Which Outdoor Fireplace? Cast Iron vs Clay Chimineas Fire Pit
Have you been eyeing that little chiminea on Pinterest? It’s kind of appealing, yes? Because maybe, like me, you LOVE outdoor living areas and creating this intimate garden space.
But you’re not sure. You have questions about safety, maintenance, and fuel. And whether you’d really enjoy using it.
And besides, one side of the box is crushed and the door is barely hanging on by a single hinge.
I can help.
Some Points to Consider
Are you a little impatient? Love books on accelerated learning? Prefer fast food to slow food? No judgment. Just wondering.
My caveat for you is that outdoor clay fireplaces take a little time and effort to warm up. And cast iron needs occasional maintenance.
But I’m not trying to dissuade you here. In fact, you might actually do yourself a huge favor by getting a chiminea for your backyard. Paradoxically, they’re like a toasty “chill pill,” to go a little 1990s on you.
Crave the comfort and connection of spending time with with friends around the fire?
Me, too. Along with beauty, some ritual and solitude—-and time outdoors.
A little chiminea enriches these experiences. And sometimes even prompts spontaneity.
Most of us could use more of that.
But you should know more about the practical aspects of making a three-figure purchase before clicking the Submit button.
Materials, features, proper care and usage. And that’s what I’m talking about here today. Along with some excellent product recommendations.
I’ve owned many types of outdoor fireplaces and chimineas over the past 20-plus years. I never tire of them. I’m always checking out new innovations or brands, design tweaks, improved materials, artisan methods and craftsmanship. It’s a near-obsession, perhaps driven by my comfort-seeking side.
The Pros and Cons of Owning a Traditional Clay Chiminea
- Weighs somewhat less than cast iron, but can still be pretty heavy depending on size. Easier to tilt when scooping out ashes.
- Rustic and charming, “soft on the eye,” mingles nicely in a backyard setting of bricks, grass, trees, and plants.
- NO ASSEMBLY
- To my eye, a small clay chiminea doesn’t look as small as one made of cast iron or cast aluminum—-in case you’re working with a small patio, and scale is a design concern
- You can use them for cooking with the right woods and a grilling insert
- Don’t take it lightly, some clay chimineas are a fully capable pizza oven, too
- Often delicate. Usually requires “seasoning” and warmup, sensitive to freezing temps and rain
- CAN BE TRICKY TO FIND A GOOD, HANDMADE, MEXICAN FIREPLACE (you can check this one on Amazon)
I’ve noticed in recent years a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the idea of buying a clay chiminea. “It’s mass-produced junk, a waste of money, etc.” And you can find an awful lot of poorly produced clay chimineas out there.
Many of the ones sold at grocery stores are factory-produced, and have both material and structural flaws that get patched up for quick shipping and cost effectiveness.
I personally tend to buy more and more on Etsy, find chimineas fire pit here
But there are some beautifully crafted, artisan-quality, clay chimineas available, too. And this is what you should look for if you decide you want clay.
You’ll have much better luck with authentic, handmade, Mexican inspired chimineas, designed with just one wide opening in the fire chamber, and a wide flue. This creates more efficient burning, proper drafting, and keeps smoke to a minimum.
And if you can find a chiminea made of pure clay food graded, like Pottery Sol y Tierra’s website www.solytierra.shop , then you’ve got an excellent product, AND a shortcut to easier use and care.
You might have to go to a local, independent garden shop, and talk with the staff about how they source their terracotta products. It’s worth the effort, and you don’t need to spend a fortune to have something safe, reliable, and absolutely beautiful.
HERE’S WHAT I RECOMMEND IN A CLAY CHIMINEA
If you’re shopping online, there aren’t a lot of sources for handmade, authentic, good-quality, clay chimineas. There’s a GREAT little Mexican inspired clay chiminea from Etsy—-branded The House Of Bamboo. Last year, I found one at Amazon USA that has since disappeared from inventory, with recently being re-stocked.
But if you’re in Canada, I found the same at Amazon Canada marketplace, in a classic, dark black unglazed. I also found it at another UK website in four different glaze colours. All beautiful.
So why the The House of Bamboo? Theirs is made of pure food grade clay (Advanced Fire Clay), a special clay mixture that’s resistant to thermal cracking and it’s safe for cooking flavor BBQ. It has warranty. Burns charcoal or any type of wood. It doesn’t require “seasoning.” And doesn’t need an specific warm-up period. So if you can find it, look for the handmade clay chimenea by Pottery Sol y Tierra.
If you’re in the USA, I recommend two BEAUTIFUL new chimineas at Amazon. They do NOT have the Chimalin AFC trademark, which is unique to Gardeco. But they are both of high quality, and are handmade by craftsmen. Find the store here
Please follow my usage guidelines for these two chimineas to prevent thermal cracking. It’s not complicated, really. But it’s different than caring for the others. I was hoping the missing Chimalin trademark was an oversight, but after reading the owner’s PDFs for all three of these clay fireplaces, I do not believe that it is.
So have a look, and see if one of these is right for you…
#1 Dark and Rustic. The House of Bamboo Mexican Clay Wood Burning Chiminea
- Handmade by artisans
- Not the usual “Sunburst and Lizards” design motif
- Designed for efficient burning and proper drafting (less smoke)
- Includes coated steel stand and clay lid for flue, BBQ grill and even a nice and durable pizza stone
- Beautiful, textured, rustic look
What I Love
Rustic, textured surface and dark lava color make this little chiminea look somewhat like cast iron. Its stately good looks would work beautifully in either a cottage-style backyard or a more structured landscape design. High quality. Handmade by clay artisans.
Both the metal stand and a matching rain lid are included.
This is the perfect compromise if you love the look of cast iron, but want to save a few dollars and go with a clay fireplace.
No assembly required. Simply place the fire pit brazier chiminea on your steel stand or outdoor ceramic or concrete tiles
A dealbreaker for you..?
The chiminea weighs 45 lbs. Plan to have help when it arrives if this is more than you can lift or move.
I’m not crazy about the steel stand. It’s adequate but it reads as “light.” Wayfair does sell the stand separately if you think you might want an extra.
Burns wood or pressed wood that does not contain waxes or resins. You can even use with charcoal.
- OVERALL DIMENSIONS, WITH STAND: 35 H x 15 W x 15 D INCHES
- FIRE CHAMBER OPENING: 9.842 W x 7.874 H INCHES
- INSIDE DIAMETER OF FLUE: 6.299 INCHES
- WEIGHS 45 LBS
The brazier is also a great patio warmer andI is also available at Etsys’s Canada website here.
The Pros and Cons of Cast Iron Chimineas
- VERY beautiful
- Can be heavy
- Not sensitive to freezing temperatures
- Can burn any type of wood or charcoal in it
- No warmup period required
- Durable and long lasting
- Weight makes it an unlikely target of thieves
- Requires regular maintenance
- Tendency to rust
The most obvious advantage of an iron chiminea is that it’s not as sensitive as clay, so if you tend to be heavy-handed, this might be just your kind of thing. You can perform a log toss or practice your drum solo on its fire chamber. Stoke it with manufactured logs, charcoal, or that big branch that fell from the neighbor’s tree onto your newly restored vintage bike.
As with clay, it’s a good idea to “season” the interior with a few small kindling fires, but you don’t really need to warm it up for subsequent uses. Freezing temperatures are not an issue. Big fires are not an issue but remember, early humans mastered fire almost two million years ago, so stick with the program and don’t let yours get out of control.
Cast iron chimineas have a graceful, solid, well-established look that really says “home.” Maybe because they’re quite heavy. Then again, you’re not likely to wake up and find that your chiminea has quietly “gone missing” overnight.
You’ll likely pay more for a high quality cast iron chiminea (vs. clay), but you want something of good quality because you’re dealing with fire here. It’s not the place for flimsy sheet metal construction, ill-fitted rivets or sharp edges.
Another potential problem with cast iron, if this sort of thing bothers you, is rust. Even if you cover it, and haul it out of the weather on rainy days, it will develop some rust. Although at a much slower rate if you live in a dry climate. And, of course, you can minimize this issue with regular maintenance.
LOW-MAINTENANCE ALTERNATIVE to CAST IRON
I wholeheartedly recommend the solid Cast Aluminum Outdoor Fireplace from The Blue Rooster as a low-maintenance alternative to cast iron. And here are ten reasons why…
- It has the look of cast iron.
- It’s not as heavy as cast iron.
- It’s made of solid cast aluminum, not sheet metal.
- It won’t rust the way cast iron does.
- It’s durable and long lasting.
- Like all Blue Rooster fireplaces, it’s designed for proper drafting, and burns with little or no smoke.
- It has carry handles to make moving it around the yard easier.
- It comes with a small cast iron grilling insert.
- It’s available in a range of finishes and styles.
- The Blue Rooster has been in business since 1997, and they pride themselves on excellent quality, proper design, and exceptional customer service.
The simple and compact Etruscan style is the perfect focal point for a small patio. It can hold a 10-inch log (barely) and, at just 29 inches tall, it’s small enough to carry inside on rainy days and fill with candles. CAST ALUMINUM, 29 x 15 inches, approx. 30 lbs.
The Jazz Era-inspired Gatsby style is a medium-size chiminea. At 44 inches tall it can work very nicely in smallish outdoor spaces. Its delightful, sturdy curves and generous fire chamber make this fireplace an absolute pleasure to own! We sent the Gatsby as a wedding gift, and it’s definitely a beauty. Holds logs 12 – 14 inches long. CAST ALUMINUM, 44 x 20 inches, approx. 65 lbs.
I hope you’ll have a look at Blue Rooster’s products if you decide you want a metal chiminea. I’m often surprised that more people don’t know about them. Great quality, nice people.
General Guidelines for Use and Care of Clay Chimineas
Still not sure whether a good clay chiminea is for you? Consider the following guidelines for enjoying and extending the life of your outdoor fireplace. (Guidelines on thermal shock and cracking )
- Clay is more delicate and prone to thermal shock than metal chimineas. So you always want to start by filling the bottom of your new clay chiminea with an insulating layer of play sand.
- You’ll need to “season” or cure the interior with a small kindling fire, creating a thin layer of soot before building your first, big (not TOO big) fire. Every time you want to use your clay chiminea, you’ll start by building the same kind of small fire until the exterior is warm to the touch. This also will help to prevent cracking.
- Seating a clay fireplace on sloping ground or very uneven surface could create hot spots and—cracking.
- The exterior still gets hot, though not as hot as metal. Don’t overlook this safety aspect if you have small children or pets. Or just someone around who’s a little clumsy and accident prone.
- You don’t have to build a huge fire to create abundant radiant heat. In fact, you never want to see flames shooting out of the top of the flue. That kind of craziness will cause the clay to become over-fired, and could lead to…? Cracking. Or worse, injury and property damage.
- I fashioned a makeshift wooden poker for our old clay chiminea because I often nicked the interior when using metal pokers. Just saying.
- And if you back into your clay fireplace with the lawn mower (no, it wasn’t me), you’ll have a good supply of clay shards for the potting bench.
- When it’s bedtime, always extinguish the fire with a bucket of sand, not water. Or just stir the sand layer up over the embers and place a metal spark screen (you should have one) over the front opening.
- Of course, you’ll need to cover and protect a clay chiminea from rain and freezing temperatures. Some of them come with a clay lid for the flue, but full covers are generally purchased separately.
All this sounds a lot worse than it really is in practice. It becomes second nature, and part of a pleasant ritual. I actually loved using our old clay chiminea, and prefer this type of fireplace for summer evenings, when we tend to get larger crowds, and I can’t keep an eye on a bigger fire.
SUMMARY – The Key Takeaways
If you love the traditional look and charm of a clay fireplace, and you don’t mind pampering it a little, then I think you’ll be happiest with a high quality, handmade, authentic chiminea.
Visit your local garden center and find how they source their clay fireplaces. If you’re shopping online, I recommend Pottery Sol y Tierra house brand The House of Bamboo.
If you’re in the Canada I recommend Etsy’s marketplace—-for those made of pure clay. I’ll update this post if others becomes available online in the USA.
If what you’re after is the timeless beauty of a cast iron chiminea, and you don’t mind doing a little regular maintenance, then go for it—and go for the highest quality out there, The Blue Rooster Cast Iron Outdoor Fireplace.
The Dark Lava (medium size) and the Venetian (large size) styles look very different, yet both are functional and versatile, and can function as fireplace, grill, and oven.
The Garden steel weighs approx. 165 lbs. at 44 inches high; the Venetian weighs approx. 200 lbs. at 52 inches high. (FYI: Both styles are available in cast iron and cast aluminum.)
If you want something durable, solid, and beautiful, with the look of cast iron but without all the maintenance, I heartily recommend a Cast Aluminum Outdoor Fireplace from The Blue Rooster.
Both the small-size Etruscan and the medium-size Gatsby styles are available in cast aluminum. The Etruscan weighs approx. 30 lbs. at 29 inches high; the Gatsby weights approx. 65 lbs at 44 inches high.
Toasted marshmallows, anyone?!?!
Can I have a fireplace in my garden?
Bonfires and barbecues are not banned by the Clean Air Act, but if you create a lot of smoke you may be causing a statutory nuisance. Burning garden waste on a bonfire is unnecessary and unpleasant for your neighbours. Is better to check fist with the local authorities, depending on the time of the year it might be some limitations.
What does an outdoor fireplace cost?
An outdoor fireplace will cost anywhere between $1,500 to $20,000. On average, it will run you about $3,000 to have a fireplace built. Pre-made kits and unfinished contractor models usually only run from $1,500 to $9,000. Custom projects typically cost between $8,000 to $20,000 - some even hitting $50,000.
These clay fireplaces are also known as great bbq and pizza oven appliances and cost no more than $400
Where should an outdoor fireplace be placed?
The most practical location for an outdoor fireplace is against a wall or in some interesting corner of the patio. Let an specialists help you place your fireplace, as poor placement can make this structure no safety and fire hazard.
What is an outdoor fireplace called?
Chimineas are those charming, hand-decorated terracotta outdoor fireplaces you see for sale at patio stores, marketplaces, and tourist sites in Mexico and Western states like California and Arizona.