine.

If you’re not “in” to old-fashioned paper invitations, you can certainly go electronic. Some of the online invitation services like Evite have some very clever western-style invitations that can really set the tone for your party.

Encourage your guests to come dressed in western shirts, chaps (for the guys of course!), bolo ties and big belt buckles (again, for the guys!), bandanas, jeans, and perhaps fringed cowgirl shirts and skirts for the gals).

You might want to have a “best dressed Texan” contest at your party, so note this on your invitation. That way your guests will know they really need to put some thought into what they wear to the party. You could also have a contest just related to the hats worn by your guests. Inform everyone that you’ll be awarding prizes for who wears the “biggest,” “most outlandish,” and “most beat up” hats. All of your guests could vote on these categories during the party, and then you can award the prizes before the end of the evening.

You can buy a lot of western-style and cowboy decorations at your local party store or through online party supply houses like Party America and Oriental Trading Company. They have a huge selection of props, centerpieces, paper goods, streamers, costumes and other party supplies.

For the western party we recently hosted, I went online and ordered some custom “Wanted” posters with guests’ pictures in them. You can also do a Google search and find retailers selling “Don’t Mess With Texas” posters, photos and posters of Texas longhorns and oil wells, and travel posters featuring the Dallas skyline or west Texas. Or, buy a Texas flag or traditional Texas star to display. All of these items can really add to the ambiance.

Of course, you could get creative and make your own “Wanted” posters on your computer. This way you can really customize them. You might also want to make “Cowboys” and “Cowgirls” signs to hang on the bathroom doors.

You can also find a lot of decorative items at craft, farm, western, discount and dollar stores. One idea is to purchase bales of hay to set outside the entrance to your home, in your yard and on your patio. Put some rubber snake around the hay bale, sit a saddle on top of the bale (maybe you have an equine enthusiast you can borrow one from!), or an old wagon wheel off to the side.

Decorate the inside of your home by displaying branding irons, spurs, cowboy boots, western hats, cacti in terra cotta pots, and cowboy rope tied in lassos or lariats. Make bandana streamers by folding bandanas over fishing line (securing with staples) to string across the party area.

Set out galvanized pails (lined with red bandanas or tied with red gingham ribbons) filled with peanuts in shells. This adds to the western feel, but also gives guests something to much on while they’re waiting for the meal.

Cover your tables with a red checkered or gingham tablecloths. For a table centerpiece, fill a cowboy hat with hay and wild flowers, or place a large cactus inside. Or, fill a canning jar with real or silk sunflowers, and tie raffia around the rim. Use red bandanas for chair coverings, doilies or table runners.

Use blue enamel pie tins as plates, and serve up your beverages in old mason jars. Tie a piece of rope or twine around the rim of the jar and you have an authentic western-style drinking glass.

Create flatware/napkin bundles out of bandanas. Bandanas make wonderful napkins for western parties! You can usually find bandanas at craft stores, for relatively low cost. They come in a variety of colors, in addition to the traditional red. At my recent western party, I bought a supply of inexpensive bandanas from Hobby Lobby for $1 each.

To make the flatware bundles, fold the bandana in half to form a rectangle. Place it so the folded edge is at the bottom. Bring the top edge of the first layer to the bottom edge. Turn the bandana over; bring the left edge to the center. Fold this section over itself two more times in the same direction. Place the set of flatware knife, fork and spoon) inside. Tie the napkin bundle with thin rope, jute or twine. Arrange the bundles in a galvanized metal feed tub (one that’s wide but shallow), at the end of your buffet line. You can tie a red gingham ribbon around the pail for an added decorative touch.

Compile a music playlist for your party to help set the mood. Try to come up with a nice mix of modern country, bluegrass and classic country, with a balance between male and female voices. If you’re not normally “in” to country western music, give it a chance. Even those are don’t normally like this music genre, still like a lot of the hits by performers such as George Jones, Martina McBride, Willie Nelson, Clint Black, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Chris LeDoux LeAnn Rimes, Garth Brooks and Waylon Jennings. If you can swing it, and if you’re guests are genuine country music fans, hire a local country western band to play for the evening.

For added fun, plan some special activities for the evening. If you have the space, clear an area outside or inside your home for some country western dancing. That’s a sure way to get everyone involved and mingling. You may want to hire an instructor to teach the guests line or square dancing. Find a referral by calling your region’s square dance caller association (A quick Google or Yahoo search by typing in your state and “square dance caller association” will lead you in the right direction.). If that’s not in your budget, see if you have any guests with experience in line or square dancing, purchase a learning CD with pre-recorded music and directions on it ( has a large selection), and have your own lessons during your party.

Another idea is to rent a karaoke machine for the evening (or borrow one from a friend), and let your guests can take turns singing popular country western hits. This is another activity you could hand out awards for (“Best Performer,” “Most Entertaining,” “Hidden Talent Award,” etc.).

Games can also add a lot of fun. You might pass out squirt guns to guests, have them all stand lined up side-by-side, and see who can be the first to knock over an empty soda can or put out the flame on a candle. If your party is during the daytime, or if you have good outdoor lighting (away from your main entertaining and eating area) you might sponsor a horseshoes tournament. A roping contest can be fun too. Make a lasso by tying a slipknot in a piece of rope, and see who can be the first to lasso a stake in the ground (attach a drawing of a bull onto that stake if you like). Note these activities on your invitation, to let your guests know what you’ve got planned for the evening.

If you’re inviting any more than 10 people to your party (and often these kind of shin-digs have a lot more people than that!), the meal itself is best served up buffet-style. If you have a large center island or one of those 6-foot folding tables, use that for your buffet line.

As far as the menu goes, you could serve up BBQ steaks like our friend in Wisconsin did, or perhaps a spicy chili if it’s during the fall or winter months. However, for during the summer when it’s warm outside, my recommendation for a main entrée is barbecued beef brisket, accompanied by baked beans, potato salad, cornbread, grilled corn-on-the-cob, and coleslaw. Wash down the hearty fare with ice-cold beer, ideally from a Texas micro-brewery. If you’ve got kids present, make sure you have a nice selection of sodas iced down in a beverage trough. For dessert, how about a nice peach cobbler? They’re all favorites here in Texas! The recipes follow:

Oven Barbecued Brisket

7-9 lb. beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
Instant meat tenderizer
1 ½ cups hickory flavored barbecue sauce
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. liquid smoke
1 small Spanish onion, minced
1 tsp. crushed garlic
½ tsp. black pepper

Prick both sides several times with a fork. Sprinkle with meat tenderizer. Lay the meat flat in a large roasting pan. Combine the rest of the ingredients, stir well, and pour over meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, to let the meat marinade. Bake in a 250 degree oven for 7 hours. When done, slice across the grain, in ½ inch slices.

Western-style Baked Beans in the Crockpot

1 lb. dried navy beans
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 large Spanish onion
¾ cup ketchup
¾ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup water
1 tsp. yellow mustard
2 T. molasses
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder

Soak beans in vegetable broth and water overnight in a bowl. In the morning, drain the beans, discarding the broth and water mixture that the beans were soaking in. Put the beans in the crock pot and add the remaining ingredients. Cover, and cook on low, 10-12 hours.

Potato Salad

5 lbs. russet potatoes, cooked and diced
2 medium-sized Spanish onions
6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
6 celery ribs, sliced thinly
2 cups mayonnaise
3 T. cider vinegar
2 T. granulated sugar
2 T. yellow mustard
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. black pepper
Paprika—for garnish

Place potatoes, onions, eggs and celery in bowl. Mix next seven ingredients together in another bowl, then pour this on top of vegetables. Stir to evenly coat. Sprinkle a little paprika on top.

Yankee-in-Texas Cornbread
It’s sweet, so it’s not a typical Southern cornbread, but displaced northerners like me—and even many Texans—really seem to like it!

2 ½ cups white flour
2 cups cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ cup shortening, chilled
2 2/3 cups milk
2 large eggs, beaten

Combine first 5 ingredients in large bowl. Cut in shortening, using your fingers or pastry blender. Add milk and eggs, mixing just until combined. Pour into a greased 13X9-inch baking pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with whipped butter.

DO-AHEAD TIP: This recipe can be made into cornbread muffins and frozen. Thaw the night before serving them. Reheat them in the microwave for a few minutes if you’d like to serve them warm. For a western touch, serve the muffins in a basket that has been lined with red bandanas.

Texas-style Grilled Corn-on-the-Cob

12 ears of corn (with husks)
1 tsp. salt
½ cup butter, softened
Salt and pepper to taste

Strip husks down to the end of the cob, but don’t remove completely. Fill a large bowl with cold, salted water. Put ears of corn in the water, and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes. Brush corn with butter and season with salt and pepper. Wrap husks around corn cobs, covering the entire ear. Secure ears with string or wire twist-ties. Place on grill over low heat, allowing to cook five minutes on each side before serving.

Sweet and Creamy Coleslaw

8 cups chopped green cabbage
2 cups chopped red cabbage
½ cup shredded carrot
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup regular milk (whole or 2 percent)
1/3 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 T. white vinegar
3 T. lemon juice

Place shredded cabbage and carrot in large bowl. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cabbage mix. Stir until coated well. Chill at least 2-3 hours before serving (best when made the night before).

Traditional-style Peach Cobbler

10 peaches, washed, peeled and sliced thinly
½ cup water
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 heaping T. self-rising flour
1/8 tsp. salt
½ cup butter, melted
Cook peaches in microwave until tender, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to peaches and stir well. Stir well.

1 cup self-rising flour
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup shortening, cold (chill in freezer or refrigerator)
4-5 tsp. milk (enough to make dough stick together)
In large bowl, combine flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle milk on top, and mix together just until it forms a dough. Roll out on a floured surface to about a ½-inch thickness. With a biscuit cutter, cut dough into dumpling-shaped circles.

To assemble cobbler, spray a 9X13-inch pan with cooking oil spray. Spoon half of the peach mixture into pan. Arrange half of dough circles on top, pressing them down into the peach juice. Pour remaining peaches on top, and top with remaining dough circles. If desired, brush with milk and sprinkle with some granulated sugar. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40-45 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

Before I close for today, I wanted to post this photo (above) of my oldest son, Danny, at the “Big Tex” party we went to in Wisconsin a little over five years ago. My son used to really enjoy dressing in western-style of clothing. Most kids do. If you host one of these parties, keep in mind it’s a great family activity!

Have fun!

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