Chimineas. Or is it Chimenea?

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It doesn’t matter which way you spell Chimineas or Chimenea. Both are considered acceptable. What is important is that when you have one, you’ll enjoy your back yard or patio a little more. But what exactly is a chiminea? Well, imagine a crackling fire in your indoor fireplace, adding warmth to your home during a winter snowstorm. Now, take it outdoors, minus the winter, and replace the snowstorm with a crisp summer or autumn evening. And there you have it: a portable outdoor fireplace on your yard or concrete patio. A little heat; a lot of ambiance. Sorry, but no wooden or combustible decks allowed. After all, you have a real, wood fire going.

How are chimineas made?

It’s simple, actually. Most are fire-hardened clay, baked at 1400° C to 1600° C, then formed into a hollow potbelly and chimney. During the process, the clay is ‘grogged’ by adding chamotte. This is a firesand that contains alumina, or aluminum oxide, used extensively in industrial smelting. The entire process makes the chiminea very strong and resistant to cracking from heat.

Ceramic Chimineas trace back around 400 years to Spain and were often located in open-air indoor rooms. Used for heat and cooking, they were also placed near open windows to vent the smoke. As Spanish influence moved to the western hemisphere, so did the chiminea. Thus, they became home staples in Mexico and other Spanish territories. You’ll still find many homes in rural areas using them for their original purposes of cooking and heating.

Interestingly, there are some similarities between chimineas and the Japanese-style kamado. If you aren’t familiar with ‘kamado’, think of a Big Green Egg ceramic grill. Older by hundreds of years, the kamado served the same purposes of cooking and heating. Perhaps a Spanish explorer discovered the kamado and brought the concept back to Spain. If you are a believer in parallel invention, you may feel it was just coincidence brought about by daily necessity.

Today’s use

Most people today have stoves, microwaves, and ovens, and don’t need a chiminea to cook. And as a source for heat? Fortunately, no to that, too. However, a chiminea makes a wonderful addition to the backyard environment. I find it special to sit around a controlled, open fire, enjoying the flickering glow. Plus, the gentle heat adds a touch of warmth everyone enjoys on a cool evening. And if you have the yearn to cook something, stick a marshmallow on a skewer and go for it. Maybe a hot dog.

Obviously, the quality of your fire will determine your satisfaction. When you get yours, start with a small fire. Think of it as a sort of re-kilning. You are simply conditioning the chiminea to accept larger fires. After a few small fires you will be able to build bigger ones, but I would still avoid raging bonfires. You have a front-load opening in front so you will see the flames. You don’t need a blowtorch shooting out the chimney. Plus, to avoid excessive smoking, don’t use wet or green wood. Your family and neighbors will thank you. And under no circumstance should you use pressure treated lumber, composite wood, or wood with filler, such as plywood. I recommend only using well-cured hardwood. It burns clean, and once started, there is little smoke.

Folks, we’re dealing with a real outdoor fireplace here. As I stated at the beginning, a chiminea should not be placed on a combustible surface or near any structure. And unlike the original use, today’s chimineas are exclusively for outdoor enjoyment.

In summary

It seems like every year, we find new and inventive ways to maximize our outdoor fun time. Chimineas have been around for centuries, but many are just discovering how much fun they can be. Why not pick one up at Eastgate Pools & Spas, pull up a lawn chair, and enjoy some quality time outside. You’ll have a crackling good time.