Terracotta is a type of clay shaped and fired to produce durable and porous items like pots and tiles. Terracotta wood-fired cooking ovens have been used for centuries in countries such as India, Pakistan and Iran. You can make a homemade terracotta oven in your backyard out of a few materials available at any home improvement store.
A terracotta oven provides a cooking advantage over simply roasting food over a fire. The clay absorbs the heat from the fire below and radiates it back out. Food inside a clay oven is then cooked from all directions. The clay oven can also reach higher temperatures than either a traditional electric oven or a fire pit -- often over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cooking in a terracotta oven offers plenty of advantages. Food is cooked by direct and indirect heat, leaving breads chewy and meats tender and juicy. You don't have to use fattening oils in the process, and nutrients don't boil away as they do in water. Some of the best-known terracotta oven dishes from around the world include chicken tikka and tandoori chicken from India, kabobs from Persia and naan bread from Pakistan. The oven can also steam and stew dishes in a pot suspended from the oven door. Many barbecue recipes can be adapted for a clay oven, and there are plenty of cookbooks and online resources that provide recipes for this unique method.
To make a homemade terracotta oven, gather a large un-glazed terracotta flower pot, non-galvanized garbage can, sand, 3-inch steel pipe that's 12 inches long and bricks. Use an angle grinder to cut the bottom off the pot. Save the bottom piece to use as a lid for the finished oven. Place sand, then bricks in the bottom of the can, forming a tightly fitting surface. Set the flower pot upside down on the bricks so the lip is at the bottom and the bottom of the pot is now the top. Drill a 3-inch hole through the garbage can and the pot, then insert the pipe to create an oven vent. Fill the space between the pot and the can with the rest of the sand, until there is only about 3 inches of flower pot sticking up, which insulates the terracotta oven and preserves the heat. Season the inside of the pot with a layer of vegetable oil.
Light a fire inside the pot, directly on the bricks. Allow the wood to burn down to coals. Always wear heavy-duty oven gloves when working with a terracotta oven because the temperatures are extremely high. Place 3- to 4-inch pieces of seasoned meat onto long metal kebab skewers, then set the skewers inside the opening of the oven. The tips of the skewers will rest on the coals, holding the meat in the center of the oven. Make naan bread dough and press it onto the side of the oven. You can close the top of the clay oven with the terracotta lid, if desired. When the meat is done, pull it out and carefully remove it from the skewer. Pull the naan bread out using tongs. To boil or stew dishes, pace the food in a cast iron pot with a handle. Set the handle on a 2-foot-long piece of pipe, then lower the pot into the oven. The pipe spans the oven opening and suspends the pot in the center of the oven.
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