Chimineas – what to look for and how to use one
What is a chiminea?
Chimineas are traditional Mexican ovens that were originally intended for use within the kitchen but have since transformed into outdoor heaters. They work in a similar way to a wood burning stove: the belly contains a grate onto which a fire is lit using wood or coals and emits heat through the front grill, while smoke disappears up a chimney and the ash collects below. As with your regular stove there will be an air vent which can be adjusted to give you some control over the intensity of the flames. Some larger chimineas are fitted with a cooking grill that can be used to cook anything from baked potatoes to pizzas.
What types of chiminea are available?
Besides the size and design of your chiminea, one of the key choices you’ll be making when buying one is what material it’s made from. There are three main types as follows…
The original chimineas were made from terracotta and, although they look great and give out plenty of heat, they are more breakable than other materials. Care needs to be taken when lighting fires in clay chimineas – a layer of sand should be laid at the base of the belly so it avoids coming into direct contact with the heat source and only certain types of fuel are recommended. Anything that gets too hot or spits can be a crack risk, as can a hard frost or user clumsiness.
There are two main drawbacks to cast iron chimineas: they’re heavy and prone to rust. On the plus side they’re very efficient burners that are excellent at radiating heat (they will stay warm long after the fire has faded), they’re solidly built and they offer a good range of cooking options. Get some help lifting one into place, invest in a rainproof cover, and it should last you a lifetime.
Chimineas with a modern design conscious look are often built out of steel. Like their cast iron cousins they often come with cooking attachments and are hard wearing. They’re lighter than cast iron and, although unlikely to match their full flame power, still do a great job at radiating heat.
How to use a chiminea
The first thing you need to consider when installing a chiminea is its location. It will need to be on a level and firm base and positioned away from anything that might easily catch fire, such as a wooden fence or overhanging branches. Also make sure young children and pets are safely away from the scene – chimineas can give nasty burns even when the fires have died down and all looks safe. It’s also worth investing in a good pair of heat resistant gloves for when you handle the door, vent and any cooking grills.
Before beginning, read the chiminea’s instructions thoroughly – some may need priming before getting a proper fire going. For primed and ready chimineas, you start a fire in the same way as you would an indoor stove. Place a fire lighter or scrunched up newspaper in the middle and build a frame of kindling around the top. Once the kindling is in full flame build up the fire with larger pieces of wood, using the vent to control airflow. Chimineas are great for getting rid of small bits of garden waste such as twigs, providing they’re thoroughly dry, but don’t be tempted to bung anything on the flames that is wet or contains manmade materials as they can damage the chiminea or release toxic gases. You can use other natural fuels such as charcoal in a cast iron or steel chiminea but it will get too hot for a clay version.
When you’ve finished using your chiminea make sure it’s cooled down before giving it a clean out or moving it, then make sure it’s protected from the rain and you’ll be able to enjoy your outdoor space through chilly evenings for years to come.
Do you have a chiminea in your garden? What other ways do you keep warm in the garden in Winter? Leave us a comment below.
The Two Thirsty Gardeners, Rich and Nick, are bloggers who love gardening, eating and drinking in equal measure! They love to share tales from their allotment including their experiments turning the spoils of their crops into alcohol, both the good and the bad!
To find out more about Rich and Nick, click here.
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