Traditional Clay Chiminea: A Mexican Original

Imagine a traditional Mexican freestanding fireplace. A chiminea is traditionally used for warming the home, or for cooking, and made from natural clay found in Mexico. Chimineas were first used in Mexico hundreds of years ago and are now popular throughout the world.

Clay chimineas are the traditional chiminea, though you often will find cast iron chimineas on the market.

  • Clay chimineas are the traditional Mexican creation, having been used for more than 400 years when they are located in Spain and Mexico. You will get an authentic feel when you have a clay chiminea gracing your home. Most aficionados find that chimineas made of metal just don’t reflect the culture and artistry of the clay chimineas.
  • A clay chiminea, while it will warm the area around it, is not as intense a conductor of heat as metal is, and actually will act as an insulator between the fire and the outside of the clay chiminea. Metal can be dangerous as it conducts the heat very well, and the metal chiminea will become very hot, hot enough to burn if one were to touch it.
  • Aesthetically, clay chimineas are more appealing. The Mexican clay chiminea becomes a lovely accent piece for your home or garden. Even when not lit and being used, a chiminea is striking and is a unique décor item. Some folks never even light theirs, or actually use it as it is functionally intended. When they are lit, the colors and warmth are sure to captivating. An added feature that is wonderful in the chiminea design is the smokestack in the design, which will keep the smoke up and above you and your guests. You will not be smothered in smoke, or have your clothing smelling of smoke when you use your chiminea.

How to Care for Your Chiminea

A clay chiminea, while more authentic and accurate to the original design and use, also will take some more care than a metal chiminea will require.

  • A clay chiminea is made from clay and water, which means it is more prone to cracking than a metal chiminea. You will want to protect is from outdoor weather, certainly from snow and ice.
  • Because a the clay in your chiminea will abosrb water, it will also dry out in the heat, most particularly in intense sunshine. Your clay chiminea will be affected by weather and natural climates by expanding and shrinking to some extent, but you will want to minimize any time you can as too much can increase the chances of it cracking.
  • Annual sealant use will help to protect your clay chiminea. Most makers will give you a list of what kind of sealant they recommend. Many chiminea owners also find that having a cover for their chiminea will increase the lifespan.
  • A chiminea cover should be waterproof to keep it protected from rain and snow, and any other extreme elements. It is possible to find a cover specifically made for your chiminea, but some folks use an easily located old grill cover, or even a tarp for protection.
  • For the more extreme colder climates, you may want to consider bringing your chiminea into a warmed area, perhaps even into the home itself, to give it the best protection. Cracks are much more likely when a clay chiminea is exposed to the moisture of snow and the added stress of freezing outdoors.
  • You will want to carefully think about where you want your clay chiminea to be set, as you want to be sure that it is on a stable surface as a fall could significantly damage your chiminea. Pick a very solid and reliable spot. Also, you want to consider where the smoke and heat will rise wherever you place it. The potential is that anything above the chiminea could be sparked into fire or even damaged by the exposure to frequent amounts of smoke. You will want to avoid anything that might be damaged, such as other trees hanging over, patio roofs or vines.
  • Always keep safety in mind. Your chiminea contains fire and radiates heat and expels smoke. As with any fire, this is intended to be used outside, not inside. It is not safe to use inside an enclosed space. As with any fire, you will need to be sure to always be in attendance to keep an eye on it. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, as you would with any kind of outdoor fire. Do not ever throw water on your chiminea to put out the fire as that will most likely shatter your chiminea. A clay chiminea is certainly safer to touch than a metal chiminea, however, it does get hot and you certainly do not want your pets or children to inadvertently touch it and be harmed. Remember that it will also stay warm for some time after the fire it out inside your chiminea.

Choosing the Fuel for Your Clay Chiminea

Thankfully, most any wood can be used in your clay chiminea. You will want to avoid any kind of pressure treated wood, and not only for your chiminea, but for any other fire, as pressure treated wood will emit toxic gases when it is burned that can be dangerous. Pellets are also not recommended as they are made to burn at a hotter level and produce more ash than is desirable. The same is true for any charcoal. The high temperatures that both these items burn at can be too hot for your chiminea and may actually damage your chiminea. One other fact, avoid any kind of liquid accelerant, such as lighter fluid or gas, as the clay will absorb any kind of liquid, hence, it will absorb the accelerant, which will most certainly affect how it burns and the areas in which the fire is in your chiminea.

Woods that are useful are listed below:

  • Pinion pine is aromatic and will also repel mosquitos from the area in which the smoke travels to. This wood is very popular with the owners of chimineas.
  • Apple wood may be a bit more difficult to find but adds a wonderful smell when it is burned and is popular as well.
  • Red cedar lets off a lovely smell when burned, also gets rid of mosquitos, and can give popping sounds when burned. This popping, while entertaining, can also put out sparks or embers, so you will want to have a screen in front of the chiminea and even at the top, to keep those sparks safely inside.
  • Mesquite wood is a favorite among chefs who specialize in cooking meats. Most who choose to cook in their chiminea swear by cooking with mesquite and often refuse to even consider any other woods. It is idea for smoking a brisket per chefs.
  • Hickory is also very popular for cooking in a chiminea, or even for using your chiminea to grill.