Kabobs are great party food and an easy, versitile and fast way to cook. You can do a wide variety of foods and it's a real crowd pleaser. In the past we dug a simple pit that was temporary. However, I've wanted something more permanent that's a focal point in a shade garden at my home.
Plus, I really can't justify spending money for a gas or serious charcoal grill and this cost me less than $20 and will last far longer than any metal grill ever will.
The one I built was sized for "medium" skewers - ones will hold twelve inches of food.
You can put this about anywhere. I had a spot near my deck and set it two feet from the house which is plenty far enough away as the heat is relatively contained.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
Using wide bricks for the edge is problematic because it interferes with the ability to flip the skewers without touching the hot brick. In addition, bricks need to be mortared or glued if the installation is to be permanent. What really meets the requirements is a rail of sorts that monolithic. What I found at my local home improvement center is these large pavers - 18" x 24". They were under $8 each.
The edge blocks (two)
Pea gravel or sand
River rock (optional)
- Concrete (one sack)
- Shovel (obviously)
- Hand tamper
- Level (beam or torpedo)
- Clamps and homemade jig (explained later) or other method to brace
Step 2: Digging and Prepping the Hole
I can't tell you exactly how deep and how wide to dig your hole. What you want is enough room to be able to work so dig wider and deep than you need. You can always adjust this after finishing by adding or removing rocks in the center. If you look at my final results you'll see the height is actually higher that I wanted - I should have dug deeper.
The end goal is to have about one to three inches from the top of the hot coal bed to the bottom of the food on the skewers. So, working back from that: three inch gap plus three inches for the coals means about six inches from the top edge of the paver to the base level. With my eighteen inch paver, this meant setting twelve inches below ground, and then digging two inches deeper to allow for fill and leveling.
So for these pavers, dig twelve inches.
After digging, use a hand tamper to create a compact base to work on.
Fill in an inch with pea gravel or sand so you have level surface to work with.
Step 3: Setting the Edges
Here's the part where you want to take your time a do it right. The two pavers need to vertical and square with each other. As you can see I used a square, a beam level and a torpedo level (not shown) to ensure that everything is aligned.
The controlling dimension is the gap at the top of the pavers. This must be twelve inches.
I created jig out of some scrap lumber. It's just two 2"x2" screwed to a 1"x4" that, when clamped, held the tops parallel and at the proper gap.
Use sand (preferred) or pea gravel (what I have in abundance) as a base to allow leveling. Wiggle, kick or beat with a (rubber or wood) mallet until you're happy.
Step 4: Filling in the Pit
If you're wanting it to be permanent and solid, then the best way is to fill it with concrete. Otherwise, heavy soil (like in our area), limestone chip and dust, or paver locking sand will do.
For mine, I used a bag of cheap concrete I had left over to lock the vertical pavers. Then I filled in with river rock (also left over) until I achieved the desired depth from the top edge. Don't put large rocks in it - those can hold moisture then explode when heated.
You can create whatever surround you want; I had leftover pavers and more pea gravel.
Step 5: Enjoying the Food
Now you're ready - just prepare charcoal in a starter chimney, spread the coals in the pit and cook. When you're done cooking, you can just walk away; there's nothing to clean up - no grates, no cover, nothing will rust.
In the photo you can see a skewer (with nothing on it) and a tenderloin in a salt crust - lomo al trapo. As you can see it does multiple thing like direct contact cooking. You can even put a grate on top if you fish.
A word about skewers:
Eschew wood skewers. They burn, they're too short and food just rolls around on them. Instead invest in quality metal skewers. Look for seventeen inches of length, a flat design, a handle that allows ease of grip and setting the skewer on four sides to cook food evenly.
A word about cooking:
While having each kabob have an assortment of meat and vegetables looks good, it's impractical when it comes to cooking - vegetables over cook when trying to get meet to cook. So just put one thing on each skewer and use multiple skewers.
Step 6: Update
After using the pit a few times, I realized there's a flaw - air flow. Have the coals sit on the ground inhibits any combustion air from flowing up underneath them. So I made a change - I dug out some of the rocks in the center and laid a grill rack into the pit. Now the coals go onto this rack and stay really hot. We actually fed thirty people at a party using this kabobs cooked on this pit. And with all the money I saved over buying a grill I could afford 60 really nice skewers.
Hey, did you notice how big the plants are around the pit? After a year they really grew up, and yes, they're close enough to get baked. A lot of hosta leaves died from heat, but that plan is more than strong enough to survive.