What is a tandoor oven & what is it used for?

Even if you’ve been getting amazing meal deals online, you may still be interested in doing some cooking at home. You might have heard of tandoor ovens before, but weren’t sure exactly what they are, how they are used, and what kinds of food you can cook with them. Well you are in luck, friend! I’m going to answer all three of those questions for you today.

What is a tandoor oven?

Well, as the name would suggest, it is in fact an oven! However it’s not like the western style oven you can find in most homes. The tandoor style of oven is a design that has actually been used for more than 5000 years! It’s actually a very simple design: a large clay urn is buried up to its brim in the earth and heated with a charcoal fire. The urns are at least 3 feet tall and can reach temperatures of 500 to 750 degrees with a single batch of charcoal. The super high temperatures can cook both meat & bread very quickly. 

Archaeologists believe that the tandoor originated in Rajasthan, but its use in everyday cooking is most prolific in the Punjab region. Its popularity for cooking skewered meat and bread isn’t limited to just India though, you can find tandoor ovens in Iran, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. 

How is a tandoor oven used?

As discussed above, tandoor ovens are heated by charcoal fire although there are also modern versions where a propane burner is used to heat ceramic briquettes. The design of the tandoor oven allows for 4 different types of cooking: grilling, griddling, convection, and smoking. 

To make bread such as Indian roti, a ball of yeasted dough is flattened out and then carefully placed onto the wall of the tandoor oven using a pillow called a gadhi and left to brown for just a few minutes. Once baked, the bread is carefully removed with a long steel rod.

Meat is cooked by being placed onto a long skewer and then lowered into the tandoor oven. The circulating hot air inside the tandoor oven mimics a modern convection oven, and rather than drying the meat out the hot temperatures inside quick-sear the meat and seal the juices in. You also get a nice smoky flavor from the meat juices that drip down onto the hot charcoals and burn away. Within minutes you have meat that is juicy, still tender, and full of flavour! 

What kinds of food are made in a tandoor oven?

The tandoor’s original use was for cooking flat breads such as roti and naan, however almost anything can be cooked in a tandoor! If you can skewer it, you can cook it in a tandoor oven. Obviously the mainstays of tandoori style cooking are chicken & lamb, but you can cook any kind of meat including shrimp, pork, and beef in the tandoor as well. Make sure to add lots of spices such as garlic, ginger, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, garam masala, and saffron! 

Don’t forget about vegetables, plenty of them roast up nicely in the tandoor oven including zucchini, mushrooms, and eggplant. You can add them to your meat skewer, or go full vegetarian!

Could you bake a cake in a tandoor oven? Why yes, you can! Look up recipes for tandoor oven cakes, it’s pretty interesting! They seem to come out very moist. You can also grill some pineapple stuffed with anise, there are more dessert options than you would think!