How To Build A Brick Barbecue
The comprehensive guide to building a brick barbecue pit from the DIY and home improvement experts.
What would fall be without football? And what would football season be without the mouth-watering, smoky aroma of hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on the grille? You know the kind: big fist-sized patties of ground beef that may just stop your heart, franks seared to perfection (just a little bit black), racks of ribs, juicy quarters of chickens, flame-broiled vegetables … I find myself daydreaming.
This season, kick off your culinary creations by building your own barbecue pit — a perfect project for the extreme do-it-yourselfer who doubles as a serious chef.
The first step to building a brick barbecue is to determine the pit’s location. You’ll want this relatively close to the house for the many inevitable trips to the kitchen while grilling, but keep in mind that it should be away from low-hanging branches and other fire hazards. First, dig the footings and construct wooden forms to shape the concrete. The pit excavation for the concrete foundation should measure at least 50-by-50 inches, and the concrete foundation should be 6 inches thick.
For the concrete base, “ready-mixed” concrete may be used or the concrete may be mixed on site. A recommended mix is 1 part Portland cement, 2 parts clean, dry sand and 2 1/2 parts gravel or crushed stone, by volume.
Mix the concrete in a wheelbarrow with a shovel or garden hoe. Thoroughly blend the ingredients before adding water. Use no more than six gallons of water per bag of cement. The yield of concrete will be approximately equal to the amount of gravel used. Compact the earth floor and place steel reinforcing rods in the bed. Criss-cross the bars in a grid pattern and elevate them with pieces of brick to center the reinforcement in the foundation. Then pour the concrete. Use a board to screed or strike off any high spots on the concrete surface. It’s also a good idea to let the concrete slope slightly toward the side where the pit’s opening will be built. Use a slope of about 1/8 inch per foot so that water will not be trapped inside the pit’s U-shaped brick walls. The concrete should begin to set within one-half hour. Cover the concrete with burlap or plastic for the first 48 hours.
For small foundations, such as that of a barbecue pit, companies such as Quikrete offer fiber-reinforced concrete, which eliminates the need for steel reinforcement in a slab-on-grade footer. The small fibers in the mix bond with cement, enhancing the strength of the concrete. If using this type of product, follow the manufacturer’s specifications.
Brick should never be laid “bone dry”; they should be damp but not wet. If the brick are too dry, the mortar you spread for each successive course dries out so fast you can’t get the brick layed and leveled before the mortar starts to harden. Dry brick is very thirsty, due to its porous nature, and it will quickly suck all the water out of the mortar as it is being spread. Pre-wetting the brick just prior to laying gives the surface a slippery quality that badly smears as you lay them. Your best bet would be to wet the brick one day prior to laying so the moisture is in the body of the brick, but the surface feels dry to the touch.
You’ll need some basic bricklaying tools, including a hammer, mason’s string, a few 10d nails, a trowel, a hand level, carpenter’s chalk and a broad-bladed cold chisel. The chisel, called a brick set, is used for cutting brick. A tap on the chisel with the hammer will score the brick along the line of cut. Do this on two surfaces of the brick. Then, pointing the chisel inward, strike a sharp blow with the hammer, and a clean break should result.