What Is a Chiminea and How Is It Used?

Heat up the Patio With a Portable Fireplace

Chimineas are those charming, hand decorated  terracotta  outdoor fireplaces you see for sale at patio stores, marketplaces, and tourist sites in Mexico and Western states like California and Arizona. While some people use chimineas as garden art on patios for an authentic rustic or Southwestern look, chimineas can be functional fire features in outdoor rooms. They’ve been around for hundreds of years and are not just decorative accent pieces.

Chiminea History

Traditionally, a chiminea is made of clay and designed in a wide-bottom vase form, with a narrow, vertical chimney through which to direct smoke and a wide mouth on its side for the fire pit. The chiminea’s design allows it to be used in the rain without the water extinguishing its flame.

Basically, a chiminea is the same concept as an old-fashioned potbelly stove, which is a cast-iron wood-burning stove. In Eastern European countries, a similar type of stove, called a kotao, is fed with wood and used for cooking many popular dishes. Large, round cooking pans are placed on the kotao.

4 benefits of having a chiminea

A chiminea will keep the smoke out of your eyes.

Unlike a wider, more open fire pit, a chiminea is contained. Fire pits and 360 degree open fireplaces are like a raised ring of rocks. They may have chimneys, but overly large or 360 degree opening prohibits proper drafting. Without proper drafting a fire will smolder due to inadequate airflow creating excess smoke that can be uncomfortable for you and annoying to your neighbors. Don’t be fooled by companies calling their fire pits chimineas. A fireplace with neck openings and little room for embers/ash is just a fancy firepit. Since they do not burn clean, they will leave behind large amounts of unburned ash and charcoal. You’ll be better off with a ring of rocks in the yard and a cozy chiminea on your deck.

The design of a good chiminea creates a drafting action, drawing fresh air into the fire to get the most Btu’s from your firewood. The fire burns hotter and cleaner, leaving behind only a small amount of ash and very little, if any, smoke during a fire. Chimineas also enclose a fire, protecting people and property.

What to Burn in Your Chiminea

A good hardwood such as oak creates the best fire. If you use your chiminea for cooking, then wood is the number one fuel source.

Piñon wood, pronounced “pin-yon”, is commonly recommended by chiminea owners for its pleasant “pine aroma.” It also helps to repel mosquitoes and other flying insects. Here in the Southwest, Piñon is a common fireplace and stove wood. It keeps an active flame, produces good heat, and burns well with other woods.

You can also add pine cones, apple wood, or other exotic aromatic woods like cedar, hickory, or mesquite, if you would like a more aromatic experience.  The chiminea will blow the smoke up and out.

After igniting, chimineas can reach full burn in 15 minutes, giving off a great deal of heat. The fire can be controlled like any wood-burning outdoor fire pit or fireplace.

Flames are directed up and out of the well-designed stack of the chiminea, giving a much more controlled burn than a fire pit can offer. This allows you and your guests to sit back and enjoy your evening, rather than worry about shooting sparks and flames that may go out of control.

Fun Fact

The chiminea’s origins go back to the 16th or 17th century when chefs in small Mexican villages used them as elevated cooking vessels, and families gathered near them for warmth.

What to Look for Before You Buy

Don’t get carried away by those lively painted flowers and Spanish motifs decorating that chiminea you’ve been eyeing online. Before investing in a chiminea, do some research and know where it will be located on your property. Also, consider the following:

  • Overall shape and design. Is it crooked or misshapen? Is the funnel/chimney too thick or thin?
  • Materials: While clay and terracotta are traditional, but chimineas can also be made of copper, cast iron, steel, or cast aluminum.
  • Is there plenty of space in the fire pit to fit standard-size pieces of wood? If not, you’ll have to chop or special order chips, chunks, or smaller pieces of wood.
  • Do you live in a zone that bans wood-burning fireplaces, both indoors and outdoors? If so, and you really want a chiminea, then look for a model that runs on gas or liquid propane.


Where to Put a Chiminea

For safety reasons, it’s smart to place the chiminea in a location where the flames are visible from inside your house. With this in mind, obvious spaces would include a patio, deck, courtyard, etc. A chiminea works more effectively if its back faces a breeze or wind—which isn’t always predictable, of course. For its funnel-like chimney to work properly, the chiminea needs to be set up straight and vertical. This positioning ensures sooting occurs inside the fire chamber.

Consider the surface upon which your chiminea will be placed. Concrete, brick, or stone patios are fire-safe paving choices. If your outdoor space is a wood deck or terrace, place fire-safe pavers across a small area to serve as a platform, or patio hearth. Place the chiminea on the hearth, and make sure there aren’t eaves, a patio roof, or some type of overhead cover that could catch on fire.

What Is a Patio Hearth?

A patio hearth creates a fire-safe area on a wood patio or deck, on which you can place a chiminea. It’s generally created by covering roughly a 3-by-4-foot area with pavers, bricks, or other fireproof materials.

Ideally, the wood should burn down to ashes in your chiminea. If necessary, the flames can be doused with buckets of water or low embers can be doused by using a shovel (not a garden trowel) and turning the sand/gravel mixture at the bottom of the pit.

Caring for Your Chiminea

Chimineas are heavy and prone to cracking because most are made of clay, often with a low-fire glaze or simply painted. Before using your new chiminea, apply an acrylic finish or sealer, and reapply every 6 to 8 weeks during seasons of use. An acrylic finish will protect your outdoor fireplace from water and moisture, which will soften the clay. For that reason, it’s a good idea to buy a chiminea cover to keep it from cracking and eventually falling apart. In rainy weather (or worse), it’s smart to store the chiminea in a shed, basement, or garage, along with other patio furniture.

Protect the bottom of the chiminea by covering it with at least three inches of sand. You can also use a small metal wood rack to raise the wood if your chiminea is large enough, but it isn’t necessary. Putting sand, lava rock, fire glass, or pea gravel at the bottom of the chiminea fire pit also helps when it’s time to clean out ashes. The sand-ash mixture can be put into a bucket, hosed off, set out to dry, and returned to the pit. You can also rake out the ashes and turn over the sand or gravel for a clean chiminea.

Concerned About Burning Wood?

In an effort to positively impact air quality, the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association (HPBA) partnered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create volunteer woodstove changeout programs throughout the country. Find out if there is a changeout and incentive program near you.

Using common sense and safe behavior can make a chiminea a warm and cozy addition to your outdoor room.

Pronunciation and Spelling

Chiminea or chimenea, pronounced che-meh-NEH-yah. Spanish for chimney. The spellings are used interchangeably.

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