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Here's How: A Stacked Masonry Barbecue Can Be Strong

James Dulley on

Dear James: Our gas barbecue grill just rusted out and I want to build a masonry one that uses charcoal or wood. What is the simplest construction method that still looks nice? -- Kevin W.

Dear Kevin: Propane or natural gas barbecues are convenient to use, but they do not provide the same flavor as food grilled over charcoal. For more of a wood flavor, cans of flavored wood chips can be added to the charcoal fire to create unique flavors for meats and vegetables.

No matter what construction method you select, you will have to provide for control of the heat for different types of foods. With charcoal, it is not as simple as just turning a gas valve. Build your barbecue with several sets of ledgers (rests) for the charcoal grate so that you can adjust the fire up or down. Four levels ranging from 9 to 15 inches below the cooking grate work well.

Another simple method for control is double metal doors on the front of the barbecue. Cast iron doors used for fireplace cleanouts work well. The top door (kept closed) is used to add the charcoal. You can open the lower door to control the combustion air and heat.

Buy the grates, one for the cooking surface and one for the charcoal, at any fireplace or cooking supply outlet. Cast iron grates are durable, but they are difficult to handle. Try to find stainless steel grates. They are lightweight and last forever.

When planning your brick barbecue, shoot for a cooking surface height of about 30 inches. This is a comfortable height for most people. You will also want some work area on the side of the grate.

A single 20-inch-wide area is adequate or a 16-inch-wide area on both sides. The exact work area width will depend on the sizes of the grates and bricks that you will use. Don't scrimp on the size because you always end up needing more work area than you anticipate.

Many people use plain white fire bricks because they are uniform in size and stack nicely. Since most barbecues do not get very hot, I like using old, used, solid masonry bricks. Used bricks are reasonably priced and, by selecting various colors, you can build a unique-looking barbecue.

One of the simplest construction methods is a mortarless design. Using this mortarless method, anyone can build a brick barbecue over a weekend, and it can last as long as one made with mortar. You also will have to carry fewer heavy bags of cement and sand.


The biggest chore will be pouring the concrete base. Before pouring it, plan your barbecue design and lay out a course first. This will ensure that you are making the base large enough.

The base should be six inches thick and extend six inches out from the barbecue. Pour half the concrete, add four 1/2-inch reinforcing rods in each direction and then pour in the rest of the concrete. Although appearance is not important, make it smooth and level for a good base for the bricks.

You will probably need about 500 bricks to build a reasonably sized barbecue but buy several dozen more. You will always find some of the used bricks are too badly damaged to use for your barbecue.

Stack the bricks tightly together on the base. This is important for stability, appearance and controlling the combustion air. Put two bricks in one direction and the next two bricks in the perpendicular direction. For the next course of bricks, reverse the pattern.

Make your ledgers for the charcoal grate and the cooking grate by pulling several of the bricks out one inch into the open area. This will not harm the stability of the barbecue. Install the grates and you are ready for dinner.


Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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