How to Design and Build a Backyard BBQ Pit
A barbecue pit is an excellent way to expand the outdoor living space of the home. People can cook outdoors during warm weather, which allows the home to stay cooler. They can also build a space around the pit for entertaining, making it easier to host larger groups or cook meals for more guests. There are many different types of barbecue pits, and homeowners can take advantage of more than one if they want. With this guide, homeowners will understand the various types of barbecue pits and how they can best incorporate one into their backyards.
Table of Contents
- Getting Started: Planning Your BBQ Pit
- What Do You Need to Build a BBQ Pit?
- BBQ Pit Ideas
- Beyond the Grill: Backyard BBQ Add-Ons
- How to Maintain Your Backyard Grill
- Become Your Own BBQ Pitmaster
- Additional Reading
Getting Started: Planning Your BBQ Pit
Before selecting materials and beginning construction on the barbecue pit, homeowners need to make a plan. By choosing an appropriate location and researching safety requirements, builders can ensure that the pit will be convenient and practical for use.
What's the Best Space for a Barbecue Pit?
The best space for a barbecue pit depends on the yard, but homeowners should keep a couple of factors in mind. The first factor is safety, specifically fire prevention. Barbecue pits should be constructed on a level surface with no grass, bushes, or overhanging trees nearby that could catch fire. Larger barbecue pits may require a concrete foundation. As a general rule, place the pit at least 10 to 15 feet away from any structure, including the home. Prospective grillmasters may want to evaluate the position of the pit in relation to common wind patterns and how they may blow smoke, which can affect seating options.
The second major concern for location is practicality. Homeowners should identify utility lines underground so that they can dig safely without interrupting services or causing damage. Digging too far underground may affect the drainage, as well. By eliminating trouble spots in the yard, people can determine a few possible locations for the barbecue pit. Placing the barbecue pit within reasonable proximity to the kitchen is a good idea. Unless the homeowner plans to build an outdoor kitchen to go with the barbecue pit, they will probably be bringing food from indoors.
Local Codes for Outdoor Fires
Many cities maintain rules that property owners must follow concerning open flames. This is particularly important for anyone who lives in an area where wildfires are common. As a general rule, experts recommend that homeowners place the barbecue pit at least 10 feet from any combustible building. At times, certain regions may set limits on the types of fires the people can have, or the ability to have a fire outside at all. In addition to following these rules, people may want to choose wood with a moisture content of 20% or less, to minimize the production of smoke.
What Style BBQ Pit Is Best?
There are many different styles for barbecue pits, and the best one depends on a homeowner's DIY skill and expectations for the pit. For example, someone who wants a pit to cook food for a large party, or space to convert the barbecue pit to a bonfire at times, may need a pit on the larger side. Homeowners should also decide whether they want a pit that is above-ground or flush with the ground. Above-ground pits may be easier to construct, but harder to maintain. Pits that are flush with the ground are easier to maintain and incorporate into an outdoor design, but they may pose a tripping hazard.
Barbecue pits use a variety of possible materials, including:
- Metal cooking grates
- Corrugated metal
- Sand or gravel
Homeowners may be able to purchase kits that contain most or everything they need to construct a barbecue pit. This could be a reasonable approach for people who want to build the pit themselves but aren't confident in their DIY skills. Before deciding, homeowners should determine whether they want a pit that they can disassemble or one that sits permanently in the yard. This choice will determine the best materials and construction method.
What Do You Need to Build a BBQ Pit?
The best approach to building a barbecue pit depends on the style and materials homeowners want to use. By evaluating different options, DIYers can choose a design that will meet their needs and work within their ability to build it.
Anatomy of a Backyard BBQ Pit
When homeowners start to think about building a barbecue pit, they should consider where they want to cook the food, how they will place the fuel, and the best way to remove ashes or debris. The solutions to these concerns depend on the height and style of the barbecue pit. Most barbecue pits have the following features:
- A base, which often involves gravel, sand, or concrete
- Walls made of metal, bricks, or cinder blocks
- A pan or other place to put fuel, such as charcoal or wood
- A grill grate for cooking food
The best approach to construction depends on the type of cooking that people plan to do as well. Conduction is a popular heating approach, practical for those who want to use a grill grate. Convection requires some kind of box shape to circulate heat. Radiant cooking works well with charcoal.
The Bare-Basics Backyard BBQ Pit
A basic backyard barbecue pit does not have to be expensive or complicated to build. Homeowners should assemble the following tools and materials:
- Larger pieces of gravel, if desired
- Cinder blocks or bricks
- Grill grate
With these items, DIYers can construct a variety of barbecue pit styles. For example, someone who wants to build a pit flush to the ground could dig a hole, level out the bottom, and place bricks vertically around the perimeter before putting a grill grate on top.
An above-ground barbecue pit may be easier to disassemble. Instead of digging a hole, builders simply need to clear away grass and ensure that the base is level before surrounding the perimeter with bricks or cinder blocks. Sand and gravel go on the bottom. As they build it up, they can add a layer of grating to hold charcoal to control how far away the heat source is from the food. Confirming that the bricks are level at the top will ensure a sturdy placement for the grill grate. If homeowners want to take down the assembly at the end of the season, they may prefer to stack the bricks or blocks without using mortar to hold them.
Classic Brick, Cinderblock, or Stone Barbecues
Building a more permanent barbecue pit requires a few extra materials and a relatively significant amount of work. The main difference between a temporary and permanent barbecue pit is that the permanent option has features that would be difficult or impossible to remove. For example, most permanent barbecue pits have a base made of concrete or natural stone. It is crucial to get the base perfectly level—otherwise, it will be difficult to ensure that the bricks will stay in place and the grill grates are level.
To ensure that the pit will stay in place for several seasons, homeowners may need a variety of materials, such as:
- Mortar to adhere the bricks
- Rebar to provide added stability for the walls
- Metal braces to hold the grill grate in place
While contemplating construction, builders may also want to think about options for flooring or seating around the barbecue pit. Brick or stone pavers are a popular option because they are fire-resistant and relatively easy to place. For something resembling a patio, builders would need to level out the ground, tamp sand into place, and cut the pavers to the right size.
DIY: Get Inventive
Although there are a handful of standard materials that most homeowners use to build a barbecue pit, some people prefer to incorporate other used materials into the design. This practice can create unusual or innovative designs for the barbecue pit, as well as ensuring that less waste goes to the landfill. For the most part, people are only limited by the materials on hand, fire safety, and practical use of the barbecue pit. When using more unusual materials, confirm that any metal is safe for exposure to fire, and avoid using any material that is likely to burn or melt.
With these minimal limitations, homeowners can dramatically expand their options. For example, someone trying to repurpose an old washing machine might pull out the metal drum and use that as walls for the barbecue pit. Homeowners with large rocks left over from another landscaping project could construct a rustic barbecue pit instead of a neat one with pavers. Creating a level surface is not always a necessity—someone who builds a hanging grill could place it above almost any kind of fire pit, as long as it clears the top and is close enough to the heat source below.
BBQ Pit Ideas
Besides the basic concept of a barbecue pit, homeowners have a lot of freedom to customize and expand. Every pit can be unique, from a built-in smoker to a small tabletop grilling arrangement. These ideas can help people brainstorm options to make the barbecue pit work best for them.
Make a Dual-Purpose Bonfire and Barbecue Pit
Although many barbecue pits rely on controlled heating sources like charcoal, some homeowners prefer a more natural style. The ability to build a bonfire for entertaining, roasting marshmallows, or staying warm outdoors during the cooler months is an excellent benefit of standard ring-style barbecue pits. A place to store the grill grate is the only requirement for this transition. Homeowners can use the barbecue pit as a focal point and expand the flooring options outward. Adding seating a reasonable distance from the fire makes it easy to enjoy the warmth and conversation with friends.
Go Whole-Hog With a Southern-Style BBQ Pit
Pitmasters who want to cook whole animals might consider building a southern-style barbecue pit. These barbecue pits are larger than the standard because they are meant to be big enough to roast an entire pig. As a general rule, these barbecue pits are designed to be at least partially above-ground; a fully in-ground Southern-style pit might be too deep to reach the bottom easily. They often contain walls made of brick or cinder blocks with rebar reinforcement, which allows them to stand taller than a smaller barbecue pit. With this design, users typically want to use drip pans to collect the grease and covers to keep the heat inside. These functions are essential for a large barbecue pit because they can reduce the likelihood of a grease fire and ensure thorough cooking of a dense food item.
Hang Out Around a Hanging Grill
For people who want the ultimate in ease-of-use and setup, hanging grills may be a perfect choice. Hanging grills provide a grill grate that hangs from a tripod setup that sits above the fire. People do not have to build a specific fire pit to go along with the hanging grill. As such, homeowners can purchase and use a portable fire pit instead of building one. The design makes it simple to set up the grill for use above a surface like a patio and easily put it away at the end of the evening.
Infuse Modern Elegance Into Your Backyard
Barbecue pits do not have to be rustic in appearance or operation. In fact, they can fit into any modern outdoor living space. As a way of suiting an existing theme, homeowners might build a barbecue pit in a square or rectangular shape instead of the standard ring, give the design sleek minimalist lines with a concrete cast, or use high-end materials like slate or marble, though they should double-check that the stone is rated for heat. Building a custom table around the barbecue pit makes it easy for people to grill and serve without having to leave their seats.
Backyard Grills for Small Backyards
Homeowners do not need a large backyard to make a barbecue pit. Some options are easy to build and portable. For example, people can construct the standard ring barbecue pit, but scale it down by only a handful of bricks around the outside. Some hanging grills can be stored away when not in use, allowing for more use of the space, or have a basin underneath the grate that enables it to be placed on an existing patio. When using alternative materials to build the barbecue pit, DIYers should confirm that the material can handle high heat without exploding or disintegrating.
Beyond the Grill: Backyard BBQ Add-Ons
Not everyone wants to use a backyard barbecue pit as a grill. In some cases, the pit is just the beginning of an outdoor cooking setup, with a smoker, fireplace, pizza oven, and more. With these ideas, homeowners can start to imagine the perfect outdoor cooking environment.
Build a Smoker to Go With Your Grill
For many homeowners, a smoker is the most important part of a barbecue. Smokers are different from grills because they use heat in a different way. With the grill, the cook is applying heat directly to the food—they put the meat on a grill grate that, when hot, will cook the meat through. This approach often cooks the outside first, which may not be ideal for certain types of food.
By comparison, smokers use heat as convection to cook the food, allowing the smoke to impart flavor. Smokers are usually made in a barrel or box style and are typically made out of metal or bricks. Material choice is important, as certain types of repurposed metal may leach toxins into the food. Smokers have a way to release smoke from the top, drawing heat and smoke upward. Because of the indirect heat, smokers usually take much longer to cook.
Make Your Pit Cover Dual-Purpose
Most barbecue pits need a cover to minimize precipitation accumulation and protect the pit when it is not in use. Homeowners with limited space may want to make the barbecue pit dual-purpose. For example, people might choose to make a stylish, heat-resistant pit cover that they can use as a surface for preparing food, serving, or eating when they are not using the pit. This approach maximizes the available space, makes more room for entertaining, and improves the use of the area during any season.
Combine Your Grill and Fireplace
Those who want an outdoor fireplace for use most of the time, with the ability to grill on occasion, might choose to combine the two. An outdoor fireplace uses brick or stone walls on three sides to create a box shape for the fire. A chimney stack above the fire encourages the smoke to exhaust upward, which is an important safety consideration for covered porches and patios. In this case, homeowners could build a space for a grill grate to sit on top of the fire. A removable grate allows the food to cook and easy removal for serving.
Expand Your Repertoire With an Outdoor Pizza Oven
An outdoor pizza oven might be the perfect complement to an outdoor grill, and it may be possible to build them together. A pizza oven is more like an outdoor fireplace in that it needs walls surrounding the fire to keep the heat in, with a flue to release the smoke upward. In most cases, a pizza oven has a place underneath to build a fire, relying on convection to cook the pizza. In essence, the builder needs to create a box of bricks or fired clay to absorb and reflect the heat.
You Can Add a Rotisserie, Too
A rotisserie operates somewhat similarly to a smoker or oven, which means that homeowners can use convection heat for cooking the food. A rotisserie is an upgrade to the classic spit, which is a metal pole that skewers a piece of meat for cooking. With a spit, someone would have to turn the crank on the side by hand to keep the meat rotating above a heat source. By comparison, a rotisserie uses a motor to turn the pole. A rotisserie design allows for using a fire below or another heat source on the sides.
How to Maintain Your Backyard Grill
Maintaining a backyard grill is not particularly difficult. To start, homeowners who use a cast iron grill should take care to season it properly before use. This involves rinsing dust or dirt off the surface, applying a high-heat vegetable oil, and turning on the grill for about a half-hour. For easy cleaning between cooking sessions, applying a small amount of oil to any grill grate will keep food from sticking to it. Grates may be simpler to brush clean with a wire brush while the surface is still hot. Grates made of steel can often be cleaned with soap and water or grill cleaner. People who use a wood fire or charcoal may want to purchase a small shovel to remove the ashes once they have cooled completely.
Become Your Own BBQ Pitmaster
The ability to go outside and grill is a cherished one for many homeowners. DIYers who are handy and like to make something truly unique might prefer to build it themselves or combine a variety of backyard barbecue kits into a versatile outdoor cooking layout. Safety is an important factor, as homeowners must be able to build it in a place where the fire will not spread to other surfaces. By considering different styles and materials, as well as customizing options and add-ons, everyone can find a solution that works well with their spaces and their cooking plans.