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How to Build a Brick BBQ Smoker

John D Lee is a chef and restauranteur living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He's always loved to cook.

how-to-build-a-brick-bbq-smoker
My DIY Brick Smoker

My DIY Brick Smoker

DIY Vertical Brick BBQ Smoker

Here, as follows, are some general instructions and explanations of how I built my vertical brick BBQ smoker. It wasn’t very hard to do, it cost me only about $200, and it works quite well as a medium-large-capacity BBQ (does 50-75 pounds of ribs very well in a batch). It also uses very little wood to create smoke, so it is potentially more affordable to operate. It was fun to build, and it’s fun to use!

This BBQ runs off a gas heat source (a gas burner in the base). The burner heats a heavy cast iron pan as it heats the air and bricks. Wood chips are added to the pan to create smoke.

My Trial-And-Error Experience

As a disclaimer—I am not a professional builder and I built this from my own design—basically, I winged it every step of the way. I have been an oven/BBQ experimenter for a while, and I have previously built a cob oven, a masonry oven, an offset BBQ smoker (55-gallon drum variety), and assorted grills for straight cooking.

For those considering building a brick pit, my idea in writing this is not to give you a foolproof set of plans that you’ll follow to the letter, but rather to explain what I did, why I did it, and how/why it works (or doesn’t). I will try to explain every step of the process, but if you have any questions about anything I did, please leave a comment below and I will answer it as well as I am able!

The photo shows the finished product. I am sorry that I have no pictures to illustrate the building process. I hope that the design is simple enough that you can get the feel for it from the finished item.

The BBQ Foundation

The BBQ Foundation

The Foundation

  • Pour a foundation. I dug about eight inches down, and about one square meter in area, and then poured on three or four inches of sand which I leveled.
  • I then mixed up some concrete (three parts sand to one part cement) and poured on about two inches. I laid a grid of medium rebar and then poured another two inches of concrete on top.
  • I let this dry a bit, covered it with some wet rags, and let it cure for a few days to gain strength.

I think my four-inch foundation gives me a very solid base for the area I live in, which does not freeze. If you live in a colder area, you may need more—I'm not sure.

First Courses of Bricks

First Courses of Bricks

Note the gap I left for the gas burner and the angle iron that bridges the gap (click on the pic to see it larger). You can see I actually only have one course of bricks at the very front - which seems to work OK.

Note the gap I left for the gas burner and the angle iron that bridges the gap (click on the pic to see it larger). You can see I actually only have one course of bricks at the very front - which seems to work OK.

First Layer of Brickwork

  • Once the foundation had hardened, I started laying a double course of bricks – making a square a few bricks high at the base. Each side of the square on the outside is about 90 cm.
  • After two thicknesses of bricks, the length of the width and depth of the inside of the square is roughly 70cm.

If you’ve never done brickwork before, you should really try it. It’s quite fun and very satisfying. And while it’s hard to make it look very neat, it’s not hard at all to make it functional. I won’t try to explain how to lay bricks here—you can find that information elsewhere from someone who knows more what they’re talking about!

Second, Third, Fourth Layers

  • After the first layer of bricks was down, I started a second layer (imagine that! haha) but I made sure to leave a gap in the front that was wide enough to fit the gas burner through easily.
  • I continued to leave this gap in the front for the next three layers of bricks.
  • After the third layer, I used angle irons to bridge the gap I had left and with the fourth level of bricks, I once again filled in the full square with the bricks.
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You can see the little metal shims that are embedded in the mortar between the bricks to serve a grill supports

You can see the little metal shims that are embedded in the mortar between the bricks to serve a grill supports

Building It Up

  • After five levels of double thickness brickwork, I had finished the base and I would do no more bricks on the front. The remainder of the front would be composed from the steel door. For the remaining levels of bricks, the sides started back about 10 cm from the very front. This is to leave a ledge upon which the door will sit.
  • I continued with bricks until the height of the sides and back had reached about 1.15 meters. Along the way, I stuck little pieces of metal in the mortar between the bricks. These pieces of metal support the grates that are removable and hold the meat in the BBQ.
Attaching the door: The ledge supports the weight of the door. The wire keeps it from falling over and the concrete seals the cracks. Not pretty, but it works!

Attaching the door: The ledge supports the weight of the door. The wire keeps it from falling over and the concrete seals the cracks. Not pretty, but it works!

Roofing and Dooring

I had the door and the roof fabricated for me. The roof is simply a sheet of steel on a simple frame with a little roofed chimney on the top. The door is a heavy frame with a hinge and a door with a latch. The door frame has metal rods welded to it to help with attaching it to the BBQ.

  • To attach the door, I simply laid the door on the ledge that was left near the bottom of the front.
  • I then used heavy gauge wire around the rods attached to the door frame to tie the door onto the BBQ.
  • I then placed the roof on top and mixed up some concrete and applied it all over the roof at the edges and around the door frame.
BBQ In Action!

BBQ In Action!

Safety Tips

This is a pretty simple design, but you need to be confident that you're going to be safe after building it—better to err on the side of caution and seek expert advice if you aren't sure about anything.

Make sure that your chimney is at the highest point and that it lets the gas out as fast as the gas comes in. If you fail to do this, in the event that the flame goes out, the gas will pool at the top of the BBQ and you risk an explosion when you unsuspectingly relight.

Also, make sure that any burner you place inside the BBQ is designed to withstand the temperatures you'll be using. Talk to the people at your local specialty BBQ store for ideas.

This BBQ works well, it didn’t cost much to make, and it was made by someone with very little building know-how.

Is it the kind of BBQ you’d enjoy—and how does it work anyway!?!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Comments

IslandBites from Puerto Rico on August 07, 2013:

Great idea! Very useful information. Vote up!

Southern smoker on February 10, 2013:

wanting to build a bbq soon, it is interesting reading all your comments. if I had the stuff to build it I would be out there now and it is nine fifteen in the evening. My neighbours wouldn't like it!

Thanks to all of you.

Southern smoker

Randy in Pathum Thani on May 17, 2012:

Love what you did but I'm lazy. I went to Makro and bought a couple of Chinese Dim Sum steamers. Each one has two layers so you can build up to 4 levels of smoking. I take a small cast iron fry pan, line it with a foil cone which is filled with wood chips (soaked and unsoaked - fast start and long last) and drop one hexagonal long briquette (Foodland - 35 baht for a pack of 8), after lighting it on my outside gas stove, on to the chips. The smoke lasts about 4 hours and the single briquette actually goes for over 5 hours. Low and slow smoke, the trick is to put a cheap grate on the level just above the charcoal to lift up the section of the steamer as it lets in air to keep it burning but not enough so it burns fast. You also have a lot of layers that you can put various stuff on depending on how warm you want the smoke. I've done bacon (top level), chicken wings (next level down) and a pork picnic ham (bottom level) all in one smoke.

princesswithapen on March 16, 2012:

A brick BBQ could add a charming rustic touch to a backyard! I'm going to pass this hub to a friend who is thinking of building a BBQ or a mud oven of some sorts in his backyard. He plans to run it on wood and coal only, rather than gas. He may find this handy.

Princesswithapen

ausis from Australia on November 18, 2011:

Cool hub thanks for sharing. When I get the chance am gonna try this. I do have another plan for a cold smoker though it is not as detailed as yours.

John on October 04, 2011:

John, What were the specs you had for the door? I am making something similar and getting doors is slowing me down.

John D Lee (author) on August 17, 2011:

Thanks for all the comments -hope it's helped someone get BBQ'n this summer!

SleeplessnLaJolla from La Jolla, Ca on August 14, 2011:

Awesome! I sent to my dad! THanks!

Manny on August 12, 2011:

Thanks John for this informative idea of yours. I loved BBQ and this method of building is amazing. Keep it up.

Bunny Tee on August 05, 2011:

Great information and I was trying to a build a BBQ pit in my back yard and your article has helped.

car id on July 13, 2011:

Simplisity of the design makes a great result!!! Thank you for your post I was just lookin the information on how to build a smoker, there were lots of various designs, and yours seems to be the easiest. Luckily I have all the parts needed for the smoker in my garage, so I'll be going to make the smoker!!! Thanks again!

Eastern Rainbow on June 16, 2011:

Well done! Beautifully constructed hub with lots of information and resources. Thank you for posting!

Eastern Rainbow on June 16, 2011:

Just wanted to say that it's a well written article, high-quality. Definetly worth the time spent for this one.

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on June 04, 2011:

Fantastic. As you can see by all the guys that have commented. LOL

Ancillotti from Brasil, Vitoria - ES on May 16, 2011:

Wow! Awesome hub! Great tips! You have my vote Up, awesome, useful and beautiful!Congratulations! You are a excelent writer!

Cheers!

roshall from Ohio on May 11, 2011:

Wow!!! It looks great. You made it sound so easy,great writing.

michalk on April 21, 2011:

Looks so simple. Makes me wonder why i ever bought a grill

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 14, 2011:

Great hub, I love building, well I use to, it is more fun to just watch anymore.

Jackie

bbqsmokersite from Winter Haven, Florida on April 14, 2011:

Love the DIY aspect of what you've done here. I'm tinkering around now with an Ugly Drum Smoker, as I have a buddy who owns a machine shop. Would definitely like to try this brick version at some point. Keep smokin!