How to Build a Permanent Outdoor Barbecue

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MOTHER's barbecue grill is constructed of dry-stacked concrete block coated with a structural surface-bonding cement and lined, in the firebox, with common refractory brick.
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Bill of materials for MOTHER's outdoor barbecue.
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Diagram of MOTHER's outdoor barbecue.

The cookout season is hard upon us, so why learn how to build a permanent outdoor barbecue for your yard.

Summer’s the time to enjoy good food, warm weather, and the company of friends . . . and there’s no better opportunity to bring these things together than at a genuine old-fashioned cookout!

This year, you can make your backyard the envy of every
charcoal chef in the neighborhood. How? By building a
permanent outdoor barbecue that’ll not only equal the
performance of the best manufactured grills, but probably
cost the same (or less, depending upon how many components
you can locate used), last longer, and allow you to try out
some fancy cooking techniques in the bargain.

As you might imagine, our goals were to come up with a
design that was flexible and multifunctional . . . to
employ a construction method that even a novice could
duplicate . . . to make certain it was cost-effective . . .
and to end up with a good-looking, fine-cooking
finished product.

Though it’s probably not that obvious from the photos,
MOTHER’s barbecue grill is constructed of dry-stacked
concrete block coated with a structural surface-bonding
cement and lined, in the firebox, with common refractory
brick. Expanded metal screens, set at appropriate levels in
the stacked firebrick joints, serve as inexpensive grilling
surfaces; sections of scrap 1/4 inch metal plate fitted above
the screens create a closed oven environment and can be
lowered without much fuss to become effective griddles.

But that’s not all. Since draft control is critical to heat
regulation, we’ve included a stone-simple, and removable,
loading and air-inlet door at the front, and–for use
with cooler fires–a similar flue control on the
chimney above a built-in smoker rack. Then, its a final
touch, we fabricated an additional cover plate with an
8-1/2 inch hole in the center to be used in conjunction with a
wok or a cast-iron stock pot.

In the case of this barbecue, a picture really is worth a
thousand words, so we’re going to present our basic design
by means of an illustration and two photos. But we’re not
about to set you on your own just yet: A few hints and tips
passed in your direction should help to start you on a
project that’ll be just as much fun to build as it will be
to use. And keep in mind that there’s plenty of room for
modifications, in the event that you want to make some
layout changes.

To begin, you’ll want to select a level site in a somewhat
open area. If you don’t have a flat place available, you’ll
have to make one by digging a slab footing, grading it with
a hoe and square-nosed trenching spade, and checking it
with a level. Take some care with this, because it will
influence the integrity of your finished grill.

If frost heaving might be a problem (it probably will be in
most areas of the country), dig the footing several inches
deep and lay sand or gravel in the pit. After the surface
is smoothed, the blocks and firebrick can be set safely on
top.

We chose to join the blocks with a surface bond because
that technique will make a successful mason of anyone;
Surewall surface bonding cement (manufactured by the W.R.
Bonsal Company, Lilesville, NC) is easy
to apply with a hawk and trowel, is water-resistant, and
can withstand bending and shear stresses remarkable well
because it contains shredded fiberglass strands. The
recommended 1/8 inch-thick coat has a white, fairly rough
texture, so you may want to add a tinted finish coat later.
Be sure to fill the concrete block cores with sand before
you cap them, as this will provide weight and an evenly
distributed heat sink to stave of stress and thermal cracking.

The firebrick is merely stacked without mortar to allow for
expansion. Likewise, the metal plates should be cut to fit
loosely in their places for the same reason. Don’t, by the
way, waste your money buying new steel; scrap prices are
much more attractive, and even though the metal’s not
especially good-looking when you buy it, it can be cleaned
up with a wire brush or a sanding cloth. You may even be
able to find a plate of the right size or get the scrap
dealer to trim a section for you. (A contoured lip or a
section of angle iron welded to the front plate will
prevent the door from falling forward, so keep that in mind
while you scrounge.)

Finally, don’t be afraid to tackle the fabrication of the
sheet metal door (or the flue control, if you want one)
yourself. “Quick and dirty” is the byword here, and a
hammer and a pair of aviation snips will go a long way
toward seeing this tin-knocking job to completion. The 8 inch by
24 inch extension above the sliding-door panel can be either
riveted, welded, or–if you smooth down the
heads–bolted in place.

That’s it in a nutshell. Look over what we’ve done, and
feel free to make any changes that might suit your needs or
particular style of cooking. But most of all, enjoy the
warm evenings to come.