No garden is complete without a BBQ, especially with summer on the way!
While there are plenty of top-of-the-range BBQs out there, nothing quite beats a bold brick design. Brick BBQs are full of rustic charm: the back-to-basics kind of character that you lose with a big brand grill. You can also customise a brick BBQ in terms of size, shape and colour without having to overpay for extra features. Finally, give or take a bit of maintenance, a durable brick BBQ can easily last you for several years!
Although creating a brick BBQ is not too complicated, the work itself is quite labour intensive and requires a steady hand. Because of this, if you do not have experience with this kind of work then you may prefer to hire a local builder or bricklayer. As well as having better technique, they will also be used to gauging the correct measurements and materials for projects like this, which will result in a better finished product. If you would be interested in a more impressive and well designed package for your BBQ, such as a new patio and outdoor dining area to go along with it, you may want to hire to a landscape designer to help plan it out.
Although bricklaying may not seem complicated, failing to properly plan the placement and size of your BBQ will inevitably result in a poor finished product. There are a number of pre-designed models which can be bought online, as well as several online tutorials which can be helpful when deciding on which materials to buy. However you could end up paying more for these models than necessary; simply take your time and plan things out, and you will be fine.
One of the disadvantages of a brick BBQ is that it cannot be moved, which means that you will have to choose your spot carefully. Obviously, you will need to keep your BBQ away from anything flammable, including plants and wooden structures such as sheds or fences. It will also be important to not have the BBQ too close to your property, or you might end up filling your home with smoke!
If you have a patio area, this will be a good place to build your BBQ. The structure will need a solid foundation, after all. Failing this, you can choose an ideal grassy spot and then create a concrete base, which we will cover later.
Before moving on, take the time to think about the shape of your BBQ. While you can quite easily just build a unit to hold your charcoal and cooking trays, it will be simple to also create space for a serving table. All you will need to do is add a third wall to your BBQ, giving it an overall ‘E’ shape. Once the supports are built, you can simply stick down a patio slab and you’ll have a useful area to keep your cooking utensils.
In terms of height, you will want your BBQ to be tall enough for you to be able to cook on it comfortably. For most people, the ideal height for the grill will be around eight to nine courses, though this will depend on you.
As we mentioned previously, it will be important for your BBQ to have a solid base to stand on. You can provide this by laying slabs, or you could create a simple and level concrete base. Of course, if you already have a patio area then this should not be much of a problem.
You will want to plan your base so that there is enough room for your BBQ, as well as enough space for you to stand comfortably while cooking.
If you do choose to use concrete, be sure to wear your safety gloves while mixing and working with it, as concrete can damage and irritate bare skin. After deciding on the area, excavate it to a depth of around 250mm. You can then fill the area with concrete, making sure to properly level it with your screeding float.
The concrete will take a few days to dry, so use this time to plan everything down to a tee! Once the concrete is dry, use your spirit level to check that it is completely flat. If not, you will have to compensate with mortar once you start laying your bricks.
Once you have your spot properly prepared, begin by placing your grill tray down on the ground. You will be using this as a guide as you shape your BBQ. Start placing bricks around the grill: this is where your first course will go. While spacing everything out, be sure to give the BBQ enough room for your trays to fit in comfortably. Remember, they will need a few extra inches so that they can be comfortably lifted in and out.
If you are also planning to build a wall for a serving table, you will need to think about the width of your middle wall. To make sure that each side is properly supported, it will be a good idea to build the middle wall twice the width of your other walls. Alternatively, you could choose to support your grills and serving table with mending plates, though you will need to be sure that the brand you buy is strong enough. Usually the most suitable type will be zinc plated mending plates.
Make a note of the measurements of your BBQ before lifting the bricks away. Now that the prep work is done, it’s finally time to start building!
Time to get building! Start off by mixing your mortar, using a ratio of four parts sand to one part cement. As always, do not make too much mortar at once; it dries quickly, and once it does all you’ll have is a useless lump!
Use your spirit level to make sure that the area is flat, then begin applying mortar in the shape of the first course. You can then begin laying the first course of bricks. One thing that I cannot stress enough is that you will want to be very meticulous with your spirit level: as you go along, keep making sure that the bricks are neatly in line and level. Once the first course is down, insert your metal twist ties over the joints between the middle and back walls, as this will strengthen the connections between them.
As you lay the bricks down, there are a few rules that you should keep in mind. Firstly, you might have noticed that most brick structures in the world have been built in a staggered pattern. This is for the sake of making them structurally sound, and you will want to follow this example as you place your bricks. Secondly, do not simply lay the courses one after the other: once the first one is down, build up three to four levels at the corners. You can then place your flat piece of wood on top of these corners and use your spirit level to make sure that the heights are properly in line with each other. Afterwards, you can safely fill in the gaps.
Every three to four courses or so, you should take the time to clean up your mortar. Otherwise, you will leave your BBQ looking like a messy amateurish job. Using your trowel, clean away any excess mortar, then grab your length of hose. You can use this to very gently smooth out the mortar into a more attractive shape. This technique is called ‘bucket handle pointing’.
Around seven courses up, it will be time to create the supports for your charcoal tray and serving table. For this course, turn the bricks sideways to create ledges for them, remembering that these ledges will need to protrude in both directions on the middle wall. After this, you will not need to keep building up the courses around the serving table, so focus on the section for your grill.
Build up another normal course, then repeat the process to create a ledge for your cooking grill. If you want to give yourself multiple options for cooking height, keep repeating this until you have as many shelves as you want.
When you come to put down your patio slab for the serving table, it should be supported on three sides including the back wall, a sidewall and the ledges coming from the middle wall. Use a bit of mortar to fit the slab down, then use your spirit level once again to make sure that it is level.
Once the BBQ is finished, you will need to wait at least 48 hours before you can get cooking. During this time, cover the structure to protect it from the rain: you want your mortar to set without any difficulties!