SAFETY UPDATE: You should not do this with a galvanized can! If something goes wrong (too much airflow, too little insulation) the outer can could exceed 1,000DegF and the zinc (that's the "galvanized" part) could vaporize into a toxic gas! Avoid galvanized! Thank you vigilant commenters!
I love to eat Indian and Central Asian naan.
My genius friend Dave Bauer of the Farm and Sparrow bakery near Asheville, NC sent me this video a while ago and I started baking naan immediately. (There is no chance I'll ever be as cool or as skillful as the woman in the video, but there's no reason not to trail distantly behind her.)
I have been baking naan on a pizza stone in my electric oven (turned up as high as the oven will go) for a year or so with decent results. When I saw John List's flower pot tandoor I knew I had to build one.
It took fifty bucks and a couple of hours, and it works! It will take a while to get control of shaping, heating and timing, but the (homely) results are already delicious!
Whether or not you build this oven, you should run out and buy Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid because it will immediately make you a happier person.
Step 1: Garbage Can
Your basic brand-new thirty gallon galvanized garbage can. This is just an arbitrary fireproof container and has no role in cooking.
Step 2: Flower Pot
This is an plain-old terra-cotta flower pot chosen to be as large as possible while still fitting inside the garbage can.
Step 3: Vermiculite and Mice
I had a couple sacks of vermiculite in my shop left over from when I built my beehive pizza oven. I dumped a bunch of vermiculite into the garbage can and discovered a mother mouse and her four baby mice had nested in the vermiculite. Chris scooped them out into a bucket to show to his kids. (My kids are jaded to mice, which are EVERYWHERE.)
Step 4: Eyeballing
We laid some firebricks on the vermiculite and set the flower pot upside-down on the bricks, then took everything in and out a few times and adjusted the amount of vermiculite until the pot was pretty much level with the top of the can.
Step 5: Air Intake
Chris being Chris, he had some three-inch steel pipe lying around. We eyeballed it for height so it would come in right above the bricks, drew around the pipe with a Sharpie, and then Chris cut a three-inch hole in the garbage can with a hole saw.
Step 6: Pot Sawing
My dad sawed off the bottom of the pot with Chris' angle-grinder with a diamond wheel (I had brought my own grinder, but Chris' was more awesome, of course.) Then he sawed a three-inch square-ish/round-ish hole in the former-top of the pot for the pipe to fit through.
All three of us really, really thought the pot would shatter when we tried to grind it, but it turned out to cut like butter. Who knew!
Step 7: Brick Sawing
I went off to volunteer at my daughter's school for a while and Chris and my dad hewed away at the firebricks with Chris' tile saw until they had fairly decent coverage without too many gaps.
Step 8: Seasoning
I smeared vegetable oil all over the inner surface of the pot. Ihave no idea whether this matters or not, but I do this with pizza stones and cazuelas and other terra-cotta stuff, so why not.
Step 9: Charcoal
I had an old sack of nice hardwood charcoal from god-knows-where. The smoke smells better than briquettes, but I don't make any other claims for the stuff.
Step 10: Bake!
I formed little round loaves, pulled on a fire glove, set a loaf on the glove, sprinkled the loaf with a little water, and slapped the loaf on the side of the pot. After a few minutes I pulled the baked loaf off the pot with long tongs. The loaves are turning out ugly so far, but I imagine I'll get there with time. Yum!
Step 11: Afterword: Transplant Into Non-galvanized Steel Drum.
June 26, 2009
I moved the guts into a new, non-galvanized thirty-gallon steel drum ($50)--uncoated on the inside and with high-temperature paint on the outside. I talked to the folks at http://containerexperts.com in Minneapolis. Their regular line of work is manufacturing shipping containers and drums for businesses, but they sell steel drums to grill- and pit-barbecue-builders from time to time, and this is the model they recommended. No risk of metal-fume fever now.