The uniquely-shaped clay chiminea originated in Mexico, where people used the fixtures to heat their homes and to cook their food within small areas such as huts or tiny houses. Today the ovens are common on outdoor patios or in backyards, and you can still cook in them using certain techniques and materials.
Seasoning a chiminea has a different purpose and procedure from seasoning a cooking pan, griddle or grill. During manufacturing, chiminea producers use a variety of chemicals to help the chiminea maintain its shape and colour. When you first burn a fire, those chemicals will cook off, and if you have food in the oven, the chemicals will infuse into the food, potentially causing serious health issues. Before you cook in your chiminea, start at least two large fires and allow them to burn all the way down to ensure that all of the chemicals are cooked off.
What to Burn
You can burn a variety of woods, pellets and charcoal in a chiminea, but not all materials are good for cooking. Mesquite wood provides a smoky flavour to foods, but it burns at a very high temperature, so you can only use a few pieces at a time or it will burn the food. You can cook with charcoal like a grill, but don't use smokeless charcoal. The smoke billowing in and out of the chiminea provides a lot of the flavour to your food and enables you to use the chimney for cooking as well.
If you choose a wood or charcoal that produces a lot of smoke, you can use the chimney as a smoker for your meats. Place a grid or grill in the chimney and cover the food with a cap, metal bowl or other guard to stop the smoke from escaping and allow it to fully infuse your food. For best results, cover the normal opening in the chiminea as well, but be sure you can open it easily to add more wood or charcoal and to check on your fire.
The normal fire grate in the chiminea does not support successful cooking. Instead, replace it with an accessory such as a cooking grid or grate, available from retailers that sell the ovens. If you don't have one of these accessories, you can wrap your food in tin foil and place it directly onto the burning charcoal pieces; this will not work with the open flame of wood. Use tongs to turn or remove food from the fire. Because heat reflects off of all surfaces and back to the centre, the food will cook quickly, so check on it every five to 10 minutes.
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