What is a chimenea… and how do you spell it!?
The answer to the first question is easy.
A chimenea is an outdoor wood-burning fireplace that originated from Mexico. They are traditionally made of clay or terracotta, but you will also commonly find them made from various metals like cast iron, steel, or copper. They are most often used to create an atmosphere and generate warmth.
The second question is harder to answer because there are more ways to spell chimenea than I’ve had hot dinners this month (and it’s the 25th). I’ll get into all the details below!
Chiminea Fire Pit
Ok, so how do you spell or say the thing in the picture!?
Chimenea is the most used spelling, but there is also chiminea, chiminaya, chiminera, chimania, chimnia, chiminaia, chimea, ciminea, chimera, chininea, chiminaire, chimena, chimenia, chimneia, chiminae, chimalaya, chiminia, chimminea, chinenea, chimanea, chiminiea, chimneria, chimera, and Spanish fire pit – among others!
See, I wasn’t even kidding about the hot dinner thing!
Because this outdoor fireplace has been used in many different regions for hundreds of years, it developed a great variety of different (but similar) names. The different words come from the Spanish for ‘chimney.’ The design can be traced back at least 400 years, but it likely goes back even further than this.
Back then, it wasn’t commonly used as an outdoor fire to create an atmosphere, but for heating and cooking indoors. The chimenea would be placed near a window (for obvious reasons) and then used in this manner.
Also, back when they were used as indoor cooking and heating fires, they were exclusively made from clay. This type of chimenea would not last as long as today’s modern models. Clay is prone to cracking from the heat of the fire with extended use, unlike many of the materials used today.
The design of a chimenea is fairly straightforward.
There is the chimenea bulb where you light the fire. Usually, you would put sand down first to help create a bed for the fire, but you don’t have to do this.
Then there is the distinct chimney rising up directly from the fire bed. As you can imagine, a ton of heat is lost directly through the chimney, but you will receive a significant amount out the front as well.
The classic clay and terracotta chimineas do not have any sort of closing door on the front of them. Oxygen can freely enter and feed the fire. Modern metal fires often have grills on the front which can help out a little with safety.
Traditional versions will often be sitting in a stand and it’s important to have them set on sturdy ground. Once the fire is lit you won’t be able to more it. The legs or stands of metal chimineas are most often part of the body of the fireplace and cannot be removed.
Finally, most chimeneas have Mexican or Spanish-inspired decorations. This is certainly part of the appeal!
This is my clay chiminea – you can see more pics of getting it going in this post on using a chiminea.
Here are the most common uses of a chiminea:
- Outdoor warmth
- To create an atmosphere
- Cooking food
- Garden art or decoration
- For light
- To help keep away mosquitoes
- Roasting marshmallows
Some styles or designs are better suited for chiminea cooking than others, but you’ll always be able to make it work whichever you get.
Some come with grill trays in them which is something to keep in mind if that’s going to be your primary purpose.
For many, a chimenea is simply a great addition to the deck or courtyard when they’ve got friends around for dinner or drinks. There’s nothing better than an outdoor fireplace to create a wonderful atmosphere.
These fireplaces do not go through much wood to cook a meal or to burn for an evening.
You won’t even need to have a rick of wood on hand to keep it going! Also, they are not only used in the cooler months but are great for use in the summer as well.
You will pick up the following tips for using a chimenea in this video:
- Keep it on a flat surface
- Don’t set it up on flammable surfaces such as wooden decks
- Set it up away from your house
- Keep it in an open area to give the smoke a way to escape
- Depending on your model, fill the bottom with sand
- Have a Chimenea cover to keep the rain out
The other big thing is would say regarding chimenea safety is to keep your eye on pets and kids!
The outside of these stoves can become extremely hot as well, so you cannot let them be touched once in use.
I’ll never forget the time I was roasting marshmallows with a number of children around a firepit last year. I was foolishly trying to supervise 3 kids and my youngest daughter ended up getting a stinking hot marshmallow stuck to her cheek!
Since then it’s been one adult to one child at the fire. You can never be too careful with children around fires – accidents happen so quickly!
Chimeneas come in all shapes and sizes, are made of a variety of different materials, and can be used for a range of different purposes.
They are popular all over the world now and are not only used in Mexico, Spain, or the US. In fact, they are extremely popular in the UK in particular.
You will also find them in other parts of Europe, in Australia and New Zealand, and even in parts of Asia.
Of course, the chimenea is also quite similar to other styles of outdoor fireplace and so sometimes design features begin to merge a little. Many outdoor wood-burning stoves have a similar design and function to the chimenea.
Nevertheless, the isn’t anything exactly like this Spanish and Mexican-inspired fireplace. At the end of the day, it is unique and makes a great addition to any outdoor space.
If you’ve been using a chimenea for some time now, let us know in the comments below what your favorite use for it is.
Do you cook with it or mostly just use it as a design feature or heat generator?