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My Brick Pit/Tuscan Grill Project

Chris B.

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Joined Apr 30, 2018
Hi there, everybody. Long-time meat smoker (on assorted cookers, most recently a cheap-but-effective Charbroil offset) and forum lurker, but now a member.

Something I've long wanted to do, and have just completed, is build a brick smoker. So with about 1,000 bricks left over from a home addition, and the encouragement of my wife, who was tired of looking at said stack of bricks, I decided to go after it. I've searched the web high and low, and there's not much info out there for projects like this. So mostly I'm using experience and intuition to design and build it. Oh, it's my first brick project, too. Had one lesson from my mason. After that, it's just practice, and knowing how to read a mason's rule.

1-the-plan-jpg.362371

The "blueprint" (yes, that was the extent of my plans)

It took three months, but my brick pit is finally complete:

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The finished project

Located next to my garden shed and near a hang-out spot we call "the dock," my pit's foundation is a 5 x 10 slab about 10 inches thick at the edges and 5 inches thick in the center.

3-pad-ready-to-pour-jpg.362372


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Once cured, I used 4 in. concrete blocks to build the base, then wrapped them in bricks. On the left is the smoker firebox (note that I sized it using firebricks, which line the floor), on the right is dry storage, which will have wood doors. You can see the mason's poles used for the string lines that guide each course of bricks up the front.

Below, it's coming along: For the dry-storage area on the far right, I used a rough-cut cypress 2x as a lintel and cypress 1x to frame the bottom and sides of the opening. In the center, foam and 2x4s created the form for the arch over my wood storage area (which has a raised concrete floor I poured once the block was laid)

15-front-done-1-jpg.362380

17-storage-jpg.362382


Once the base was complete, I formed the countertop using melamine for the perimeter and cement board for the bottom, leaving a 12x16 hole for the smoke and heat to enter the smokebox. I formed a small rim around this hole, in which to set 4x12x11/4 inch steel "tuning plates" to control the heat and smoke flow. Counter is about 3 inches thick and weighs more than 1200 lbs! (based on 20 60-lb sacks of Sacrete). I used angle iron at the appropriate spots to help support the top.

23-locating-the-cookers-jpg.373050


To dress up the base, I inset brick panels laid in a basketweave pattern. I made these in a melamine form, then used thinset to adhere them in place. Much easier than trying to lay this pattern vertically!

18-basketweave-form-jpg.373047

20-basketweave-installed-jpg.373049


The top structure consists of the smokebox on the left and the Tuscan grill on the right. Like the base, the smokebox is made from 4 inch block wrapped with brick. I used 2x4s and 2x2s to make mason's poles to guide my courses. It was tight working around all the strings, and I knocked them off the poles more than once, but it was the best way to get my courses straight and level.

26-four-courses-done-jpg.373053

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Here, you can see how I laid out the bricks to make sure they'd fit (using a Flemish bond, just for variety). You can also see the steel I embedded between the block courses to support the cooking grates. It's an upside-down "T" shape make from 1 inch angle and 1 inch flat stock. The finished interior size is right at 24x24, which I knew would make sense for materials like expanded metal.

The Tuscan grill was made the same way, only without the cinder block liner, but with a fire brick base, which I sized the grill around. I used three regular bricks (vintage ones, actually), to front the fire brick (I did the same on the base, in front of the concrete pad in the wood storage area).

The arch matches the one on the wood storage area in the base—in fact, it's the same piece of foam, just cut to a narrower width. This I did in regular brick bond, or running bond. The last part of the process was forming and pouring concrete tops on each box (with holes for the smoke to escape, of course). Both are around 1 1/2 inch thick and overhand about 3/4 inch.

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The finished boxes

Now for the chimneys. You can see below how I formed the Tuscan grill chimney using the same 2 inch thick foam I used for the arches. I made an intersecting cross, and cut the sides and back to the slope I wanted (the front is vertical). Then I just laid the bricks against them. Worked great! I just broke out the foam when complete. No strings, I just laid to the line and used a level a lot.

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To keep out the rain, I capped the chimney with a 20x20 concrete slab about an inch thick that I poured using a melamine form. Just for embellishment, I added the decorative cross at the front just by leaving four bricks a bit proud.
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The smoker chimney has a more classic form, starting wide, then angling up via shoulders to a square shape. I built it around about 36 inches of 8x8 terra-cotta flue pipe. Before setting the flue, I drilled two holes, inserted a 1/4 inch rod, then tack welded a square flapper to it to serve as a damper. Some sticky-backed fireplace gasket at the edge helps the damper stay in whatever position I want it in.

smoker-chimney-jpg.373266

Again, I got a bit crazy with the brick patterns

Not yet installed in the above picture are my flagstone shoulders and cap. I could have used concrete, but wanted to mix it up a bit and make it look like something you'd find on an old house or in a national park or something.

Next, grates: The Tuscan grill's is crafted from 5/16 square and 1/4 round, with custom handles inspired by one I saw in a video about grilling in Tuscany (hence the name of the grill - look on YouTube for the Italy episode of "I'll Have What Phil's Having"). It rests in one of four adjustment slots left between the bricks when I did the mortar.

37-custom-old-world-style-grate-jpg.373064


The smoker gets standard angle-iron and expanded metal grates. They'll slide in and out ... but I need to weld on an anti-tip device! : ) Here, I've inserted the angle iron door frame temporarily.

42-smoker-grates-jpg.373069


Lastly, the doors and hardware ... which for some reason I decided to forge myself - hinges, handles and all (you can buy a forge on eBay for about $200). Here you see the smokebox doors under construction. The door bodies are 3/16 thick plate, while the firebox door is 1/4 inch plate. I decided the top doors didn't need to be as thick or heavy as the firebox door. A 2 inch Tel-Tru thermometer tells me what's going on inside.

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The latch mechanism:
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Installed:
55-smokebox-doors-jpg.373144


img_1226-jpg.373269


The wooden doors on the dry storage are made from cypress. Hinges are in a classic "ram's horn" style. All the wood is burned with a torch then hit with a light wire brush—a finish called "shou sugi ban" in Japan. (I still need to forge a latch of some form.)

50-wood-doors-jpg.373139


As for how it cooks? Great! Here's the first steak cooking:
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And the first ribs:
48-first-ribs-jpg.373075


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All in all, not bad for my first cooker, and a nice upgrade from my Weber kettle and Charbroil offset smoker. —Chris Beytes


UPDATE, September 5, 2018: After a few cooks on the smoker, I have noted a few things. First, it takes a while (45 minutes or an hour) for all the brick and concrete to come up to temperature and the smoke box to hit about 250F. But once it does, it will stay there pretty dependably. I've been using charcoal and 4-5 sticks of oak to get it to temp, then 2-3 pieces of oak per hour will keep it going all day. I keep the door ajar by 3-4 inches and the chimney damper wide open and I get good, clean smoke.

I used some loose firebrick in the firebox to create a smaller spot to hold the fire and coals in the center, which concentrates the heat.

As for the Tuscan grill, it cooks beautifully, with bisteca fiorentina coming out nicely seared and perfectly rare.

The only thing I've noted go wrong is some hairline cracks have developed in the concrete around the smoker, and also in the brickwork directly above the smoke box door. This could be simply from expansion and contraction as it all heats; the metal angle iron could also have contributed to that. But none have expanded beyond a hairline, and I'm not concerned about the structure. - Chris

Now the big test is how well the slab survives a Chicago winter!
 
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oldsmokerdude

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That looks amazing, especially considering you've never done brick work before. Truly something to be proud of and a gathering spot to be sure. Again, nicely done.
 

link

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That is Awesome! I would love something like that in my backyard.

Very nicely done.
 

chopsaw

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That is fantastic work . Nice design too . Been around enough masons myself that I might try it some day .
Interested in the counter top . Did you use a counter top mix ? I see how you formed the overhang . What did you use to support the field of the top ? A prop or something left in the structure ?
Impressive work , great job .
 

Chris B.

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Thanks for the kind words!
I used regular pro-grade Sakrete, as the countertop mix is so much more expensive, and I knew I needed 20 sacks of it. Since it's a rustic outdoor kitchen, I wasn't too worried about air bubbles or like that, although I did my best to vibrate them out.
To form the overhang, I screwed a 1/2 x 3/4 strip cut from melamine to the inside bottom of the form all the way around. To support it, on the long sides of the pit, I clamped 2x4s with pipe clamps, and the form rests on these. On the short sides, I didn't use any extra support, as it's only about 4 ft, and I figured the form wouldn't bend.
 

JckDanls 07

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Your Hired... when can you start ?? LOL.. Bub... you'll be proud of that forever.. rightfully so... EXCELLENT JOB ...

Now... in a couple of pictures in your garage... what's the bike in the background (sitting on the stand).. I see chain and sprockets on the right side... I see CAG (your thumbs in the way of the rest) on the swing arm... Green number plate... Is that a Cagiva ?? Ride or race.. or both ??
 

Chris B.

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Joined Apr 30, 2018
That is fantastic work . Nice design too . Been around enough masons myself that I might try it some day .
Interested in the counter top . Did you use a counter top mix ? I see how you formed the overhang . What did you use to support the field of the top ? A prop or something left in the structure ?
Impressive work , great job .
Oops! Sorry, Chopsaw, I didn't see that you asked about supporting the field of the top. I used cement board - same stuff you'd put on the wall of a shower for tiling over. i used some angle iron to support the fronts of the openings and one piece across the center of each of the three sections for added support. The smoker firebox actually got three pieces of angle iron - one across the front and one at the front and back of the smoke hole. Hope this clarifies (I added that detail to the text above, too).
 

Chris B.

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bikepics-567745-full.jpg
Your Hired... when can you start ?? LOL.. Bub... you'll be proud of that forever.. rightfully so... EXCELLENT JOB ...

Now... in a couple of pictures in your garage... what's the bike in the background (sitting on the stand).. I see chain and sprockets on the right side... I see CAG (your thumbs in the way of the rest) on the swing arm... Green number plate... Is that a Cagiva ?? Ride or race.. or both ??
Well spotted, Keith. 1988 WMX 250 ... never raced, just for trail riding and goofing around. Great bike and fast for its age! (The Honda in front of it is long gone.)
 
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agrasyuk

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That is one great design. And great workmanship too. Those YouTube instructional videos make it look easy, but I got a chance to personnaly find out that there is much more to bricklaying than it might seem. I wish I could take lessons from mason.
Enjoy your cookers!
 

SmokinAl

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That is absolutely over the top!
You are an amazing craftsman!
I really am just speechless!
Other than congrats on making the carousel!!!
Al
 

Chris B.

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That is absolutely over the top!
You are an amazing craftsman!
I really am just speechless!
Other than congrats on making the carousel!!!
Al
Sweet! I also just discovered Pork Shots in the carousel. Gonna try 'em tonight, possibly for a weekend party.
 

JckDanls 07

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Thinking that's the first build to ever make the carousel...
 
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Fantastic job! Seriously awesome. I’ve been to Tuscany a few times and that is exactly what the grills look like there! We rent a house when we are there and absolutely love cooking on one of those. You’ve inspired me to build one of my own! Thanks!

Mike
 

chilerelleno

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Wow!
Wow!
Wow!
That is a beautiful handcrafted smoker, very nice handiwork.
Something to look upon and be proud of for decades to come.

Not the first hand built smoker to make the Carousel, but damned worthy of the ride.
Hooyah!
Like!
 

Chris B.

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Fantastic job! Seriously awesome. I’ve been to Tuscany a few times and that is exactly what the grills look like there! We rent a house when we are there and absolutely love cooking on one of those. You’ve inspired me to build one of my own! Thanks!

Mike
Mike (and all meat fans ... which means all of you), go to this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K199bfh6pEw - and go to the 40 minute mark and watch one at the hands of famed Italian butcher Dario Cecchini. That was my inspiration.
 

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