Introduction: Large Rotisserie Pit BBQ

Picture of Large Rotisserie Pit BBQ

Once a year we gather for a Thanksgiving feast with 3 or 4 turkeys cooked on a spit. Last year we rented a mobile unit ($$) so this year I came up with plans for our own. It can easily be sized up or down for your needs.

The BBQ was built as a dry-fit project - no mortar was used. It's a lot easier to assemble and, if the location doesn't work out, it's move-able. Also, if a brick happens to crack from the heat, it's easily replaceable.

NOTE: I won't really be addressing the details of the rotisserie motor. Suffice it to say you'll need an old electric motor (from a furnace or a clothes-dryer) with a gear-box that can slow down the RPMs. Ours is an antique unit that turns the spit at about 1 revolution per minute. I imagine a combination of bicycle gears could be rigged up to do the same thing.

Step 1: NEEDS: Materials List

Picture of NEEDS: Materials List

Note - These are the materials I used... I list them only as suggestions. With luck you'll have other materials hanging around that will work just as well!


25 - - - - - 8" x 8" x 16" standard blocks

15 - - - - - 8" x 8" x 16" cap blocks (or standard)

4 - - - - - - 8" x 8" x 8" half blocks

22 - - - - - 12" x 12" patio stones (optional)

4 to 8 - - -Wood/metal Stakes

1 - - - - - - Flagging tape or string



1 - - - - - -16' x 12" wide expanded steel (optional)

6 to 8 - - - 24" rebar pieces (optional)

2 to 3 - - - Cubic feet of sand or gravel

2 - - - - - - -4' x1.5" metal pipe



1 - - - - - - Food-grade steel drum

1 - - - - - - 20' x 1.5" angle iron (bed frames are great)

1 - - - - - - Wooden hockey stick

4 - - - - - - 5" x 5/16" bolts (with nuts & washers)

2 - - - - - - 2' x 1/2" threaded rod (with nuts & washers)

1 - - - - - - 7' x 12" (1/8" thick) steel plate

1 - - - - - - High-heat flat-black BBQ spray paint


FOR THE GRILL (optional):

1 - - - - - - Expanded Steel 30" x 48"

2 - - - - - - 1" x 64" Steel Pipe


Step 2: NEEDS: Equipment List

Picture of NEEDS: Equipment List


- Shovel

- Gloves

- Hammers

- Long Level

- Short Level

- Safety Glasses

- Measuring Tape

- Old Chisel or Axe

- Permanent Marker

- Carpenters Square

- Hand-held Grinder

- Metal Cutting Discs

- Masonry Cutting Discs (optional)

- Wheel-barrow (optional)

- Friendly Welder Person


(OH, And don't forget an Axe for LOTS of Hardwood!)

Step 3: Size Is Everything

Picture of Size Is Everything

Using standard concrete blocks - aka "Cinder Blocks" - the design is easily scale-able. Make it any size you want. The blocks are found at most hardware stores (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) but I was able to save money by buying "seconds" from a wholesale distributor at $2.00 apiece here in Ontario, Canada.

The standard block is usually sold as 8" x by 8" by 16". This is not quite true. The specs refer to a block in a completed wall WITH mortar. The block itself is actually closer to 7.5" x 7.5" x 15.5". I also chose blocks with squared / finished ends for the corners. I was happily surprised to find "cap" blocks for the top surfaces.

Please find my rudimentary blueprints attached.

Step 4: Location, Location, Location

Picture of Location, Location, Location

We gave location quite a bit of thought before assembling the BBQ. Remember that it will be giving off a lot of smoke and heat once it's fired up. We chose a convenient spot that was a safe distance from trees and play areas. If you use an electric motor you will also want to be located near an outlet.

As this is a pit BBQ we had to consider tree roots. They are difficult to dig through(!) and also pose a fire hazard. The fire could get into the roots and smoulder underground for an extended time, making it's way back to the tree eventually. I suggest having buckets of water around when the BBQ is fired-up... just in case.

Step 5: A Good Foundation

Picture of A Good Foundation

FYI - concrete blocks are HEAVY. Each block weighs 40-50 lbs, so forty of them will weigh a lot! A solid foundation is absolutely critical. After leveling the ground we decided to first lay down 12" x 12" patio stones to help distribute the weight and keep the bricks from sliding into the hole.

We measured the area and used stakes with flagging tape to mark the outside perimeter of the patio stones. NOTE: It would have been wiser to wait until AFTER laying the patio stones before digging the one foot pit. We dug first and made the hole too large by mistake. Doh!

To keep the soil in place we used 12" strips of expanded metal held in place with 2 ft rebar stakes. We also added thin, flat rocks behind the metal screen - cause it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Step 6: Lay 'Em Down

Picture of Lay 'Em Down

Now you can lay the blocks tightly against each other, checking for level (and square) often. Many of our blocks had little bumps and "extra bits" that had to be teased off with a hammer & an old axe. Lay some of the 1st row blocks sideways to allow for air to feed the flames.

In some spots we needed "half blocks" to complete a row. In other areas we used "cap blocks" which have a finished surface over the holes (not solid top to bottom). They were almost the same cost and gave it a more polished look IMHO.

Step 7: Up, Up and Away

Picture of Up, Up and Away

On top of the patio stones we put down 3 rows of cinder blocks. On one end of the 3rd row, we judiciously placed a half block to leave a gap for the spit to come through. Using supports (next step) the spit should come out just above, but not touching, the 2nd row of blocks.

After putting 2" of sand on the bottom of the pit we ended up with 25" height from ground to spit. This seemed adequate and the amount of cooking heat can ultimately be controlled by the size of fire and opening of the lid.

We also measured for a 1/2" hole to be drilled in the top row of blocks on either end (see photo). This is used to mount the hinge brackets on either side.

Step 8: Giving It Support

Picture of Giving It Support

For the spit we used a 8 foot black steel pipe with a few holes drilled along the length. A gear was welded to one end. To support it we used 1.5" pipe and hammered it 24" into the ground at both ends of the BBQ. On the tops of these pipes we welded horizontal arms at the desired height, and "v" brackets to hold the rotating pipe.

We could have have simply supported a single rotisserie pipe but we wanted the option of adding other things later, such as a grill. For this we welded horizontal steel arms to the support pipe, and more "v" brackets to support additional pipes.

Note that we made the height adjustable by sliding two sizes of pipe inside one another. This will allow the grill to be lowered for traditional camp-fire cooking, or raised for warming pots and plates. We carefully drilled matching holes through the pipes so that a long pin or bolt can be inserted at various heights.

Step 9: Capping It Off

Picture of Capping It Off

I don't weld, but thank goodness for friends who do. (Your the best Larry!) We used an old food-grade drum (cut in half length-wise), some scrounged bed-frame angle iron, and 1/2" threaded rod to whip up this hinged lid.

My advice would be to measure often here. We just barely managed to cover the length of the BBQ opening, but it worked! With some patience we made it square and then used a hockey-stick for a handle, spaced away from the BBQ with 5" bolts and copper pipe. Caution here because the handle can get a little toasty when there's a roaring fire.

Step 10: Other Details

Picture of Other Details

A 'secret' feature of this BBQ is the adjustable warming plate. The steel drum wasn't wide enough front-to-back so we added a 12" wide steel plate on the back. This makes a great surface for keeping dishes & plates warm while dinner is cooking. It can be moved to allow for more or less smoke to escape too.

To make the lid rotate we welded 12" lengths of threaded rod to the back of the lid (on the angle iron bracing). This is then fed into vertical hinge brackets on the side of the cinder blocks and secured with bolts, allowing for a fully open bbq when needed.

Step 11: Tried by Fire

Picture of Tried by Fire

It probably goes without saying that no one wants to BBQ with toxic vapors floating around. For that reason, we had a really good & hot fire in the BBQ prior to using it for any kind of cooking. It burned off all the various finishes, though surprisingly, the exterior drum paint was hardly affected.

To protect the steel from rust I've been told to use "High-Heat" flat-black paint on the exterior surfaces. Other internal parts can be protected with repeated applications of Canola oil which has a higher smoke point than most other oils.

Step 12: Let's Eat Turkey!

Picture of Let's Eat Turkey!

And here's the finished product in use. We spear the turkeys length-wise and then use large steel 'nails' through holes in the spit to keep the meat from spinning freely. Wrap it all securely with stainless wire and foil, and even more wire, to keep it a tight-knit bundle of goodness.

Our 20 lbs birds took about 6 hours of cooking, removing the foil near the end for an hour of browning. Note that we sometimes supplement the fire with charcoal briquettes for a quick and long-lasting heat source.

After the turkeys and rotisserie are removed two more pipes can be laid down on the support arms and a grill placed on top to keep food warm.

That's how we did it... Now go try it yourself... Good luck!

Step 13: Other Resources

Picture of Other Resources


bahfotl (author)2016-04-14

BE CAREFUL when selecting a "food Grade" drum for this or any food related project. You can make sure it's food grade by verifying the writing on the drum which will usually have some type of food product on it. Also most "food Grade" containers have a sprayed plastic liner in it which may or may not contain a cancer causing chemical called BPA. BPA can leech into your food when it's heated. I prevent this by using a flex grinder to remove all of the liner before using teh drum. It's a pain in the a$$ but my family's heal;th is worth the extra effort. Remember to wear a mask when grinding so you don't inhale the toxic dust created by the process.

RaymondY7 (author)2016-04-05

I am so going to make this.... We're having a big Hoedown in June and Im gonna roast a hog!! So excited... pics coming!!!

RogueLoner (author)2016-04-01

I was wondering what "friendly" welder person means. Free?

JulieK11 (author)2015-08-10

Have everything on our property to make this, all we have to buy is the heat spray. Will let you know how it works out. Thank you for the new idea.

Schorte (author)JulieK112015-10-13

We just had another great Thanksgiving celebration with the Rotisserie BBQ... did you have any luck building yours?

mikey.vela (author)2015-04-08

does anyone know about using a porcelain lined water heater?

RogerS8 (author)mikey.vela2015-05-19

it would be okay if you could cut it without messing up the lining.

watergirlfla (author)2015-04-14

Are the cement blocks fire rated or do they not get hot enough to worry about it? We have used pavers before and they cracked and exploded

Schorte (author)watergirlfla2015-04-15

Thanks for your question! Nope, the cement blocks aren't fire rated... I couldn't afford that option. On the other hand I haven't had any problem with the blocks cracking yet - even with some pretty large and long-burning fires.

Here's a few things that may help to prevent problems: 1) Dig a pit around one ft deep and have the fire burning on a layer of sand below ground level. That way the most intense part of the flames isn't making contact with your bricks. 2) Never light it up when the bricks are wet. Thermal expansion will cause havoc in your bricks... I could imagine some nasty cracks from stream trying to escape. I keep my BBQ covered with a simple tarp, so it's always dry top to bottom. 3) Try to make the BBQ larger than the fire you'll be burning. This again is to keep the flames from making direct contact with the block surfaces. 4) Leave a way for heat to escape. I keep an opening in the front for smoke to come out. It also helps moderate the temperature inside the BBQ. 5) Dry-fit the cinder blocks like I did. If a brick does happen to crack... or just deteriorate over time, its not a big deal to replace it.

That's all I can think of. Good luck too you and please share photos of you do build one (-:

rclayjr (author)2015-03-24

I got lucky today. Bought 2 55gal food grade drums for $20.

Schorte (author)rclayjr2015-03-26

Wow... great deal! Now enjoy cutting them in halves :)

rclayjr (author)Schorte2015-03-26

That's what I'm worried about.

DivineDragon1952 (author)2015-03-26

Nice set up. I really like it but for myself I would make it half as wide, not enough family and friends to cook 4 turkeys for.

Schorte (author)DivineDragon19522015-03-26

Good idea... the build-size is very flexible. We only do the multiple turkeys once a year (Thanksgiving) but it is nice to have lots of space at other times. With the grills on we can cook over fire on one side and just keep things warm on the other.

eric.hamilton.35728 (author)2015-03-21

Overall cost? Where did you get the food grade drum?

Overall cost is hard to nail down - depending on what you have lying around and if you can do your own welding. I got the used food-grade drum locally by looking on Kijiji. It cost only $15 and apparently had fruit-juice in it previously. When you go to a supplier for the cinder blocks, try asking for "factory seconds". That will save a bunch of cash.

President ElectT (author)2014-12-15 I've been asked to make

warehouse32 (author)2014-10-28

O_O. Must. Build. This.

Thanks for sharing!

Schorte (author)warehouse322014-10-28

Can't wait to see pictures of your project. Let us know how it goes!

mfrontuto (author)2014-10-22

would love to see an instructable on how you made the rotisserie motor

Schorte (author)mfrontuto2014-10-23

I hear you. I lucked into a ready-made assembly, borrowed from the neighbour. The key thing here is the gear-box, since electric motors are fairy easy to find. Another option is a simple gear reduction with sprockets and chain. Here's one guy's set-up that seems fairly easy - though I would slow it down even more.

mfrontuto (author)Schorte2014-10-23

it depends on how much weight you put on there no? how fast would that thing turn if you had several pigs or a cow in there? is there a way to rig up a switch to slow down /speed up the motor when you want it to??

mpwall (author)2014-10-22

Between this and the clay oven demo a bit back it could become a difficult choice of which one to do. Both are on the list of outdoor cooking things I want to do. I didn't read all the comments, but pulleys correctly sized and a link belt will slow revolutions down. Best to start with a slower turning motor so that your pulleys are so differently sized.

mpwall (author)mpwall2014-10-22

Thinking about it further a wheelchair motor might be the way to go, great torque and slow revolutions.

Schorte (author)mpwall2014-10-23

Now that's a great idea! I'm going to look into it further (availability, etc.) Thanks for the "out of the box" suggestion.

Beergnome (author)2014-10-22

Awesome project! but everyone needs o keep in mind that cinder blocks are not rated for high heat. they will dry out, break down, and some times explode when subjected to very high heat. however, I personally have only ever dealt with such a situation when making rather small fire rings for.. well bon fires at impromptu camp sites. the cooking heat in this project should be displaced enough where it is not a major issue for the blocks, but please keep in mind that high heat and cinder blocks dont mix, they will break down and need to be replaced sooner than later,,

every old redneck I know throwing down yearly pig spits on their property usually are reusing the metal bits and building a new block foundation for every party.

Schorte (author)Beergnome2014-10-23

Good points there... thanks. You could line it with fire-bricks but the price (and difficulty) would go up substantially. Here's how I am avoiding the problems you mentioned:

1) Dig a pit. The fire itself only makes direct contact with the ground.

2) Make it wide. Gives more room for the heat to dissipate upwards.

3) Cover it up. I use a tarp to keep the rain off - and bricks always dry.

4) Have water ready. Always good in case the fire gets out of hand.

FWACATA (author)2014-10-21

One question: Is cleaning out the coal/wood after a problem? Or does reduce down enough?

Schorte (author)FWACATA2014-10-22

Great question. After a good long burn it does reduce down to very little ash. So far I have just spread it around - but eventually I'll need to scoop it out with a small shovel. Maybe once a year?

FWACATA (author)Schorte2014-10-22

Yeah and I could see a shop vac making short work of it too, though dedicated one since that soot and ash might make it a mess for any other uses.
GREAT INSTRUCTABLE BTW, I have already saved it in hopes once I have a future home, this'll be the one thing I will be planning on building for the backyard.

danfrain (author)FWACATA2014-10-22

There are two types of filters available for most wet/dry vacs. If I recall correctly, they're about $15 & $25 each. For ash, cement, etc., spend the extra money for the finer filter.

If you use the cheaper filter, dust will get through the filter and into the motor. Eventually it will clog & make your vac work harder. Some dust will also come out the exhaust port of your machine and make a real mess.

Spend the extra money for the better filter.

spylock (author)2014-10-22

You all did a top notch job,love it.

Schorte (author)spylock2014-10-22

Thanks! (I actually think LEGO deserves much of the credit. Grin.)

spylock (author)Schorte2014-10-22

Yeah well my grandson keeps telling me what a good educational tool they are,when I was a kid they were not as popular,or as expensive.Again great job.NNTR

dillonsparks (author)2014-10-22

You've assembled a great group of friends. This was an interesting project. Obvious thought behind it. Thanks.

Schorte (author)dillonsparks2014-10-22

Really appreciate your comments. We are fortunate to have an annual family gathering... the turkeys, not so much (-:

Horef (author)2014-10-21


That right there is the single thing on this site that made me go from "oh that cool" to "AHHHHHH WANT!!!!!" in about 2.2 sec.

You are a god among humens.

Schorte (author)Horef2014-10-22

Thanks for your feedback.... glad to hear you liked it!

stevenvachon (author)2014-10-21

You should build an even bigger one for roasting entire cows/bulls!

Schorte (author)stevenvachon2014-10-21

80 lbs of turkey... yes. 2000 lbs of bull... not sure we're ready for that yet!

mikegalloway (author)2014-10-21

Huge Texas BBQ nerd speaking:

Wonderful design, construction and presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I'm planning on building a brick smoker some day and now I would absolutely love to do this rotisserie as well.

Thanks for taking the time to put up detailed pictures and notes. I know that this is often an annoying step when you just want to work on your project. Great job.

weldor (author)mikegalloway2014-10-21

About that brick bbq, i picked up an old book that had some killer ones in it. The book was a printed by mechanix illustrated. It is volume 2 of their how- to-do-it encyclopedia copyright 1961. There is even plans for traditional bbq for doing my favorite chinese dish-- bbq pork (aka- char siu)!

Schorte (author)mikegalloway2014-10-21

Good luck with your project Mike... I'd love to see pictures when you're done! BTW, you are 100% right about the documentation. It's can be a challenge remembering to put down the the hammer and pick-up the camera!

Blackice504 (author)2014-10-21

nice work looks great and also thanks for making me want to eat my screen....

Schorte (author)Blackice5042014-10-21

Careful with those pixels... I heard they leave a nasty stain. (groan)

Schorte (author)2014-10-21

Wait until we throw on the burgers... and salmon... And BACON! (Did I mention Bacon?)

cw87 (author)2014-10-21


Schorte (author)cw872014-10-21

It really does make amazing tasting food... and lots of it! Smile.

eeVee (author)2014-10-20

Amazing idea. Great tutorial.

Schorte (author)eeVee2014-10-20

Thanks for your comment... very kind of you (-:

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