Originating in 17th century Mexico, chimineas were originally made from clay and were used primarily to bake bread. The original design was pumpkin-shaped, with a large opening in the front, a very wide bottom and a 90cm (3 foot) chimney. Cooking was done by placing the food directly on the coals, by inserting skewers of food into the flames or by placing a large metal sheet into the oven. Today, many chimineas are made from cast iron and come equipped with a slide-out grill. Even if you have a more traditional clay model, cooking can be fun and easy if you follow these simple steps.
Start the fire about 20 minutes before you want to start cooking. If you're new to chiminea cooking, charcoal briquettes are probably a better choice than wood, but do not add any type of accelerant. The use of accelerant in a closed cooking space can cause explosions. Self-lighting charcoal is easy to light and safe to use.
Prepare the food. Make sure all the pieces of meat are similar in size, thickness and type. Sausages or bratwurst should be pricked with a fork to allow juices to drain.
Place food on metal sheets, thread on skewers, or wrap in foil packets, keeping similar items together.
Insert the food into the chiminea using barbecue tongs. Place foil packets either directly on the coals or onto a metal sheet or grill. Skewers can be placed onto a metal grill or set in at an angle above the coals.
Check food every 10 to 15 minutes to see if it done. Foods can cook very quickly in a chiminea, as it uses both surrounding and bottom heat--much like a cross between an oven and a traditional barbecue grill. Juices from properly cooked meat will be clear and not pink. Food wrapped in foil will take longer than food that is directly exposed to the heat.
Season your chiminea before use by building several, very small fires and allowing them to burn out. Allow the chiminea to cool completely before starting another fire. Toss a takeaway pizza into your chiminea for 5 minutes to add a smoky taste and improve the crispness of the crust.
Do not use your chiminea indoors. They do not vent properly into stove pipes, and indoor use could result in a build-up of smoke and carbon monoxide gas in your home. Wash your hands after handling any type of raw meat. Use different utensils for preparing foods to avoid the unintentional transfer of bacteria.