John D Lee is a chef and restauranteur living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He's always loved to cook.
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, and 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.
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.
- 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 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 at all hard to do it so that it works. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
doogiexxxx on April 03, 2011:
Ken on March 26, 2011:
If you can't do a better job than that, don't do it!
Isaiah Michael from Wherever God leads us. on March 26, 2011:
It is kinda of amazing I ran across this as a few days ago I was trying to figure this very thing out.
Isaiah Michael from Wherever God leads us. on March 24, 2011:
That is some plans I have been wanting.
BBQ Singapore on March 20, 2011:
This is cool! BBQ is so much fun when with this!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 17, 2011:
I am so impressed with that grill and your directions for building it. Your hub is very well-written and easy to understand. Thanks.
michelle@bestdebt on March 07, 2011:
It's a mixed hub, thanks for sharing nice idea....
John D Lee (author) on February 15, 2011:
Thank you very much!
Ask_DJ_Lyons from Mosheim, Tennessee on February 07, 2011:
Wow! This is a thorough, well-written hub!
John D Lee (author) on December 28, 2010:
Thanks for all the comments.
I think that you can definitely buy a great smoker for a reasonable cost, and that's a great option for a lot of people. Making your own lets you customize a bit, and for some people (like me) it's a fun thing to do!
greg1313 from New Hampshire on December 20, 2010:
awesome hub! as a small business owner who sells smokers- i have great respect for making your own- i imagine the only thing better than smoked food is smoked food that came off a smoker you made yourself! looks like a fun weekend project
Outdoor BBQ Grills on November 25, 2010:
Great work dude. Those blue prints are amazing but this is time consuming i'd rather buy a portable grill as there are good offers online
SizzleGrove from http://sizzlegrove.blogspot.com on November 05, 2010:
This is incredibly cool! If you'd ever like to contribute to my barbecue blog, Sizzle Grove, I'd love to post articles on home-built smokers. I'm not much of a handyman, so it would make for a great submission which I would not have been able to come up with myself.
Feel free to check it out at http://sizzlegrove.blogspot.com or send an email to email@example.com
Kyle on October 05, 2010:
hey man nice work when I purchase a home I will definetly look into that thanks!!!
msms on September 25, 2010:
Making Smoker - Good information in 'How To' style of a difficult construction... well explained in pictures and text. Great Hub Dear
sophieandgrace from United Kingdom on September 12, 2010:
nice hub !! keep going
John D Lee (author) on July 31, 2010:
I didn't put in a thermometer, and instead use a cheap kitchen thermometer that is attached to a wire that runs to a little controller that tells me the temperature and has a timer. I just hang this through one of the racks and the wire is thin enough that the door can close over top of it. Pretty low-tech but it works.
To add in a thermometer, I'd say the easiest way would be to drill a small hole in the door and insert a thermometer through there.
rucus7 from Rayong, Thailand on July 30, 2010:
I live in Thailand too I thought I recognized those bricks. I did not see in your post how to put in a thermometer
John D Lee (author) on July 26, 2010:
Haha - good luck with that - hope he gets to work on the BBQ soon!
MaritimeGem from Gaspe Quebec Canada on June 24, 2010:
Great idea! I am going to show this to my son, then ask him "When is dinner"?
Jorge Vamos on June 07, 2010:
Reading this hub makes me hungry. Anyway, I like the idea of a DIY approach to cooking.
John D Lee (author) on May 25, 2010:
You should show him then...think of how good those Sunday BBQ's would taste!
Carolyn Jung on May 25, 2010:
Holy moly, I better not let my husband see this or he will start building one in our tiny backyard this weekend. Hah. He loves to grill and smoke, and build things. This post would be total temptation for him.
rose56 on May 04, 2010:
smoker sounds like a good idea, if could find someone to build it for me. Good hub.
jtrader on April 30, 2010:
The building process was fairly easy to follow.
licot on April 09, 2010:
wow... what a BBQ smoker you have... home made BBQ set... thank q for all this idea. i would have to try it also by made one of it...
John D Lee (author) on April 06, 2010:
Michael Shane, Springboard - you guys should take a crack at it. It's not difficult and it's a fun project to have on hand for weekend afternoons!
Springboard from Wisconsin on April 06, 2010:
I will definitely keep this close by and handy...just in case I get a wild hair. :) I imagine the food that comes out of this is fantastic.
Michael Shane from Gadsden, Alabama on April 06, 2010:
awesome hub! I think I might do this....Thanks!
John D Lee (author) on April 05, 2010:
Business in CM is a little slow this month - too hot and hazy I think!
My place is The Salsa Kitchen http://www.thesalsakitchen.com/ - come on by and say hello if you're ever in the neighborhood.
expatudon08 on April 05, 2010:
doesn't matter about the antistatic look John it does the job
hows business in chiang mai maybe head over there later this month what's your place called i could put you up on my chiang mai page on Thai expat info
ps i got a German friend who smokes is own meats tastes spot on my favourite is smoked bacon
John D Lee (author) on April 04, 2010:
ThomR - you have 3 grills but no smoker?!?!...you're wife will understand! Just kidding!
Stir Fry Guy - I hope you get a chance to build yourself a BBQ!
ThomR from Oregon on April 01, 2010:
Since I already have three BBQ grills, my wife would scream if I built something like this, but great idea. Best to you and your family!
Stir Fry Guy from Fiery Wok, New Jersey on March 31, 2010:
As soon as I buy my house, I'm coming back to read again on how to build this (I promise). This is amazing.
John D Lee (author) on March 30, 2010:
Thanks for the comments, Ben. I hope you get a chance to build yourself a real smoker one day!
Hawkman, please let me know how it goes for you!
hawkman007 from Ohio on March 30, 2010:
Really like this I'm going to try and make one
Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on March 30, 2010:
Thanks John I can visualize what you're saying. Can't wait to take your example and make it one day! Right now I use the only version I can, and that's just moving my wood to the left of my Weber grill, with the meat on the right! Having an offset pit would be kick ass! It's tough to beat that delicious smokey taste! Thanks again.
John D Lee (author) on March 28, 2010:
Springboard - You couldn't be less handy than me...the trick is to forget about having things look perfect - and to be satisfied with something that just works very well!
Ben - a smoker needs heat and smoke, and you can use any heat source to create smoke with. In fact, for smaller volume smokers, electric elements work very well and can create a very steady heat.
To use wood for heat and smoke, you could just remove the gas burner and then just shovel in smoldering coals/embers into the bottom. These embers would create heat and smoke. You would need to burn the wood into embers in a separate firepit or firebox.
Alternatively, you could do an offset design, where the firebox is located to the side of the smoking chamber. This design keeps the meat well away from the flames and excessive heating.
Smoking with just hardwood is truthfully a lot of fun - it's got a lot of soul! But it is a lot more labor intensive and unless you've got a free/cheap source of hardwood - it can also get kind of expensive.
Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on March 28, 2010:
Always wondered how to build one of these. I was surprised by the gas burner, I didn't realize you could do that. I wonder what sort of variation you would make to use a wood-only smoker?
Springboard from Wisconsin on March 27, 2010:
Man, if I were just a tad bit handier and had a bit more time on my hands this would be a great project. Maybe I'll have to tuck this one away...love smoked food.
John D Lee (author) on March 25, 2010:
You are welcome!
Truth From Truth from Michigan on March 25, 2010:
some great tips, thank you