Fire pits, the at-home campfire, can be found in backyards across the world. But those of us late to the trend now have other options, such as the chiminea. Chimineas are hardly new, a staple in Spain, Mexico, California, and Arizona. However, they’ve finally gone mainstream. But are they just for artsy folks?
Chimineas are generally safer than fire pits and also can be used in smaller spaces, use less fuel, and don’t blow smoke everywhere. On the other hand, fire pits are often cheaper to purchase, offer more light, and spread the heat around a full circle rather than just the opening.
Chimineas and fire pits do not perform the same function, despite both involving flames. Instead, they are like a Venn diagram, with significant differences with some similar features. Thus, deciding between the two primarily depends on what you intend to use it for and local laws.
Want to find out which one wins in a battle of chiminea vs fire pit? Read on!
Table of Contents
What Is A Chiminea And Fire Pit?
Chiminea and fire pits are both ways to enjoy a fire outdoors. However, while both produce heat, so do a tumble dryer and an oven. Both tumble dryers and ovens will often warm the room they’re in, but they don’t exactly perform the same primary function.
What Is A Chiminea?
A chiminea (che-meh-NEH-yah) is a cross between a pot-belly stove and a miniature pizza oven. These wood-burning stoves date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, invented in Spain and brought over to Mexico, where they were soon embraced. The name is rooted in Spanish and means chimney.
The chiminea’s primary purpose for cooking and also as a valuable heat source; thus, often used indoors. In Mexico, they were also valued outdoors for their ability to keep burning in wet conditions, as the design protects the flames from drizzle and most rain.
Traditionally, chimineas were made from fire-baked clay and were highly prone to cracking when misused. Modern chimineas are no longer made to primarily used for cooking, although they remain heavier than your average fire pit. But they do come in other materials such as:
- Cast Iron
- Steel and cast-iron combo
- Cast aluminum
- Copper (rarest)
Clay models are only able to burn wood. However, those from cast iron, steel, and aluminum can also burn charcoal and coal, although the latter is not recommended for health reasons. But chimineas typically don’t run off gas, although there are exceptions.
Chimineas are easier to use in smaller spaces, such as patios, pool decks, or backyards that are essentially cozy courtyards. This is because they primarily radiate heat only in one direction (from their mouth) and don’t spray sparks like a fire pit. However, they are not a good light source.
Do Chimineas Come With Chimney Lids?
Some chimineas are sold with a chimney lid. While chimineas are designed to keep burning in wet conditions, the rain will fall down the stack and eventually soak the belly, especially when standing there unlit.
But even better than a lid is using a cover. This protects the entire stove and will extend its longevity.
What Are The Main Advantages Of A Chiminea Over A Fire Pit?
A chiminea has a few advantages over a fire pit:
- Can be used in more areas than a fire pit
- Don’t blow smoke in people’s faces
- Fewer sparks
- Require less maintenance while burning
- Easier to keep the heat consistent
- The fire remains burning even in damp weather
What Are The Disadvantages Of A Chiminea Over A Fire Pit?
The biggest disadvantages of a chiminea are:
- Limited heat source
- Lack of light
- Not allowed in some places
Cost is usually the biggest reason people overlook a chiminea. It is far easier to find a bargain-priced fire pit than a chiminea. Cheap chimineas tend to crack or fall apart quickly, making them a near worthless purchase. Quality is essential to their usability and longevity, which comes at a price.
Weight is the next significant issue, which influences the third. Chimineas are heavy. Yet, despite their ability to protect a flame from the wet, they’re not typically designed to be left out all four seasons.
Thus, they can be a pain to store. Even if you have enough storage space, it’s lugging it that’s the real problem. Then, if you drop it, it’s likely it will crack.
Also, while chimeneas produce a terrific amount of heat, it only emits it within a limited zone. So, while the area of warmth is hotter than your typical fire pit, the heat does not extend as wide or deep. While they are excellent for small spaces and couples, they don’t work well for large gatherings or families.
Nor do they radiate light like a fire pit. These are more like a fireplace, pretty to look at, but they are not going to help you see anything in the surrounding area.
Lastly, chimineas are not legal in places that don’t allow wood-burning fires. The only exception is finding a gas-operated one or converting it to gas. Even so, depending on how the rules are phrased, chimineas might not be allowed, regardless if you’ve converted it. Thus, check your area’s regulations before you buy.
Is It Easier To Start A Fire In A Chiminea Or A Fire Pit?
Starting a fire in a chiminea is much like starting one in a fireplace. But since many chimineas are limited to dry wood, you can’t use substances such as lighter fuel and charcoal with additives like you can when starting a fire in many fire pits.
On the other hand, chimineas have built-in wind protection. Thus, they are loads easier to start and keep going on a windy day than a fire pit; they are safer too.
Which Is More Fuel Efficient: A Chiminea Or A Fire Pit?
When comparing a wood-burning chiminea to a wood-burning fire pit, the chiminea is the more fuel efficient. The open flame of a fire pit is beautiful and adds undeniable ambiance, but it isn’t fuel efficient. It gobbles up that oxygen and sends heat shooting out in all directions.
Thus, you spend a lot more time feeding a wood-burning fire pit than you do a chiminea. If you’re chopping wood, this detail probably matters a lot to your back. But if you’re buying the wood, your bank account probably has some opinions on the matter, too.
Are Chimineas Safer Than Fire Pits
Chimineas are safer than fire pits. It is one of their most significant advantages. If you have young children or foolish pets, the chiminea is easier to barricade and police.
Chimineas are also easier to maintain, burning in a controlled and steady manner. Thus, you don’t have to constantly back up and then huddle close.
Nor do they belch sparks as frequently. On the rare occasion that a spark escapes, it is within a very limited space and less likely to be caught by the breeze and carried further into your property (or the neighbors).
Also, with the smoke channeling upwards, chimineas are easier on the eyes, nose, and lungs. For many asthmatics, this is a serious safety concern and could make a chiminea the better choice.
However, chimineas are generally wood-burning, with gas models being rare. Thus, they are not allowed in areas that limit people to gas flamed options. Also, many people with health conditions, such as asthma, prefer gas to fire, regardless if there is a chimney. But people have converted their chiminea to a gas burner.
Lastly, gas doesn’t leave users with the hassle of ash. While there are many excellent uses for wood ash, if you don’t take the proper precautions, you can unwittingly start a fire, such as in your compost pile.
Does A Chiminea Or Fire Pit Give Off More Heat?
A chiminea gives off concentrated heat around its opening. The heat from this limited zone is hotter than the heat given off from a fire pit of comparable size. It will also require less fuel to achieve this heat. Thus, it requires two to three people to cuddle around it.
A fire pit doesn’t feel as hot within its zone. However, a fire pit radiates heat 360 degrees and to a greater depth than that of a chiminea. Thus, the fire pit is easier to gather around when you have a large family or are throwing a party.
However, while a fire pit can technically warm everyone around the circle, there will be parts of the circle that are smoky and uncomfortable. Thus, people often squish up and change positions as the breeze shifts throughout the evening. So, using the entire circle at once is theoretical but not always practical.
Can You Use A Chiminea As A Fire Pit?
A chiminea can’t be used to create the roaring flames enjoyed by fire pit users. While modern chimineas are more robust than their ancestors, they still “hold” heat inside them, causing a buildup of temperature. Thus, when chimineas become too hot, they crack.
However, you can still roast marshmallows in a chiminea and toast sandwiches. As mentioned above, it is because the chiminea’s original purpose was for cooking. People even used them indoors, near a window or roof opening, to give the smoke a place to escape.
Thus, while you don’t use a chiminea as you would a fire pit, there is some overlap.