DEAR TIM: I have had it with my portable backyard grill. The steel parts constantly rust. I was thinking of a more permanent solution. Do brick barbecue grills really work? Are there desirable design features? Is it possible for an average homeowner to construct one? If not, what other options are available? Molly - Whippany, NJ
DEAR MOLLY: Your frustration is understandable. You spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy barbecue grill only to see rust develop within 2 - 3 years. Several years ago I attempted to lift the lid from my grill. The lid stayed put while the handle went up in the air. The rust particles added a little unwanted texture and flavor to those hamburgers!
The old fashioned brick barbecues do work. In fact they work quite well. If you decide to go this route, you do not have to limit yourself to brick. Fieldstone, creek rock or any masonry material that is locally available should do well. Because barbeques do not generally develop extremely hot temperatures, many masonry materials will not disintegrate from heat stress.
If you are ambitious and have good hand-eye coordination you can attempt to construct your barbecue from brick, stone and mortar. This project will require a significant steel reinforced foundation. A 12 inch thick footer that is at least 6 inches wider than the barbeque at all points will be necessary. Be sure to pour the footer absolutely level.
The overall height of the barbecue cooking surface should fall between 28 and 32 inches. This is a comfortable level for most people. The grate that holds the charcoal should not be permanently mounted in the masonry work. In fact, you should construct ledges at different levels below the cooking grate. The charcoal grate should be allowed to rest on ledges that are 8, 11 and 14 inches below the cooking grate. This will allow you to adjust the cooking fire temperature and intensity.
As you construct the barbecue grill, be sure to allow for platforms on each side of the cooking surface. These areas should be at least 16 inches wide and deep if at all possible. This will allow you to place cooking utensils, platters, sauce and spices immediately adjacent to the cooking surface. Be sure to incorporate a small brick or stone ground level patio in front of the grill as well. This paved surface will allow you to prepare your favorite meals mud free.
For those who might be challenged by laying brick or stone with mortar, you can construct a brick barbecue without mortar in a single afternoon. Using approximately 350 solid brick you can dry stack them to create a 32 inch deep by 40 inch wide by 29 inch high barbeque grill. This grill needs only to rest on a level 4 inch thick steel reinforced concrete slab. When finished, it sports an adequate 16 inch wide by 32 inch deep platform for cooking plates and utensils. If you mix brick of different colors, you can create a very unique conversation piece that will be the envy of your neighbors.
Do you have a rich relative who recently mentioned you in their will? If so, you should absolutely consider purchasing a stainless steel barbecue grill. These superb cooking devices will absolutely stand the test of time and will not rust. The low end models start at $1,000 assembled and delivered to your door. You can easily spend up to $3,000 for a deluxe stainless steel grill.
If you have natural gas or propane available, consider installing an underground gas line to your new grill. Have a qualified plumber install a gas log lighter kit just below the charcoal grate in your brick barbecue. This convenience will enable you to easily light your charcoal fire. You will never have to taste lighter fluid fumes again. The stainless steel grills come equipped with fancy quick-connect flexible gas hoses. Just attach these to the end of the gas line and light up!