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Chiminea Fire Pits Cast Iron vs Clay

Nothing brings the whole family together around the hearth like a lively fire, some blankets and the stars above as decoration.

If you are looking at finding the best outdoor fireplace for your garden or patio, you’ll most likely be looking to buy a Chiminea, but what’s best?

Do you go for the beautiful high-maintenance clay Chiminea or the dangerously warm and sturdy cast iron Chimineas?

Because we don’t sell them, we are not looking at pushing you one way or the other. We take a look at the pros and cons of both types and let you decide which is the best Chiminea for you.

What is cheaper: Clay or Cast Iron Fire Pits?

Generally, if you try and compare the cheapest clay chiminea and the cheapest cast iron chiminea, Clay will come out on top. Cast iron is more expensive than clay.

But as with most things you buy online, the cheaper you go, the more likely you are to get bad materials. So if you are going cheap, we could recommend you buy a cast iron outdoor fireplace instead – mostly because even the cheapest of this material will be more durable than a cheap clay pot that’s half baked and cracks in seconds.

The good news is if you go up one price range you can get good quality of both at very similar prices. In reality, if you are willing to spend the $£200 price range, you can find good quality of both.

Cast Iron Chiminea pros and cons:

Clay Chiminea pros and cons:

And the winner is….

If you don’t have a big budget, find the best budget cast iron fire pit you can afford. It’s a safer bet and will last you longer.

What is easier to assemble?

There’s a clear winner here, without a doubt. Most Clay Chimineas tend to come as a maximum of two pieces, with maybe extra legs to stand on. Do you know what you then need to do?

You put the two pieces together and voila! Instant clay chiminea fire pit in your garden and patio.

It doesn’t take a genius to look at any kind of metal Chiminea to know it won’t be quite as easy. There will be bolts. There will be multiple pieces. There, might even be screws.

If you are not the DIY type, you know which one is for you.

Cast Iron Chiminea pros and cons:

Clay Chiminea pros and cons:

And the winner is….

Easy to assemble terracotta Chimineas are part of what has made these fire pits popular over the years.

How easy can I move my Chiminea?

If you start reading about the battle between what is the best material for a Chiminea, you’ll often hear this Chinese whisper: Cast Iron is heavy, Clay is easier to move around.

So are we saying that all Chimineas are as manoeuvrable as each other and you can take both for a spin wherever you want? No. If that’s what you want, go get yourself a portable garden heater instead.

You don’t want to move your Cast Iron or Clay Chiminea around. Find a nice focal point for it, put some nice furniture around, and make it a feature.

Because Cast Iron is heavy and Terracotta (whilst a little less heavy) is fragile. You don’t want to be moving it around and crash like Wile E Coyote in front of your guest, pretty porcelain pottery at your feet.

Granted, if you did want to tuck it out of the way for warmer summers, then Clay Chimineas are a little lighter and easier to shuffle out of the way. Just remove the top and transport as two pieces.

Cast Iron Chiminea pros and cons:

Clay Chiminea pros and cons:

And the winner is….

We have to say Clay Chimineas because they are lighter, and as they come in two easy to detach pieces, so can be made lighter still. But please be careful and keep movements at a minimum, and only move when cold.

What is easier to maintain: Cast Iron or Terracotta Chimineas?

Anything that has to resist a large amount of heat will require some maintenance. Whether it’s an indoor or outdoor fireplace, cleaning and upkeep is essential.

BUT there is no doubt that that Clay Chimineas are harder work. Mostly because you have to cure them first, meaning you have to build up small fires inside to build up the heat resistance. If you don’t your terracotta fire bowl will crack and that will be the end of that.

However, you can also buy a sealer to protect and give your clay Chiminea a longer life, and higher heat resistance. Once cured, your chiminea will last you for as long as Cast Iron.

However, with Cast Iron Chimineas you can just chuck as much fire or wood into the pot from day 1 and get going. There’s no curing, no waiting around, and you can even use coal, not just wood.

BUT Cast Iron will rust. You will need to clean it, oil it, and both need covers to protect against the elements in the long term. None are totally hassle free.

Cast Iron Chiminea pros and cons:

Clay Chiminea pros and cons:

And the winner is….

There’s no doubt that if you want a low maintenance outdoor chiminea, cast iron is the way to go. Clay is a natural material, like wood and sand, and no one ever would leave glass tables and wooden furniture outside with no maintenance. Metal is simply a more forgiving material, but even they require some work.

What is the safest Chiminea?

Cast Iron Patio Chimineas have one big strength that is also its weakness. Because you can burn coal and hotter fires, and because it’s metal, it heats up fast and it heats up good.

But guess what? It cools down real slow, and because it burns high, if little hands touch it by accident, it’s going to lead to some serious ’emergency room’ burns.

Not just that but we would generally recommend getting a heat mat to place your cast Iron Chimineas as (due to the heat output) they tend to stain the surface beneath it.

Not so Clay. Clay don’t get as hot, but they tend to spread out a more even heat around them, meaning you can get closer without suffering burns. They also cool down faster, so if you forget you’ve only just put out the fire, you are less likely to need medical attention.

Cast Iron Chiminea pros and cons:

Clay Chiminea pros and cons:

And the winner is….

If you are concerned that certain members of your family not being able to be reasonable around a fire, then a clay or ceramic outdoor fireplace is the one for you. They cool down quicker, slightly safer for children and gives you peace of mind.

Looks and Usability: Cooking and aesthetics

When you buy a piece of furniture for your garden it doesn’t just have to be useful. It has to look good too. It’s all about style and function working together beautifully.

And when it comes to style it’s hard to beat a Terracotta chiminea. Depending on what you buy, these are usually hand-made and unique, some using technics from centuries gone buy to make lovingly crafted pieces of art.

However, because these tend to be sensitive to heat, they generally don’t come with grills unless you buy a large clay Chiminea. Then you can probably put some corn on the cob and salmon wrapped in foil on there, as long as you remember to go back and clean it the moment it cools down.

Cast Iron Chimineas may not be quite the work of art as their clay counterparts, but they can still come in all sorts of beautiful shapes and sizes, making them more versatile. From modern chimney flumes to the old-fashioned country-cottage stove, they can fit all styles.

Better yet, they are more forgiving and many come with a BBQ grill. Because metal has been used to cook with from the moment we started putting flint to stone.

We are happy to report that all the different types of Chimineas toast marshmallows beautifully.

Cast Iron Chiminea pros and cons:

Clay Chiminea pros and cons:

And the winner is….

Despite the fact that we personally like the look of the Clay ones better, the Cast Iron garden Chimineas are just more versatile, both in style and usability.

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Durability and Heat Output

We will say that, if looked after, both types of chiminea materials will be durable and long-lasting.

If you buy a cover and maintain your materials, whether that’s using sealant or oil twice a year, you can have decades with your piece of equipment. If you don’t, one will rust and the other crack and that’s the end of that.

But let’s say, for argument sake, that you will look after your chiminea like it was your own flesh and blood – which will still be standing to be used in the apocalypse? Probably the Cast Iron chiminea.

Equally, its weakness in the safety concerns is its strength here. Cast Iron Chimineas by far have a higher heat output than the clay types, meaning they will warm up a larger circumference area without needing to be too close by.

Cast Iron Chiminea pros and cons:

Clay Chiminea pros and cons:

And the winner is….

There’s no real contest here. Cast Iron chiminea wins.

What’s the best Chiminea material for you?

It’s a tight race, with Clay Chiminea taking 3/7 points, but ultimately the cast Iron Chiminea wins with 4/7 points.

In other words, depending on how you’ll use it and what you want out of your chiminea fire bowl, they each have their pros and cons.

Ultimately you need to decide what matters most to you.

Pick a Clay Chiminea if:

Pick a Cast Iron Chiminea if:

Whatever you choose, you’ll find many happy hours sitting around a warm fire, the smoke flying off to the sky with the stars lightning your cozy evening for two. Or three. Or ten.

Top tip: use low moisture content wood (< 10%), coffee logs or eco-logs for a less smokey and more environmentally-friendly experience.

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