When people settle down out of forager lifestyles and into Neolithic lives, they always invent pottery technology to help it. This enables them to store surplus food, and it also enables them to take ovens out of the ground, and one step closer to those we are more familiar with today.
One of these ancient ovens, the Indian Tandoori or just Tandoor, is still popular today. It’s simple design and somewhat more portable form make it pretty similar to many similar ovens of the era. And today, we’re going to make our own for less than $100 (If you already own the tools)
Look, this is not at all how an ancient person would have made one of these. If you have any masonry or pottery skills, as Neolithic peoples did, you can shape and fire your own vessel with an open top out of clay and pure artisanship.
But I’m a cook. Not a potter. I’m going to use power tools. Hey, Neolithic people exploited every resource available to them. If they had power drills, they would have used them!
Here’s everything you need:
-3 Terracotta pots, (any size, but relative to each other: one large for the base, and two smaller to go inside of it, one of which is just one size smaller than the other)
-Brick or pottery pieces (to act as feet)
-dish for smallest pot (to act as an ash tray)
-Lava rocks (or other insulator rocks)
-Drill with masonry bits
-Angle Iron with masonry cutting wheel (NOT A GRINDING WHEEL)
-Goggles, mask, leather gloves, and hearing protection
STEP ONE: DRILL AND CUT YOUR POTS
With a power drill and masonry bits, drill some air holes in your largest and smallest pots, as well as in the ash tray. The holes allow air to flow up through the bottom of the oven and stoke the fire. They should roughly line up with one another, but if you’re an imperfectionist like me they don’t have to be exact.
STEP TWO: CUT THE LID OFF
This is the most intimidating part of the whole project. You need to use an angle iron, a powerful and dangerous tool for grinding/cutting metal, brick, concrete, or in our case, terracotta. If you move slow, read the manual, and take all the proper safety precatutions however, it’s actually quite easy.
If, like me, you had not even heard of an angle iron, you can pick one up for $50 at most hardware stores. Make sure to watch some videos to familiarize yourself.
Make sure you’ve got a Masonry CUTTING wheel, properly fastened to the grinder according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then mark where you’re going to cut and get the top of your medium pot wet (this prevents cracking.
Put on goggles, leather gloves, a face mask, and hearing protection. Then secure the pot still using bricks or a workbench, fire it up and start cutting. Cut about a quarter of the circumference at a time, rotating the pot between cuts.
I said I wasn’t a potter, and I’m definitely not a mason. I cut a pretty uneven lid but it still works if you line it up right. Soften any sharp edges with sandpaper.
STEP THREE: ASSEMBLE THE OVEN
Now for the fun and easy part. Lay down a couple bricks for your oven base to sit off of the ground. Place your base, then lay the feet down inside, blocking as few holes as possible.
Next place your smallest pot with the ash tray inside. Pour in a few of the insulator rocks around it to secure its position, then fit the medium pot over the smallest one, creating a groove inside to sit skewers on.
STEP FOUR: PREHEAT AND COOK
Light a chimney of charcoal and pour in when hot (Or you can pour in coals cold and light when inside the tandoor). Put the lid on and walk away. Once hot coals are going inside, the oven takes about an hour to preheat.
While you wait, prepare your food. For my trial run, I made some goat meat kebabs with naan and cucumber-yogurt relish, as well as some decidedly unauthentic brussel sprouts that had just come in season.
Onions, , parsley, coriander (cilantro), and scallions, divided between meat and yogurt sauce.
Cucumber and onion/herbs in with yogurt to make a relish.
Garlic, salt, and crushed coriander/cumin seeds mixed by hand into goat meat and threaded onto skewers.
I also made a batch of MODERN ASH BREAD to cook inside as well.
The tandoor is hot. Time to cook. I was busy with messy hands so I didn’t get as many photos I wanted. But here’s the highlights.
Oven was not hot enough on my first attempt, hence the residue of dough on the walls. The heat self cleaned the mess, but make sure your oven’s at full heat before use!
Sample bite for the chef.