Chiminea or fire pit - which one is better for your needs

Written by Jason Hutchinson
8 Min read
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There is literally nothing better than long summer evenings sat outside in your backyard laughing, and chatting with friends and family, reminiscing about old times, and making new memories. And as the night draws in getting warm and cozy by the light of an open fire, making smores and telling spooky stories as the wood pops and crackles in the background.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that we made and controlled fire before we were even human! In fact, it was almost two million years ago that our early hominid ancestors created fire and used it to cook, socialize, and keep warm.

Whilst fire was incredibly important to the development of modern humans, today we simply delight in the joy and warmth an open fire can bring. But what’s the best way to make those fires, via a chiminea or fire pit?

Let’s find out…

What is a chiminea?

Traditional chimineas can be traced back to Mexico, with the first appearing around 400 years ago. They were originally used as part of everyday life for heating and cooking and were made from clay and designed to be used in the rain without the water putting out the flame.

Shaped with a potbelly, chimineas are front-loading fireplaces with a vertical chimney for smoke. They’re available in cast iron, aluminum, or terracotta clay. Some have been decorated with an elaborate Mexican-inspired design whilst others are plain and simple.

What to look for before you buy a chiminea

There are a few important features you should be aware of before investing in a chiminea, things that will help you identify a quality model and ensure that it will fit your lifestyle and your garden set-up.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you decide:

  • Will you use your chiminea to cook on?
  • What type of fuel will you use?
  • How big is your outdoor area?
  • What’s your budget?
  • What material would be best for you?
  • What size of chiminea do you want?
  • Do you have children or pets?

Clay chimineas

Clay chimineas are the most traditional, look great in almost any garden, and have an earthy, rustic look that most people like.

Clay chimineas are molded by hand before being fired at high temperatures and glazed. Fired and glazed clay is relatively resistant to most weather conditions but remains vulnerable to frost, sun, and sudden temperature changes. Clay chimineas should be covered when not in use as sitting water inside the chiminea could cause it to crack.

Curing (or firing) a clay chiminea properly will increase its lifespan and ensure it can withstand the changes in heat caused by regular use and cold weather.

How to cure a clay chiminea

  • Set aside an afternoon when the weather is good. This isn’t going to be a quick process, so make sure you allow a few hours.
  • Fill the chiminea with sand to about ¾ from the top of the mouth. This is to make sure the flames don’t touch the clay directly during the first few burns of the curing process
  • Light a small fire at the top of the sand, as close to the center as possible using kindling and paper. Let this go out naturally after around five minutes
  • Allow the chiminea to completely cool down, which may take a while due to their ability to retain the heat and radiate it over time
  • Empty the chiminea of ash and prepare it for the next step
  • Repeat the first few stages, making the size of the fire progressively larger each time
  • Repeat this process 5-6 times for the best results
  • Remove the sand and your chiminea is now ready for use

Once your clay chiminea has cured it will be ready for campfires and even to cook food without it cracking.

Cast iron and steel chimineas

There’s no denying that metal chimineas look less rustic and natural than their clay counterparts, but the contemporary designs that can be achieved with cast iron or steel make up for this!

Cast iron or steel chimineas are extremely durable and can withstand much more heat, which means you can burn more fuel (wood or charcoal) and create larger, hotter fires.  In addition, most metal models have been specifically designed to cook on, some even featuring a grill.

One of the drawbacks of cast iron chimineas is that they can get extremely hot on the outside and care should be taken to keep children and pets safe.

Cast iron chimineas do not need to be cured before they can be used.

What fuel should I use in my chiminea?

Wood burns with air from above, but charcoal and coal both need air from underneath to burn properly. Because of this, clay chimineas work best with wood, and coal should be avoided because of the high temperatures it can reach, which could damage the chiminea.

Cast iron and steel chimineas will happily burn wood, charcoal, and coal but remember the outside can get extremely hot, sometimes making the paint burn off!

What is a fire pit?

Fire pits, bowels, or spheres are basically homemade campfires. They provide a very authentic campfire experience and add a special kind of ambiance to your outdoor space.

There are a number of different types of firepit, each one with slightly different features meaning that some may be more suitable for your needs than others:

  • Wood-burning fire pits are the most natural replica of a bonfire but in a confined space. They can be made of brick, stone, or cast iron
  • Propane fire pits offer a stylish alternative in a variety of designs to suit your garden style. They often feature glass, rock, pebbles or faux wood.
  • Gel fuel fire pits are portable, versatile, and easy to use. They will add a touch of glamour to your garden and can even be built into tabletops  
  • Natural gas fire pits these fireplaces run on natural gas and are very cost-effective to run. However, they are not portable and can be expensive to install

Benefits of a fire pit

  • They extend those long summer nights and provide year-round alfresco enjoyment
  • They are warm and inviting
  • They add style and glamour to an outdoor area
  • They’re incredibly versatile and fit in most gardens and yards
  • They’re available in a range of different fuel types
  • They can become amazing cooking appliances
  • They can add value to your home
  • They’re affordable for almost all budgets

Considerations before investing in a fire pit

Size

The perfect size of the fire pit will depend largely on the type you choose, with the smallest options being tabletop designs and the largest being a gas-fired pit.

As a general rule, if you are purchasing a firepit for parties and gatherings a 90cm fire pit is large enough for a small get-together, whilst fire pits sized 1.8m wide are big enough to accommodate 6-8 people. They shouldn’t be higher than around 50cm tall.

Best fire pit materials

  • Stainless steel – weather resistant, durable, and easy to maintain but can be more costly than other models
  • Copper – one of the best materials for radiating heat but can be trickier to maintain and expensive to purchase
  • Cast iron – Budget-friendly, hard-wearing, and easy to maintain but extremely heavy

Chiminea and fire pit safety considerations

According to the United States Fire Administration, it takes less than 30 seconds for a small flame to get completely out of control and turn into a major fire.

Therefore, whilst outdoor fires are there for enjoyment and relaxation they should not be underestimated – take these safety measures before touching that match to the kindling:

  • Position your fire pit or chiminea on a level surface made from either ceramic, stone, concrete, or brick. Avoid grass, wooden decks, or enclosed porches
  • Make sure your fire pit or chiminea is positioned at least 10 feet from your house, trees, or anything flammable
  • Avoid using kerosene, lighter fluid, alcohol, or fuel to light the fire or get it burning hotter
  • Completely extinguish matches after they’ve been lit, ideally immersing them in water before discarding them
  • Burn dry, seasoned wood that was cut at least 6 months previously – use a moisture meter to check firewood, it should be at around 20%
  • Never burn wood during air quality days when pollution is higher than normal
  • Make sure logs are less than ¾ of the fire pits diameter
  • Never burn green wood, plastic, or waste as these could cause more smoke which could be toxic
  • Keep a bucket of sand, water, or garden hose and first aid kit nearby in case things get unexpectedly out of hand
  • Make sure your smoke detectors are fully operational
  • Teach young children about the dangers of fire and never leave the unattended near a naked flame
  • Make sure people sit at least 3 feet away from the fire to avoid sparks that could fly into the open air and cause burns
  • Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before going in for the night and leaving it unattended
  • Take extra care if you live in a region that is prone to brush fires

Propane gas fire safety tips

  • Fully check propane fire pits for leaks before use – turn off the gas supply immediately in the event of any emergencies
  • Never add paper, lighter fluid, or gasoline to a propane fire pit
  • Clean all burners and pipes regularly to avoid any build-ups

So, which are best, chimineas or fire pits?

Chimineas and fire pits have both been around for hundreds of years and are traditionally used for cooking, baking, and keeping warm. In fact, a human’s love of fire dates back to a time before we were even humans!

Nowadays we still love to socialize around an open fire, and recent reports suggest that relaxing in front of a fire is good for your health as it can reduce blood pressure due to its relaxing qualities. However, with so many different options for creating a relaxing and stylish ambiance in your outdoor space, it’s difficult to know whether you should choose a chiminea or a fire pit.

As we have discovered, both chimineas and fire pits have a range of benefits, both need to be cared for and maintained regularly to ensure longevity, and both have the potential to be dangerous if misused or used carelessly. The deciding factor really comes down to your personal preference and what you will be using it for.

One important point to consider if your main objective is to keep warm is that chimineas are designed to retain heat that is radiated from the opening at the front, this makes it ideal for small spaces whereas fire pits may be better for heating larger spaces.

Whichever you choose, we hope you enjoy the pleasures of outdoor fires for many years to come, just like our ancestors did.

FAQs

Which is better, a chiminea or a fire pit?

There are benefits and drawbacks for both chimineas and fire pits, which means that ultimately the answer to this question depends on several factors, such as: how big is your garden? Why will you be using it? How portable do you want it to be? How many people will be using it?
Once you’ve established the answers to these questions, research both products to find out which type will be best for your household.
As a general guide, because of the way chimineas have been designed they are better for smaller spaces, and fire pits are better for larger spaces

Does a chiminea give off more heat than a fire pit?

Both fire pits and chimineas give off plenty of heat and create a relaxing ambiance for your outdoor space. However, in terms of warmth, chimineas radiate heat from the opening at the front which gives a very intense but controlled burn at this point. Fire pits tend to have a larger surface area meaning the warmth is more evenly distributed across it.

Can you sit a chiminea on decking?

You should avoid positioning a chiminea directly onto a wooden deck because of the fire risk this poses. However, you could reduce this risk by creating a firebase using bricks or paving slabs and positioning your chiminea on top of this base.

Why do you put sand in a chiminea?

Putting sand into a chiminea is part of a process called ‘curing’ that should take place before you use your chiminea. The curing process helps to protect clay chimineas and stop them from cracking or becoming damaged. Read our article for a step-by-step guide to the curing process.

Appliances made simple. 

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