DIY - Build Your Own Charcoal Barbeque

You like barbecues. You like cooking outside and you like the way charcoal-grilled food tastes. Maybe for you there's a certain DIY, rugged self-reliance vibe when it comes to barbecuing: I'm not cooking in a namby-pamby fitted kitchen, I'm cooking in the great outdoors with nothing but a tray of hot coals and a pair of tongs! It's no great coincidence that people who make their own burgers from scratch are more likely to cook them on a barbecue than in a frying pan. If we stretch that DIY aesthetic just a little, it's no great leap to start fantasising about building your own.

Homemade barbecues can take many forms. The most common is probably the three-sided brick structure with supports to hold the grill at about waist height (and right there is one of the best reasons to build your own, it's bespoke, tailor-made for your personal use and won't fit anyone else quite as well; that's got to give you a buzz, surely). Another option is the brick-lined fire pit; a lot more bending down, which is a pain in the lumbar region, but somehow pleasingly primitive. And finally, starting to appear in the UK are Mediterranean-style barbecue 'kits' consisting of pre-fabricated, shaped concrete, often with a chimney and even some with a preparation area and sink to one side – now you really are moving the kitchen outside. However, building your own doesn't have to be a major construction project. You could take a slightly more temporary and improvisatory route.


Things to Think About

Whatever the scale of the undertaking, there are two factors that you need to appreciate and take into account when designing and building your barbie.

First, air supply. Whether it's wood, charcoal barbecue or something else, you're building something that has to incorporate burning fuel. For a good burn, you need good airflow. Air is the source of oxygen and no oxygen = no fire. The air ideally needs to pass through the fuel from underneath, so you'll need some sort of grill for the briquettes or whatever to sit on and it has to be fairly sturdy so as not to bend in the heat.

Second, different foods need different heats. The simplest way to adjust the amount of heat the food receives isn't to mess about with the heat source, it's to raise or lower the food itself. So you need some way of adjusting the height of the grill.



The simplest brick barbecue is also the most temporary. Get some housebricks, stack them no more than a couple high, place a grill on top and build a fire underneath. It's not pretty, it's not adjustable, it'll leave a scorch mark and ordinary housebricks probably won't stand repeated exposure to the heat. But it'll do the job and there's a certain 'roughing-it' feel that's quite nice once in a while.

For a permanent brick barbecue, even if you're not a bricklayer, the building work shouldn't be beyond you. Especially if you take some advice and make it easy for yourself by purchasing a brick barbecue kit. That way, you know the materials are right for the job (heat-resistant!) and it'll at least come with some rudimentary instructions. Besides, the internet is full of step-by-step guides and videos to help you. If it's your first time with bricks and mortar then take heart from the fact that you're building a very simple structure – just three small walls forming an open rectangle – and take your time, you want it to be a thing of beauty and not an eyesore.


Buckets of Fun

For a smaller scale, possibly travel-sized homemade barbecue, get hold of a galvanised bucket (and no, a plastic one won't really do). Punch some holes all the way round, about two or three inches up from the bottom (a hammer and nail will do or for a tidier job, use a drill) and that's your airflow sorted out. Next, make some more holes a couple of inches higher up and thread through some heat-resistant metal rods. This is your fire rack so the gaps between the rods need to be smaller than the size of the fuel (briquettes?). As for the food, that's going to sit on top of the bucket. Either find a small grill to do the job or just put it all on kebab skewers that are longer than the bucket is wide. It's a bit Heath Robinson, but it's also good fun and so long as you're not trying to feed too many people, it's perfect for camping out or picnicking; much better than those one-use foil tray affairs.

On a final note, whatever you build or make, think about where you put it. For example, overhanging trees are a no-no, as is being too close to wooden garden sheds. This is a particularly important consideration for brick and concrete barbecues as they tend to be rather difficult to move if you get it wrong.