So I built this travel inspired fire pit/smoker/rotisserie grill thingy in my backyard. Here’s how it happened.
Confession. When I visited Flathead Lake Lodge in Montana I broke one of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not covet. The lodge had the most awesome outdoor cooking contraption I had ever seen. It was a large stacked stone fireplace with a built in smoker, wood bin, and two grills! Yes, I was covetous. I showed my wife, Denise, the picture of it and told her that I wanted to build something similar in our backyard. She said that it would be too big and too expensive. After looking for other ideas on Pinterest, we agreed to build a simple stone fire pit.
Where to build it?
We decided to put the fire pit in an area where we once had a landscape feature that was supposed to look like of a couple of whiskey barrels turned on their side spilling flowers down a small hill. It was located across from our swimming pool and was pleasant to look at from our back porch. But over the years the barrels began to deteriorate and my travels often kept me from maintaining or even planting the bed. It wasn’t nearly as pleasing as it once was. A nice stone fire pit would add a new gathering space in the back yard and wouldn’t require nearly as much maintenance.
The hardest part of the entire project was digging out the hard Georgia red clay. I pounded a copper pipe into the center of the clay where I wanted the fire pit to be. Then using a string and another piece of pipe I was able to mark where I needed to dig. Since I was placing the fire pit in the side of a small hill, I needed to build a retaining wall. The slope of the hill seemed to lend itself to arched shape. So I used the same technique to mark out the area I would need to dig out for the wall.
Other than never having done any masonry work in my life, my primary concern was drainage. I didn’t want water standing in the bottom of the pit every time it rained. So I built the bottom of the pit with hollow cinderblocks topped with stone pavers. I didn’t use any cement as I wanted the bottom to be porous to let water through to the ground. Since I was building the fire pit close to my wooden fence, I built the back wall a little higher for extra safety. After finishing the concrete block around the fire pit, I hired a friend to finish the stone work because I didn’t want to screw that up.
Just a few photos of the nearly finished product. I still plan to landscape around the fire pit and cover the ground between the retaining walls with stone. But that’s another project for another day.
Fire Pit Features
When looking for ideas on Pinterest, I came across some pictures of round grill grates. I looked on amazon.com and ebay to see if I could find one. The ones I found online in the size I needed were only about $120, but they looked kinda flimsy. I was worried that they might not hold up to high heat. Fortunately I found a local metal shop that custom made a sturdy, expanded metal mesh for just $65! By using a couple of pulleys and hanging the grill from a fence post mounted on top of a 4×4 post, the grill becomes quite versatile and has some really useful features.
It Swivles! One of my favorite features of the fire pit is that the grill swivels! It can be positioned over the fire for cooking, or completely out of the way when we just want to enjoy it as a fire pit. When grilling, you can swivel the grill away from the fire to flip your burgers. You don’t even need to wear a glove or oven mitt. Also, if you are so inclined, you can swivel the grill away from the heat and take a peek at whatever you’re cooking from the under side. You can’t do that with an ordinary grill!
It Rotates! If you don’t like reaching over hot spots to flip your food, simply rotate the grill and bring the food closer to you. By winding the grill a few turns in one direction, perpetual motion will cause the grill to spin for a couple of minutes. This helps the food cook more evenly as none of it sitting still over hot spots that can cook your food too quickly. That’s why I jokingly call it a rotisserie grill.
It has a Thermostat! The pulleys allow you to adjust the height of the grill above the coals or flames. Just for looks I bought some old horseshoes on eBay to use as a thermostat. Hooking the cable to the top horseshoe will lower the grill closer to the heat source. Hooking it to the bottom horseshoe raises the grill high above the heat source. Since there are several horseshoes, there are ten other temperature setting in between. I mounted a few extra horseshoes a little higher on the post for hanging my cooking utensils.
Grill Top & Smoker! Sometimes you need to cook with a closed grill top. Cooking instructions sometimes call for you to cook foods at certain temperatures. So for a grill top, I attached a $9 thermometer on the side of an old bucket and hung it from a chain. That allows me to monitor the temperature and raise the lid to check whatever I’m cooking. I found that I can smoke meats by placing soaked wood chips in a fryer basket covered with aluminum foil in the center of the coals. With the grill top over the meat to trap the smoke, the flavor is absorbed in the meat. The results are amazing!
With everything in place it was finally time to test it out. I had been doing some work for Sanderson Farms and have completely fallen in love with their boneless, skinless chicken thighs. So naturally that was to be thing to slap on my new toy. After loading a whole pack of chicken on the grill I had so much surface area left over I decided to throw on some onions, kielbasa, and some peppers from my garden just to get a feel for how it cooked. The grill exceeded all of my expectations. My wife and I, and my daughter and her fiancé ate everything you see in the picture below as one delicious low-carb meal.
I need a name
I’m looking for a name for my fire pit/smoker/rotisserie grill thingy. It can’t be Henry-Clyde because that’s my pick-up truck’s name. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below. Thanks!!
What would you like to cook on a fire pit/smoker/rotisserie grill thingy?