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When dear San Diego food blogger and friend, Marie announced she was leaving California for Nebraska for medical school, I wanted to throw her a party. In the past, her house has often been the center of good food and lots of gatherings. It was the very least I could do for her.

Throwing a party is hard enough but I wanted it to be special --  something unique to Southern California -- yet still easy with little prep work. What immediately popped in my mind was a bonfire party by San Diego Bay. And for food? Make your own grilled cheese. To make it special, the guest of honor would choose the best grilled sandwich and the winner would set a pinata on fire.

Prep work was relatively easy. A few days in advance, I bought variety of cheeses (Monterey pepper jack, goat cheese, extra sharp cheddar, American cheese and mozzarella), three types of sliced bread (Hawaiian, potato and black olive). I also included butter, olive oil, tomatoes, mustard, basil, avocado and bacon. On the invitation, I listed all the ingredients I was bringing but also welcomed any additional ingredients they might have that will set their sandwiches apart from the rest.

Table of Ingredients


Once the bonfire was lit and ingredients were set, all the party-goer were set free to make a sandwich. I instructed that everyone set aside a bit of their sandwich for Marie to taste. Even the guests that hardly knew each other gathered around the bonfire while discussing the optimum way to grill a sandwich.

There were a lot of successful sandwiches as well as a few flubs.

Burned Grilled Cheese

After many sandwiches, the winner of the competition also served his sandwich with a side of tomato soup -- a secret ingredient he brought to the party.

Tips for a successful bonfire grilled cheese party:

  • Bring lots of firewood. If you're lucky enough to have designated bonfire pits, check the local beach regulations. San Diego beaches don't allow wood pallets with nails. (Nails should be removed.) In addition wood pallets burn through very quickly so firewood is best. Don't forget matches or a lighter.
  • Reread the beach regulations. San Diego beaches don't allow alcohol or glass containers on the beach. Some places with bonfire pits are closed at 10 p.m.
  • Bring kitchen tools. Consider the bonfire your kitchen away from home. Bring (or designate a few people) to bring paper towels, a grilling rack, cast iron pan, oven mitts, a cutting board, knife, foil and just in case, a first aid kit.
  • Food. The amount and variety of bread and cheese is up to you. Basically more is better but tailor the ingredients to suit your guests.
  • Have fun! This party is suppose to be easy. Once all the ingredients are ready, set everyone free and enjoy yourself.