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FAQ Subject: I'm building a rock barbecue pit
I'm constructing an aesthetic rock pit lined with firebrick in the hill country of Texas south of Austin. My wife keeps demanding I get professional help - not just for the psych problem, but actually to help me better construct this thing. I really have to do this since I hate a chunk of metal sitting like a blackened car part in my back yard.
It seems pretty straight-forward to me - a rock structure to squat around a flattened metal grill, careful of course to use the firebrick to keep the limestone rock away from the hottest part. I'm not a real gourmet griller so I don't have to have everything just right for hours-long smoking and such. I'm pretty much looking at brisket, skirt-steak for fajitas, burgers, and turkey sausage. I don't even want a top for it - may get a large lid of some sort from a restaurant supply store, but that's about it.
I'm not even using mortar - just constructing it like the old stone walls, rock carefully stacked on complementary rock to ensure steadiness. The rocks are pretty large and heavy so they'll stay put and the crevices of course allow ventilation. Firepit is about 22X30. Looks like something you'd see around Stonehenge. Are you laughing yet? Everybody else has, you may as well. I'm gonna do it no matter what, but would like to know if you have any pointers for me. Thanks. Des
Sounds very therapeutic to me.
However, to make this thing useful as a cooking pit, takes a little more than just piling up rocks. As in most things, pit design follows function. You mentioned at least two different forms of cooking: fajitas require broiling temperatures for a short period and brisket requires barbecuing temperatures over several hours. So for it to become more than just a monument to therapy, however aesthetic, you need to stop moving rock long enough to ponder the functions that you want from the pit.
Barbecuing and broiling on the same grill/pit require that the relationship (distance) between coals and food can be appropriately adjusted. Long periods of cooking also require that you have a pre-burn pit to burn wood down to embers before exposing your meat to it --- unless you enjoy the flavor of cresols and savor the odor of phenols in bathroom cleaners.
Then, you have to be able to control air flow and temperatures and how do you get all those ashes out to put in the garden.
The subject is complex enough that I added chapters on design considerations, construction materials, plans and illustrations in "The Great American Barbecue & Grilling Manual" --- including one constructed under a shed which you will certainly need in the summer in Texas hill country area --- if it is not too late. Click into the Barbecue Store from www.barbecuen.com and check it out in the books section. Otherwise, it is good planning not to use mortar, because it will be much easier to reconstruct in a different configuration, perhaps in another location, gaining experience and muscle tone and getting more therapy.
Meanwhile, click into "According to Smoky" from the web site and read the "Glossary" for explanations of the various techniques, then read "Burning Wood & Blowing Smoke" and "Heat" for some practical advice on cooking with wood. You may also get some useful information from "Building a Better Barbecued Brisket" and "The Artful Hamburger" and "Pursuit of the Perfect Steak."
Hope you get well soon.