Dear James: I grill on the propane barbecue for quick meals. For entertaining, I would like an attractive brick barbecue that uses real charcoal. What design can an inexperienced homeowner build? -- Mike F.
Dear Mike: You must pay more attention when cooking with a brick fireplace because you do not have quick control over the heat as with a gas barbecue. Design it with several sets of ledgers (rests) for the charcoal grate so that you can adjust the fire up or down. I like four levels from 9 to 15 inches below the cooking grate.
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 grates and the 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.
The first brick barbecue that I built at our former house used a mortarless design and I think it is still being used. Using this mortarless method, anyone can build a brick barbecue over a weekend. You also will have to carry fewer bags of cement and sand that weigh a ton.
The biggest chore will be pouring the concrete base. Before pouring it, plan your barbecue design and lay out a course of two first. This will insure that you are making the base large enough.
It 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, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.