How to Cook with a Chiminea (Clay fireplace)
Few backyard activities are as primal or satisfying as building and tending an open fire. The smells, light, and warmth make us feel strangely alive and remind us of our wild roots in nature.
But enough of that sentimental junk! Let’s get a few cords of wood and some marshmallows and light it up.
Fire pits of all kinds are a great way to enjoy all the sensations of a campfire in a clean, controlled, and safe way. In my opinion, a clay chimenea is the ultimate in fire pits! These thick stoneware fireplaces shelter the flame from all sides and funnel smoke up the stack and away from the audience. Unlike the cheap metal pieces you get at Home Depot (the ones that get red hot and even melt with any decent flame inside), a real clay Chim is thick enough to work around and handle safely even with a roaring fire inside. Hanover Koi Farms will have these magnificent Clay Chims in stock this season in 3 different sizes…..just saying….you should buy one from us….
On to the tutorial!
You need to set up your Chim, of any size, in an open area with a clear line to the open sky: no overhanging roofs or trees.
Make sure wherever you decide to plant it is stable enough to support the weight of the chim, even loaded with sand and wood (we’ll get to that). Note: when using a metal stand for your chim, the area under the base does not necessarily have to be heat-proof (ie cement or stone), but should be non-flammable.
Anyway, fill the inside of the chim with a thick layer of sand about 1 ½- 2 inches thick. This will make the inside easier to clean and will prevent scorch marks.
Place a couple of bricks inside the chim. The wood will get stacked on top of this, making a little cave where you put your kindling.
Layer up some logs across the bricks. Chims don’t need much wood to burn well and cook. If you do plan on cooking with this fire, you might want burn hickory or apple wood. I used maple here and it worked out just fine.
Now wedge your kindling in that little cave you built earlier and light it. Once the fire is going, add wood a little bit at a time until you have a good bed of coals going. That’s right, you’re going to cook with the coals, not the flames.
Don’t add too much wood at once!
Once you have nice layer of coals a few inches thick, it’s time to cook. I’m going to make steak and potatoes, but there are endless recipes you can make using a Chiminea.
I wrapped my potatoes in a double layer of heavy foil (one layer will just burn right through) and buried them in the hot coals. I kept it simple, but feel free to add onions, peppers, butter, or olive oil inside the foil with the ‘taters.
Then I buried the wrapped potatoes in the hot coals and let them sit for about 30 minutes. You can test for done-ness by poking them with a skewer or knife. If the potatoes “give” easily, they’re done.
In the meantime, I cooked the steak. I got a 16 oz top round because it’s lean….and cuz that’s what was on sale at Weis. What can I say? Our fish eat better than we do!
To cook this, you can either wrap it in foil like the potatoes, or use a grill grate like I did. I got this grate at goodwill for $3, but you can get also get cheap mesh grill grates at Walmart. Set the grate on top of the bricks and set your meat a few inches over the coals. Adjust this height or spread out your coals if the meat is cooking too fast.
Remember, flames aren’t necessary or even desirable to cook with. The coals will provide the even, medium heat you want.
Once your meat is cooked through (medium rare in my case), remove the grate with the meat, and dig up your potatoes.
It’s a thing of beauty! Maybe not the classiest of meals, but it's hard to beat on a cold day.
Chimineas are great for cooking and all around outdoor enjoyment year-round.
Disclaimer: Never light a fire inside a building structure, or around anything flammable. Only use fire pits outside in a well-ventilated area, and use proper fire-handling equipment like tongs, pokers, and thick gloves when working with your Chiminea. Finally, always cook your meats to a safe internal temperature and never cook over wood treated with chemicals or pesticides…. Seriously, don’t be stupid.
Written by Chris O'Brien, Copyright Hanover Koi Farms 2017