A custom charcoal grill can be a real value to your backyard. This permanent structure can be a great improvement over a grill sitting on wobbly legs. Whether is it a simple brick frame with a grate for the charcoal and one for the food or as part of a large outdoor kitchen there are few things better than cooking over charcoal. These days there are many Built-in Charcoal Grills to choose from whether you are the do-it-yourself person looking for a weekend project or having a large, full-function structure built. In the examples below, we can begin to look at the possibilities and then move on to the specifics to get the job done and get it done right.
Basic Construction of Charcoal Grills
All a charcoal grill really needs is a place to set the charcoal and a place to put the food. It is best that the charcoal sits on an open grate that allows for airflow from below while letting the ashes fall through. Yes, this is not the way a campfire works. However, this is more efficient making it easier to light the charcoal and keep it burning. A simple brick or stone block structure will work perfectly. It needs to have something on three sides to hold the grates in place. This can be accomplished with metal brackets or by the way the bricks or stones are set in place. I recommend a removable ash catcher for easy cleaning, but it really isn’t necessary. Charcoal grills of this type are open to the air and work best by direct fire, but can accommodate a wide range of cooking methods.
Open Charcoal Grill Inserts
To simplify the construction of a basic charcoal grill, some manufacturers offer units that can be inserted into a brick or stone structure. In fact, any kind of construction will work as long as it is fireproof and heat resistant. Remember that not all brick is designed to take high temperatures, so check with the source before you buy. These inserts are a stripped-down, open charcoal grill. Some have an adjustable height coal grate which is a good feature to consider. Open charcoal grills don’t have a lot of temperature control. By adjusting the distance between the fire and the food the cooking temperatures can be changed. Basically, the closer to the fire the higher the temperature. While indirect grill works well on these style of grills, their low-temperature roasting ability can be somewhat limited, but for steaks and burgers, this is a great solution. Grill inserts can cost over $500USD, but most are well constructed and can last for a long time. Since they are open to the elements care and maintenance may be higher than with a covered grill. Consider units like this as similar to the kinds of charcoal grills found in parks.
Stainless Steel Open Charcoal Grill Inserts
While the basic powder-coated steel inserts can cost up to $500USD, stainless steel versions can cost well over $2,000. By switching to stainless steel there is an added level of durability. However, it is in the appearance that the real appeal is found. These are still open grills and they won’t do much in the way of smoking, but they can still be used for direct and indirect grilling. Look for models with adjustable coal grates for cooking versatility and solid construction. Stainless steel isn’t completely stainless, but units like this are certainly more attractive than their black steel counterparts. These charcoal grills are also a great addition to a full outdoor kitchen since they can add that authentic charcoal flavor to foods.
Closed Charcoal Grill Inserts
Designed to look very much like a shiny gas grill, a number of companies make charcoal grill inserts with adjustable grates and full lids. These largely stainless steel units don’t have the kinds of temperature control that the typical freestanding charcoal grill might, but they work very well and match their gas counterparts so they can be part of a full-function outdoor kitchen. These units are, of course, more expensive and prices can reach over $3,000USD (though generally more in the $2,000USD range). Not all outdoor kitchen manufacturers produce charcoal appliances, but many do. Like Built-in Gas Grills there is no standardization of size, so have the cutout dimensions before you begin construction and know that swapping out one charcoal grill insert for another may require reconstructing your outdoor kitchen configuration.
Built-in Gaucho Grills
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in what are increasingly called ‘Gaucho’ grills. These open charcoal grills are generally very large and use a pulley system to raise and lower the cooking grate relative to the burning coals. Many also include a rotisserie system. Originally derived from South American style grilling, these units spread throughout Latin America. They are also known in some areas as a Parilla or California Grill. These are a great choice for serious grillers who are looking for authentic flavor in a large-sized unit. They also make excellent additions to any outdoor kitchen.
Built-in Kamado Grills
Kamado-style grills, like the Big Green Egg, have become the charcoal grills to own. Working equally well as a smoker and a grill, these efficient, typically ceramic grills are not only functional but generally great to look at. They need little in the way of mounting and their insulated bodies allow them to be placed in wooden frames, but they do need a safe and stable location to sit. Adding a kamado grill to a custom enclosure is easy. A basic raised shelf capable of holding their weight will do. On the other hand, a number of manufacturers of outdoor kitchen enclosures as well as some kamado makers offer mounting and enclosure options for fitting a kamado grill.