What to Know About Chimineas

A terracotta or metal chiminea stove can provide a warm, attractive and socially distanced gathering spot in your backyard or patio.

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Cooler weather doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your backyard gathering area. Find out how a chiminea can add a little warmth and flair to your patio.

What Is a Chiminea?

A chiminea is an outdoor stove, typically with a potbelly shape and a chimney. Although they’re available in cast iron and cast aluminum, most chimineas are made from terracotta clay. Sold at garden stores and home improvement centers, clay chimineas may be plain terracotta or decorated with colorful ceramic glaze. Because chimineas originated in Mexico several hundred years ago, they’re often decorated with Mexican-inspired motifs.

Everyone loves to sit around a fire, and a chiminea can provide an attractive, outdoor, socially distanced gathering spot in your backyard or patio. And its warmth can help you extend the months that you use your outdoor living spaces.

Styles of Chimineas

The classic chiminea has a round, squat “belly” topped by a wide chimney. The chiminea has a wide, usually round opening for adding firewood, and sits on a metal base to raise it off the ground. Chimineas may have little to no exterior decoration, or have painted, incised and raised details.

While most tend to have a traditional shape, there are modern styles available for those seeking a more contemporary look. Depending on the material the chiminea is made from, you might also find an open-mesh style.

What Are Chinineas Made From?

Traditionally, chimineas are made of terracotta clay that may or may not be glazed. Because of the popularity of outdoor firepits, chimineas are now available in various materials, including cast iron, cast aluminum and steel. Of these, terracotta is by far the most prone to damage (see below), but it offers the classic, Mexican-inspired look. Metal chimineas are more resistant to damage, although cast iron chimineas are extremely heavy.

How to Maintain a Chiminea

Terracotta chimineas are subject to cracking when they are not heated properly. Here are several important aspects of their care:

  • Make sure the first few fires are small and slow-burning.
  • Do not heat up the chiminea too quickly.
  • Do not build large fires.
  • Do not start a fire unless the chiminea is completely dry.
  • Do not douse a chiminea fire with water.

Some sources recommend treating the exterior of a chiminea with an acrylic waterproofing product. That’s because clay absorbs water, and if the chiminea is lit when there’s still moisture in the clay, it can easily crack.

With or without the acrylic seal, it’s important to remember chimineas must be cured (broken in) slowly. The first few fires should be small, and they should increase in heat gradually. After three to four small fires, your chiminea is ready to go for fires appropriate to the size of the chiminea. Flames should never shoot out the front or chimney of the chiminea.

Metal chimineas can be treated with a rust-proofing agent and kept out of rainy, humid weather. If you use your chiminea in cold wintry weather, be sure to start the fire slowly to avoid a sudden change in temperature that might cause it to crack. If you won’t use your chiminea in the winter, it’s best to cover it or move it to a shed or garage.

Chiminea Safety

Chimineas may be safer than fire pits because they are far less likely to throw off sparks or embers. But they are still hot stoves. Don’t touch the outside of a lit chiminea, and keep little kids away from it. Let fires burn out completely before cleaning out the chiminea.

You should also install your chiminea over pavers, brick, stone or another fire-safe patio surface. Keep in mind that even on a raised stand, a chiminea placed over grass can ignite the grass below. (Don’t ask me how I know this!)