Across a broad swath of the world, stretching from the Middle East across Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent, food and breads are cooked in tandoor ovens. These are clay ovens, shaped like a cone or elongated beehive, and fired with wood or charcoal. They develop intensely high temperatures in excess of 800 F, and cook breads or skewered meats and vegetables with the hot air that radiates from the flames and the walls of the oven. A simple tandoor can be improvised using a gas burner for heat, and a large terra cotta flowerpot as the oven.
Things You'll Need
- Large terra cotta flower pot
- Protective eyewear
- Angle grinder, with masonry blade
- Gas ring burner, from a lobster boiler or turkey fryer
- Round barbecue grill
- Propane tank
- Laser-type thermometer
Invert the terra cotta flowerpot on a flat surface, such as a patio or garage floor. Mark a pencil line approximately a 1/2 inch from the bottom of the pot, and running around its entire circumference.
Put on protective eyewear, and plug in an angle grinder with a masonry blade attached. Hold the blade to the pencil line until it cuts through the pot, then follow the pencil line until you have cut all the way around the bottom of the flower pot. Remove the bottom section and discard it.
Soak the flower pot overnight in water, to protect it against breaking when you fire it for the first time.
Set your inverted flowerpot on the gas ring, to see if it sits there securely. If not, place a round barbecue grill, slightly larger than your flowerpot, on the gas ring. For added stability, tie the rack to the frame of your gas burner by wrapping it with wire on each of the four sides.
Attach a propane tank to the burner, and light it. Leave it on a low setting for the first 10 minutes, then turn it up gradually for another 30 minutes. Check the temperature of the tandoor with a laser-type thermometer, available from your local hardware store. Once the tandoor has spent at least 10 minutes at 400 F, you can turn the gas to high.
Test the tandoor's temperature regularly with the laser thermometer until it reads 800 F to 850 F. At that temperature your tandoor is ready to use. Adjust the gas as needed, during cooking, to maintain that temperature.
Tips & Warnings
- Let the tandoor cool thoroughly when you're finished cooking. When has cooled enough to handle, remove it from the gas ring and place it in a safe location for storage.
- There are many options for making more permanent tandoor ovens in the back yard, but this method is easy, quick and inexpensive.
- As an alternative, you can line your existing oven with unglazed tiles or a terra cotta insert and achieve similar results, though without the intense heat of the tandoor.
- Be sure the terra cotta pot has no visible cracks or flaws, or it will shatter when heated. It's best to stay a few feet away from the pot as you heat it for the first time, because if it shatters there is some risk of being burnt or injured by the pieces.
- Always ensure that the gas ring is situated on a stable surface, preferably concrete or stone.
- The outside of the tandoor gets very hot. Keep children well away while it's in use.
- Always use heatproof gloves when moving foods in or out of the tandoor.
- Food Network; Good Eats: The Curious Case of Curry; Alton Brown; June 2010
- Fine Cooking; Tandoor-Style Flatbreads From Your Own Oven; Naomi Duguid, et al.
- "Flatbreads and Flavors: A Baker's Atlas"; Naomi Duguid, et al.; 1995
- Photo Credit Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images