By Lisa Parris

Originating in 17th century Mexico, chimineas were originally made from clay and were used primarily to bake bread.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 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.

Modern Cast Iron Chiminea

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

Place food on metal sheets, thread on skewers, or wrap in foil packets, keeping similar items together.

Step 4

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.

Step 5

Check food every 10 to 15 minutes to see if it 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.