How to Build a Brick Barbecue in Your Garden

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The best way to build a brick barbecue in your garden or backyard is to do it over at least two days. That’s assuming you’re building onto a patio or other hard surface already in place. If you’re not, you’ll have to create one, so building your barbecue will take a little longer.

Why does it take two days? Good question.

The reason I suggest two days is so you can let the mortar set before you build the barbecue too high. And to remove some pressure from the inexperienced DIYer to get the job done quickly.

Can you build a brick barbecue in one day? Of course. But it’s a good idea to let the mortar set a little before building it too high. So do that when you’ve laid half the number of courses you intend laying.

For the rest of this article, let’s pretend you’re building it over two days.

A beginner’s guide to building a brick barbecue

If you have everything in place, including a nice hard surface to build it on, what does the process look like?

You’ll spend the first day preparing the area for your BBQ, laying the first five brick courses, ‘striking’ the mortar and tidying up the work you’ve done.

On the second day, you’ll add the remaining brick courses, place the grill set, ‘strike’ the mortar and once again tidy up the work you’ve done.

(‘Striking’ is the term used for finishing the mortar between brick courses.)

That’s the process in a nutshell, but let’s get into a bit more detail.

It all starts with the grill set

The first thing you want to do when building a brick barbecue is to buy a grill set. A basic grill set contains a cooking grill for your food, a charcoal tray and an ash tray (like the one in the ad below – bricks sold separately!)

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You need this because it determines the internal width of the brickwork. Once you know the dimensions of the grill set, you can calculate how many bricks and how much mortar you’re going to need.  

As a rough guide, if the grill set is 67cm by 40cm (like the one above on Amazon), you’ll need approximately 100 to 120 bricks to build barbecue 10 courses high.

Generally, brick barbecues are around 10 to 12 courses high, depending on personal preferences.

To help you calculate the perfect height for you, the standard brick dimensions in the UK are 215mm long x 102.5mm wide x 65mm high and you should have about 10mm of mortar between each course.

But, be aware that you may choose bricks with different dimensions to the standard ones listed above.

Where to build your barbecue

You can build your barbie on an existing patio or softer ground such as a lawn.

If the ground is soft, you’ll need to make a concrete foundation to lay the bricks on.

The base should be strong enough to hold the weight of the bricks (and the massive steaks and burgers you’ll be grilling during the summer months!). So dig out a trench around 250 mm wide and 250 to 300mm deep, and fill it with concrete to form the foundation for your brickwork. Try to get the foundation as level as possible.

Once the concrete foundation has hardened, you can lay the first course of bricks.

Don’t rush into this – only lay the bricks when the concrete is set. Which usually takes around 24 hours but can take longer depending on the weather conditions and environment.

It should go without saying, but please, build your BBQ a safe distance from anything flammable (including your fence!), and where the smoke won’t fill your’s or your neighbour’s house. 

Typical guidance suggests at least three feet/one metre from the walls of your house.

Lay out the bricks before you start

If you’re building the barbecue on an existing patio, you’ll need to mark out where it’s going to go. Put the grill on the ground and place the bricks around it in what will be their fixed position. You’ll need to allow for the mortar, so leave a gap of around 10mm between each brick.

When you’re happy with the positioning, using a pencil or similar, draw around the outside of the bricks onto the existing floor or newly created foundation. When it comes to laying the bricks, you’ll be placing the mortar inside these lines so make sure they’re clearly visible and you’re happy with the positioning.

Now put the bricks to one side ready for later.

At this point, the prep work is done. You know where the BBQ is going to go and you’ve marked the position on the floor. The next step is mixing the mortar and laying the bricks.

Before you do this, grab all the tools and gear you’re going to need and keep them close to you. You might also want to grab a coffee or take a drink of water.

Mixing the mortar for your brick barbecue

If you mix too much mortar, it may go off before you have time to use it. With that said, you don’t want to have too little either. So make enough to do the first part of the job – which is to lay the first five brick courses.

When it comes to making another mix, use the same ratio of sand to cement to make sure you create mortar that’s the same consistency and colour as the first batch.

A good ratio is four parts builder’s sand to one part cement (4:1) but you might prefer a three-in-one mix. Either should be sufficient but I always prefer the stronger mix.

The term ‘go off’ relates to the mortar becoming harder to use. The process speeds up in warmer conditions and slows down in cooler and wetter conditions.

Laying the bricks for your barbecue

For the first stage of the building process, using your trowel and staying within the lines you marked earlier, place enough mortar on the floor/foundation to take the first couple of bricks. Be generous with the mortar as it’s easy to remove anything you don’t need. 

Lay your first brick on the mortar bed and knock it level with your trowel. When set, you want the mortar bed to be around 10mm high. Try to aim for this across each course and between each brick.

Use a short spirit level to check the brick’s level. 

Grab hold of the next brick and butter (spread) mortar onto one end. Butt it up against the first brick and once again try to get a 10mm mortar gap between them. Check your levels and adjust as necessary using your trowel.  

Typically, the third brick turns the corner. So you can either break a brick in half and use one of the halves or lay the third brick at a 90-degree angle to the second one. I prefer the latter method as it creates a stronger structure.

Once again, add mortar to the floor where you want to place the brick, and add some to the part of the brick that you’ll be butting up to the already laid brick. Place into position and knock it level with your trowel.

Use your spirit level to make sure it’s straight. And check it against the other bricks as well.

Keep laying the bricks until the first course is done. When you’ve finished, check the levels and make any adjustments you need to. The rest of the barbecue will be built on top of the first layer so it’s important you get it right and it is level.

If you’re not comfortable laying bricks, take your time and keep checking your levels. If you don’t have a long enough spirit level to go from one side of the barbecue to the other, use a piece of timber to span the length and place your spirit level on that instead.

Laying the second row of bricks

The classic way to lay bricks is to stagger the vertical joints (known in the building trade as ‘stretcher bond’).

So the second row needs to start with a half-brick. The easiest way to create a half-brick is to use a brick hammer to break a full brick in half (don’t forget to wear safety goggles to stop flying bits of brick from getting into your eyes).

But you don’t lay the half-brick first. Instead, start at the back corner of the barbecue and lay a full brick so it’s pointing towards the front of the barbecue. Then work your way forward laying the half-brick last. You’ll need two full bricks followed by one half-brick to complete the sidewall.

Then continue laying the bricks across the back section and the other sidewall until the second course is complete.

At this point, there are three more courses to lay so crack on and finish them.

Leave the first five courses to go off before you lay more bricks

That’s enough for the first part of the job. You need to allow time for the mortar to harden so it can take the weight of the bricks. If you build any higher than five rows at this stage, there’s a good chance you’ll compromise the strength of the barbecue.

At this point, it’s a good idea to strike all the mortar seams with a metal or rubber tube and use a soft brush to remove any unwanted mortar to give your brickwork a more professional finish.

Let the mortar set and then continue the following day.

Positioning the coals tray and grill set

Before you carry on, decide what height is comfortable to use the coals tray and grill rack. At these heights, you’ll lay three bricks on each side pointing inwards to support the coals tray and then three more on each side one course up for the grill rack (watch the video at the end to see this in action).

At this point, you need to work out the best options for you and the grill set you’re using. Some grill sets have two pieces, while some have three. I’d always err on the side of caution and create three shelves, even if you don’t need them for your current grill set.

Depending on the height of the BBQ, they should be put in on course 6 or 7, then 8 or 9 and finally 10 or 11. So it’s one full course between shelves.

Lay the first straddled brick over the joint in the course below and work your way towards the back of the barbecue until all three bricks for the shelf are in place.

Then lay another standard course, before laying a course to hold the second shelf. Next, you’ll want to repeat that process until your third shelf is done, then finish off with a standard course.

When your brickwork is complete you could cement some ornamental coping stones on the top to give it a neater look.

The final part of the building process is to strike the seams and clean off any unwanted mortar from the bricks. Just like you did at the end of the first day.

Hold your horses!

As tempting as it might be, don’t light the barbecue just yet. Wait a day for the mortar to set before breaking out the beers, burgers and steaks.

Variations on the classic barbecue style

You can, of course, build variations of this barbecue to suit yourself. Maybe you want a stone worktop at one side or a double grill? There are plenty of ways to customise a BBQ to suit your garden or style of entertaining, it just takes a little imagination and googling for inspiration.

Best selling brick barbecues on Amazon

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Tools required to build a brick barbecue

  • Spade/shovel
  • Spot board
  • Bucket
  • Bricklaying trowel
  • 150mm boat spirit level
  • 600mm spirit level (if you have one)
  • Lump hammer
  • Bolster chisel
  • Tape measure
  • Plumb line (a length of string with a couple of nails attached)
  • A piece of metal or rubber tube 20-25mm diameter
  • Soft hand brush

Safety tip :- Use gloves when mixing/using cement as it can irritate and burn skin, and use gloves/safety goggles when handling/cutting bricks.

Featured image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

Alternatives to building your own barbecue

Building a barbecue isn’t ideal for everyone. If that’s you, check out the pages below for more barbecue options so you and your family can enjoy eating outdoors during the warm summer months.

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