About two months ago Kim and I set out to accomplish a long-held goal: to build a roasting spit in our backyard and spend no money doing it. The inauguration of our successful endeavor occurred Memorial Day weekend. Here's how we did it.
Building The Spit:
A spit is little more than a stone-lined hole in the ground. Some dig straight down (as for a Luau or a New England Clambake, some are dug into the hillside. We chose the latter because our backyard is a long gentle slope. If yours isn't, you may have some extra digging to do and/or you may need to bring in some fill dirt. In any case, what's desired here is a strong earthen support for the bricks that make up the back of the spit. This back wall helps direct the heat, making the roasting process more even and efficient.
Our goal was a 5-foot-wide spit, plenty big enough for a pig or a lamb (though not for a calf or a hog). Kim did a quick search on Freecycle.com, and turns out bricks are a popular thing to give away in east-central Iowa. Lucky us. 20 minutes of driving and an hour of loading and unloading (allowing us to skip our workout that day!), and we had us a brickload.
Pile the dirt to the uphill side, then use to backfill as you build
I dug into the hillside to create a flat space, 6 feet wide by 3 feet deep, creating a dirt pile on the uphill side, which I used to backfill behind the brick wall as each row was placed. I used a basic carpenters level to make sure the base was truly flat. Even a very slight angle could affect the lifespan of the structure -- gravity is very persistent.
Mortar might have been a problem, I thought, since I'm no union bricklayer or anything, so I set each row of bricks a half-inch back of the previous row, creating a slant of about 10 degrees off vertical. This way the heat would still be directed well, but the wall would be supported by the earth behind it. This also helped facilitate the sides' stairstep design which would further direct the heat while allowing easy access for the rotisserie and the animal on it.
As you can see (photos at the original blogpost) it was a gradual but simple process, which would have been much faster if I didn't have to remove old mortar from virtually every brick (that part was very tedious). For the floor I simply lined them up and tapped them snuggly into place with a rubber mallet. Step one complete.
A brief search of the internets revealed that buying a rotisserie was out of the que$tion, and along with not being a bricklayer I am also not a welder. Fortunately some friends at the nearby Scattergood Friends School had built one, also out of found objects, and agreed to let us borrow it for the inaugural run. The main rod is made from a piece of household water pipe; the racks are from an old weight bench; the legs are rebar from a fence one of their sows had knocked down; and the simple hand crank used to be part of a commercial kitchen can opener -- the kind that mounts to the edge of a counter.
With the rotisserie in place it was time to turn our attention the piece of resistance -- the lamb.
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