After one of the wettest, blizardiest winters in recent memory, it's high time for some spring grilling. But why spend thousands on a gas grill that can't even cook a whole hog when you can create your own wood-fired pig pit for under $300?
- hand tamp
- rake or hoe
- carpenter's square
- tape measure
- (4) 2" x 4" stakes
- 48 cinder blocks (standard 8x8x16 size)
- 2 sheets of 4' x 4' 16 gauge steel
- 1 sheet of 2' x 4' 16 gauge steel
- 1 sheet of 48" x 80" expanded metal
- masonry or washed "play" sand
This project is labor intensive but straightforward and can be done in as little as a day. It doesn't require a high degree of skill—it's not like you're going to be mortaring anything or embedding rebar supports—but you will need to be precise when laying the foundation. The materials are all available from your local home improvement center, though the sheet metal will likely be the most expensive component so don't be afraid to shop around.
Lay the Ground Work: You're first going to need to pick a site for the pit and its 80" x 48" footprint. The site should be fairly level bare ground located a safe distance from your house and wooden structures like decks and gazebos as well as clear of dry vegetation.
Once you've settled on a spot, use the shovel, rake, and tamper as necessary to ensure the site is level. Grab 14 cinder blocks and assemble them in a 80" x 48" (that's five cinder blocks long, two cinder blocks wide) rectangle and place the 2x4 stakes at the inside corners. Then, remove the bricks. Excavate 4 - 6 inches of top soil from the interior area of the pit (inside the stakes) and refill it with the masonry sand. This sand acts as an inflammable base for your wood or charcoal fire and also sops up grease drippings (replace grease-saturated sand with fresh as necessary). If you want to get fancy, dig down a full foot and grade the excavated area so that it runs down to a central point, 12-inches deep—this prevents the grease from seeping laterally into the topsoil—and refill the hole with sand or line it with fire brick.
Build It: Reassemble the first 5 x 2 layer of cinder blocks. Decide which of the shorter, 2-block ends you want to be the front of the pit and remove those two blocks. This gap will be used to load fresh charcoal and wood in during the cook so make sure it's facing an area open enough to swing a shovel or tree branch. Next, stack a second layer of block atop the first. Make sure all the blocks line up with those under them and use the carpenter's square to ensure the two blocks at each corner are flush, then lay the sheet of expanded metal on top of that.
Next, stack two more layers of cinder block on top of the expanded metal grill and place the two 4 x 4 steel sheets as a roof. There is going to be a bit of overlap between the sheets as well as over the edges of the pit—that's good. The overlap will allow you (preferably with a helper) grip the sheet and slide it off when checking on a cook. Finally, set the 2 x 4 steel sheet against the open end of the pit, allowing for ventilation, and that's it. Now you just need some charcoal or hardwood, enough meat to cover the pit's 10 square feet of grill space, and two dozen of your closest, hungriest friends.
If you'd rather not dedicate a corner of your yard to grilling, or don't have a yard to grill in, check out the Big Green Egg. And if the entire process of cooking your own meal seems like a bit of a hassle, there's always Seamless.