How To Build A Brick Barbecue
Before using any mortar, make a “dry run.” Draw the outline of the barbecue with chalk on the foundation slab, about 2 inches inward from the edge. When laying out dimensions of the pit floor, be sure to allow 1/2-inch mortar joints between the brick. Lay the first two courses dry to make sure the bond or pattern will work. If it does, the actual walls will be accurate.
Mix the mortar using 1 part mortar mix or masonry cement and 3 parts fine, clean sand, by volume. Add enough water to achieve a mortar consistency of soft mud. Mortar should slide easily from the shovel, but not run.
Mix small batches, one shovel at a time, not using a full bag (i.e., 1 shovel of cement and 3 shovels of sand). No more mortar should be mixed than can be used in two hours or the mix will harden. Should the mortar lose its plasticity before being used, remix it with a little fresh water.
First lay the corners of the pit, stacking them three or four courses high. Make sure the bottom course is bonded to the slab with mortar. Then fill in the walls between the corners. As you proceed, laying course after course, lay 1/2 inch of mortar bed between each brick. Spread a bed joint for not more than three bricks at a time. Roughen the surface of the mortar by making a shallow furrow with the point of the trowel. Lay the brick on top and tap into place with a mortar trowel. Apply the “head” or vertical joint by spreading one end of brick with mortar. Make sure all joints are completely filled with mortar to ensure a watertight barbecue. Proceed in this manner for the remaining courses of the pit, frequently using a hand level to ensure the brick is even and plumb.
Frequently use a hand level to make sure the brick is even and plumb. As you lay each course, scrape off excess mortar from the joints.
It’s a good idea to let the concrete base slope slightly toward the side of the pit’s opening. This will allow drainage from the hearth.
As you lay the brick, scrape off any excess mortar from the joints. Tooling is done at the same time to seal the joints by shaping and compressing the mortar. For tooling, use a short length of pipe, slightly larger in diameter than the thickness of the joints. Work the pipe over the joint first vertically then horizontally to achieve a concave joint. A secret of good brickwork is not to move a brick once it is in place, so take great care when laying the brick the first time.
Top off the walls of the barbecue with solid bricks, and remove any crumbs of mortar with a soft hand brush.
The dimensions of brick barbecue pits vary from builder to builder. The pit’s height is often constructed to a height customized for the builder (or cook). Keep in mind that the hearth, or floor, of the barbecue should be built wide enough to house a grille and charcoal pan, available at most home-improvement centers. When constructing the inner walls of the hearth, apply 4-inch rebar rods into the fresh bed joints to support the grille and pan at whatever height you feel would be comfortable for cooking.
Once the mortar sets, you’re ready to whip up a feast fit for football season. Bon appetit.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Bryan Light, director of Technical Services for the Southern Brick Institute, for providing information and materials for this article. For more information, visit www.gobrick.com.