Planning a special family home evening, dinner, party, or family backyard picnic? Picture a tasty meal of shish kebabs, vegetables, rotisserie chicken, and hamburgers sizzling over coals, with delicious smoky smells wafting across the yard. Then you remember you haven’t got all of that expensive barbecue equipment you’ll need, and that’s the end of that plan!
But you don’t need a major investment in a barbecue to enjoy a backyard cookout. Creativity, ingenuity with food, and some ordinary backyard utensils can add up to a delicious barbecue.
You can make a versatile, create-it-yourself barbecue that will handle a whole meal by using a wheelbarrow, a few bricks, and some dirt. Not only will such a grill save you money, but it is moveable! You can wheel it wherever you want. It is just the right height for you to sit on a lawn chair and roast apples, hot dogs, or marshmallows on a stick. It will also provide for all kinds of outdoor cooking: grill, rotisserie, or direct cooking on the coals.
To make your barbecue on wheels, decide first what you will use to make it in. An ordinary garden wheelbarrow has many advantages, since it is large, deep enough, a good height, and easily portable. If you don’t have a wheelbarrow, you may choose to build your grill in a child’s wagon, or any metal container in which you can pile dirt or sand four to six inches deep.
Simply fill your wheelbarrow (or other container) with dirt, gravel, or sand. You’ll need at least four to six inches to insulate your container from the heat. Gravel allows air to circulate, which is always good for your fire, but sand or dirt works well, too.
To make the grill, place bricks on opposite sides of your wheelbarrow or container to support racks. (Be sure the bricks or blocks are completely dry, or you may end up with an explosion!) Stack the bricks to hold the grill at the height needed to cook your meal. Regulate grill heat by increasing the number of bricks to lower the heat, or by decreasing the number of bricks to increase the heat. Most recipes will specify the height of the grill. Normal height is about four inches above the coals.
Place an appropriately sized rack (such as a large cookie cooling rack) on top of the bricks to make the grill. For easy cleaning, spray the rack with non-stick cooking spray before using it. Don’t use refrigerator racks. Some are coated with a poisonous substance released when the rack is heated.
For a rotisserie, use bricks with holes in the center, stacked about four deep at opposite sides to the rear of your barbecue. Sticks inserted vertically in the brick’s holes will keep your rotisserie bar in place. Use a wooden dowel for the rotisserie. The dowel must be large enough so that you can drill two small holes about four inches apart near the center of the bar. When roasting a chicken on a rotisserie, you must secure it so that it will not flop to the heavy side while it is turning. Secure the chicken to the dowel with wire through the two holes.
Use the wheelbarrow without grill or rotisserie for stick cooking or cooking on open coals. One caution: don’t leave your “grill” with wet dirt or sand in it; it will rust out the bottom. If you keep your container dry and covered against rain and dew, one load of gravel, sand, or dirt will last all summer. (A simple cover can be made by sewing elastic around the bottom of an appropriately sized piece of a discarded plastic tablecloth. Make sure the grill is cool before covering it.)
You don’t have to have a large backyard to plan a barbecue. You can make a smaller grill easily adaptable to smaller meals or apartment deck and balcony cooking from a clay flowerpot, cooking rack, some foil, and dirt.
Find a clay flowerpot at least 11 inches high and 11 inches in diameter. Fill the flowerpot seven or eight inches deep with gravel, sand, or dirt (to about four inches from the top of the pot).
Since clay pots crack if overheated, be sure to keep the charcoal towards the center of the pot so that it does not touch the pot’s sides. One way to insure that the coals stay in the center of the pot is to shape a nest (or for better circulation, a small table) from a piece of heavy, non-galvanized screening purchased at a hardware store. Then place a cooling rack, the type used to cool cookies or layer cakes, over the top of the clay pot for grill cooking. Use the coals themselves for direct heat cooking.
Now that you have the grill, the next step is to make a cooking fire. One easy and convenient fire is made with briquettes. The problem is to get them to burn. Follow the directions about starting the fire that come on the briquette package. One general caution: Never start or use briquettes in any unventilated or poorly ventilated area (indoors, in a garage, or on an enclosed patio). They give off fatal carbon monoxide gas when burning.
After briquettes have burned for five minutes, you can speed them along by holding a hair blower about a foot away from them, letting the forced air blow across them. The blower works as a bellows, encouraging burning by providing more oxygen.
For cooking, coals should be allowed to burn to the point where they are lightly covered all over with a layer of gray-white ash. At this point the coals emit a constant heat, rather than the flaring and less easily controlled heat of flaming coals.
Use your ingenuity and creativity to find (or create) foods to cook on the grills. Try all kinds of cooking: grill hamburgers, rotisserie a chicken, barbecue shish kebabs on sticks, or cook potatoes or corn on the cob (wrapped in foil) directly on the coals. Most recipe books have sections on barbecue cooking. You can adapt the recipes to your “barbecue” with very little trouble. Here is a sample menu to start you thinking:
Chicken on the Rotisserie
Corn on the Cob in Foil
Roasted Apples on a Stick
Popsicle Hot Dogs
A really easy way to grill and eat hot dogs is to insert a Popsicle stick into the end of the hot dog, leaving a couple of inches outside the frank (like the handle of a Popsicle) to permit turning on the grill.