Not many of us can resist the smell of a steak, hamburger or even a hot dog grilling on an outdoor barbecue. It gets even better when that delicious scent is coming from a brick barbecue that you built yourself. A brick barbecue can be a beautiful addition to your yard and it's the kind of project any person who enjoys working with their hands can take on themselves. Here's a guide to building your own backyard brick barbecue.
Step 1 - Choose a Location
You'll want your barbecue to be relatively close to the house, since you're going to be carrying all your food and utensils from the house out to it. Plus, you know you're going to forget something, which will mean more trips back into the house, so keep it close. Also, figure out which way the wind usually blows. You want to put your barbecue somewhere that the smoke won't blow back into the chef's face or directly into the house. Finally, you want to locate it away from overhanging trees, fences and buildings, and on relatively level ground.
Step 2 - Prepare the Base
A brick barbecue is heavy, so it needs a solid base. Some large pavers laid on a bed of sand might be an OK base, but if you really want to make your barbecue something special, you need to prepare a real base for it.
1. To create a solid base, dig down and remove the dirt from an area about 4 feet by 4 feet. Make the hole 4 inches deep, then install 6-inch wooden forms along the insides of the hole.
2. Use concrete mix cement that you just need to add water to and can mix in a wheelbarrow. Pour in about 3 inches of cement and then lay in three pieces of rebar 3 1/2-feet long and 12 inches from each other. Cover the rebar with another 3 inches of cement and smooth the base.
3. It's a good idea to build in a slight slope or grade to the base (say 1/2-inch from back to front) so rainwater will run off the foundation. Now just let the base set up for 48 hours.
While you are waiting for your cement to set up, go and buy your fire pan and barbecue grills, available at barbecue stores or even home centers. You'll need to have these before you begin building the barbecue so you can be sure they will fit.
Step 3 - Design the Barbecue
There are a few things you need to take into consideration when designing your masterpiece. You want the cooking grills to be at a comfortable height, about 30 inches from the ground, and the firebox needs to be 4 or 5 inches below. (For a brick barbecue, that means 2 brick courses below.) You also want to include one or two shelves at least 16 inches wide so you can keep your cooking paraphernalia close by when barbecuing.
Step 4 - Prep the Area
Lay out the first two courses of bricks dry (no mortar) to get the barbecue placed correctly on the concrete pad. Draw a line around the bricks when you are happy with the positioning.
Since dry bricks will draw the moisture out of mortar before it has a chance to set up properly, spray your bricks with a hose. The Brick Industry Association suggests you do this the day before you want to start laying the brick; that way, the moisture will be right in the brick, but the brick surface will be dry.
Step 5 - Lay the First Course
Make your mortar by mixing 1 part Portland cement, 1/4 part hydrated lime, and 3 parts masonry sand. Mix in enough water to get a consistency like soft mud.
Lay your first course of bricks in a row of mortar, making sure that the mortar stays inside your outline. Put 1/2-inch of mortar between adjacent bricks and make sure the first course is level.
Step 6 - Lay the Next Courses
Continue building up your barbecue walls by working up at the corners for 3 or 4 courses, and then filling in the walls between the corners. Lay 1/2-inch mortar bed for each course and apply enough mortar to one end of each brick so the gap will also be 1/2-inch. Set each brick onto the mortar bed and tap it into place with the handle of your trowel. Scrape excess mortar off the bricks as you work your way up the walls.
Step 7 - Tool the Joints
Every three or four courses, check that the courses are level and the walls are plumb. This is also a good time to tool, or "point," the joints (compress and shape the mortar). Use a short piece of pipe 5/8 or 3/4-inch in diameter and run it over the mortar joints (both horizontally and vertically). This will compress the mortar and give it an attractive concave shape.
Step 8 - Install the Fire Box and Grills
Insert three or four pieces of rebar in between the courses at the proper design height to hold the firebox and cooking grills. Set the box on the rebar and mortar it in place.Set the grills on the rebar, but leave them lose, so they can easily be lifted off for cleaning and to access the box.
Finish the top with a row of solid bricks, then stand back and admire your new brick barbecue. Once the mortar dries, you'll be cooking on that beautiful new addition to your backyard.
A Note on Cutting Brick
Try to choose a pattern that minimizes the number of bricks you need to cut. However, no matter what pattern you come up with, you will have to cut some. You can rough cut bricks using a broad blade chisel and a hammer. Score around the brick and then give a sharp blow on the scored line, and the brick should split. If you need to make lots of cuts, you'd be well advised to rent a brick splitter or get a masonry blade for your power saw.
(Looking for more backyard improvements? Make your own outdoor movie theater.)