For most people, a tandoori refers to a popular Indian chicken dish. However, a tandoor refers to a cooking method and a cooking tool. A tandoor is a large clay pot used in India and other parts of Asia to bake bread and savory dishes. The clay pot design is a cross between an earth oven and a masonry oven. It is similar to a traditional pizza oven or an open pit BBQ grill.
The word tandoori is derived from the Babylonian word, “tinuru,” which means fire. Essentially, a tandoor cooks using fire. The temperature in a tandoor could reach beyond 900°F.
Tandoor is used for cooking a variety of Indian and Middle Eastern dishes, most notably the Tandoori chicken. The oven is also used to make chicken tikka as well as baked bread like naan and tandoori roti. Essentially, any Indian or Middle Eastern dish with the word “tandoori” in it refers to the cooking tool used to make it.
Types of Tandoor Ovens
Traditional tandoor is about waist-high and installed permanently in a kitchen. It features curving interiors that draw inwards a centralized exhaust hole. Modern tandoors come in an array of designs, each one is meant for specific uses. Below are the different types of tandoor ovens:
Square tandoor is often used commercially, in most restaurants. The tandoor is made from stainless steel shaped into a box with a smooth finish. Inside the oven is a clay pot. The square tandoor is also covered with thermal insulation inside to retain heat. Usually, square tandoor requires charcoal for fuel but some are powered with gas too. Most chefs and cooks prefer the former because charcoal imparts a woody flavor to the dish. Charcoal also burns hot for longer time.
Gas tandoor is very similar to square tandoor. The only difference is the fuel used. Gas tandoor is either fueled by natural gas or propane gas. The tandoor is fitted with burners and baffle plate that sits on the burners to deflect flame. The burners are also used to heat up the clay pot.
Gas tandoors work the same way as a charcoal tandoor. But purists beg to differ. Gas tandoors are very easy to use, economical and efficient as far as cooking goes. But installation can be tricky. When buying gas tandoor, go for brands that come with “CE “or “NSF” or “ETL” labels.
Clay Tandoor Oven
For purists, nothing beats the traditional clay tandoori oven. The pots are prepared by hand using Indian clay. Various additives are added to the clay mixture to boost durability, strength, and flavors. These additives include hay, sheep hair or goat hair. Some tandoor ovens burn so hotly, temps can reach 1000 degrees centigrade! Do note that tandoori ovens made in the UK and the US are not made with Indian clay. The clay used is considered purer and stronger when fired.
A drum tandoor is a clay pot fitted with a stainless steel barrel to reinforce the oven. The pot inside the barrel is wrapped with thermal insulation, rock salts, ceramic powders, and glass wool so it burns very hot. A hole is added at the bottom of the drum to remove ashes. A wheel is also attached at the bottom of the drum for portability. This tandoor oven is perfect for catering services or for baking outdoors.