While the icy cold grip of winter still has a strong hold on most of the country, Summer is coming soon. And what better way to dream away the snow than the tangy, juicy flavor of homemade BBQ? Building your own grill is the perfect project for welders of any skill, but there are some key tips to consider that’ll really take your meat machine to the next level.
Put a Lid On It (or don’t)
Open pit grills are enchanting to watch. They’re everything we love about a traditional campfire, but much easier to cook on. These open designs are easy to fabricate and perfect to sit around during the evening, but can be difficult to use if you’re looking to do some serious grilling. The main issue is that the heat produced rises up past your food and quickly dissipates into the atmosphere. This makes getting an even coverage tricky, especially if you’re brave enough to attempt something like hamburgers (which we really wouldn’t recommend on this type of grill unless you know what you’re doing).
By designing a grill with a lid on it, all the heat produced by your flame doesn’t go up and away from your food. Instead, it stays trapped inside your grill, surrounding your meat. This gives you much more even heating and also allows your BBQ to get hotter much quicker. This is the reason why 90% of your serious, store-bought grills have a lid.
However, welders often run into a few problems once they put a lid on their homemade grills. For instance, you might find that every time you put your lid on, your fire dies. The reason for this is that your grill still needs good airflow and a way for smoke to escape. This article is mainly focused on charcoal and wood grills, so if you’re hoping to use propane, that’s on a whole different level of stoichiometry we won’t be covering here.
Most homemade designs with lids use at least two holes. First, a lower hole allows air to come in. Now if you’re hoping to build the world’s worst smoker, that’s all you need. However, especially with wood burning grills, the smoke needs somewhere to go. The simplest solution is to cut a second hole in the top of your BBQ and add a tall pipe so the smoke isn’t just billowing out into your face. If you want to get real fancy, add a nice little chimney cap over the top of the pipe to keep water from going inside when it rains.
Gotta Catch ‘Em All
Building a wood or charcoal grill is a great choice. They’re easy to transport and simple to fabricate. The downside is that they produce a lot of ash. The simplest designs basically just leave the ash around the fuel source like a campfire. This means that after every few good uses, you’ll need to clean out the entire bottom of your grill.
A more complex, but better design is to have an ash trap below your fuel source. Your logs or charcoal sit on a metal grate above your ash trap. As the fuel burns into ash, it falls down into the trap so it can be easily dumped. Some clever designs will even make the ash trap removable for even easier cleaning.
Another benefit of ash traps is that the empty space below the fuel source creates better airflow. This might not matter too much depending on your fuel source, but it’s definitely helpful for wood burning grills.
Beware the Barrel
Using an old propane tank or barrel can be great for creating your own grill. The circular shape means you can cut it directly in half for an open-pit design or cut a panel out to make a lidded grill.
Just remember, whatever was in that barrel can get inside your food if you’re not careful. There has been more than one reported case of someone using an abandoned tank, not realizing it was coated in toxic chemicals. Even if the barrel didn’t store anything toxic, it can often be coated in paint or other protective layers that create poisonous fumes when exposed to flames.
The first tip is to not use a tank or barrel if you don’t know where it has been. Yes, it’s great to recycle abandoned material. However, barrels are so commonly used to transport all sorts of toxic chemicals, it’s not worth playing Russian Roulette over a hamburger. Some businesses will sell old barrels and can often tell you exactly what it has stored. Propane residue, while toxic, can be easily cleaned from a tank (which is often why you see propane tanks being used for grills).
Besides what the barrel has stored, you also need to think about any paint or protective coating it has. If you’re not sure if it’s non-toxic, it’s best just to sandblast or grind your tank clean (or just buy a brand new barrel). After that, you can repaint your tank with a non-toxic layer to protect it.
Going from an “okay” homemade grill to an awesome grill does take a little bit more planning and hard work. But the results can be incredibly impressive. Of course, having the right equipment is always key to achieving an end product you’re proud of. If you need a new machine, protective gear or consumables, make sure to check with Welding Supplies from IOC first.