Cooking on the cob tandoor is magical!
Of all of our outdoor ovens, the gas bbq included, we use the tandoor by far the most often. In the summer we cook on it near nightly as it is quick to light and quick to cook. We also use it throughout the winter when we can tolerate standing outside. It is reliable enough to leave unattended allowing us to keep working on whatever project we have on the go while dinner cooks for us. It is also versatile enough that we routinely have people come for potlucks where everyone brings a little something to skewer up and throw in the oven. Some delicious discoveries have been made this way!
Here is how we have come to use our tandoor based on countless trials, many successes, and a few devastating errors:
STEP 1 : LIGHTING THE TANDOOR
We fire our oven exclusively with wood. We use whatever clean (unpainted, untreated) wood we have on hand but use different types for different purposes.
To light it we build a small tipi fire in the base leaning up against the wall opposite the air intake hole. It is easy to get a flame going. Typically we ignite the oven with something dry and fast burning. Cedar shingles tossed from old jobs work great!
We then get the oven hot by adding soft wood (spruce, pine, fir, cottonwood…). Old fence rails, soft wood offcuts from the shop, pallet wood, or fallen cottonwood branches (which seem to fall all the time) are perfect for this part. These pieces are cheap to come by and ignite easily. We use pieces that cut roughly 20 inches long and split in to small diameter (2-3″) to optimize burning efficiency. These softer woods are not great for cooking over though as the flame is comparatively cool and the food never gets that crispy outer goodness that we have come to expect from this oven.
Now, while the fire settles in, it is time to start….
STEP 2: PREPARING THE FOOD
We have cooked all variety of meats and veggies on the tandoor. Everything gets coated in olive oil and skewered up. We find the olive oil prevents the food from scorching and allows for a nice crispy golden crust. Most things get salt & peppered or otherwise seasoned/marinated but every veggie we have tried is also perfectly delicious with just the oil. Chicken marinated in yogurt bases turn out delicious!
We throw chicken appendages (drum sticks, wings, thighs, legs) on whole with the bone and skin in place.
We have also done chicken in chunks marinated this way or that which works great too.
We have even done a whole beer can chicken as well as a whole Beijing duck suspended on two skewers, both of which turned out DELICIOUS!
We do beef in chunks, like shish kebab meat but you could probably figure out a way to throw a whole steak or other cut on there if so inclined.
We have also done ground meat kebabs.
Cheese roasts beautifully too. We have done paneer and cheddar so far…
Veggies get cut simply to make them more uniform in size for even cooking.
We group veggies of similar densities on the same skewers. If we blend a zucchini and carrot skewer for example, the zucchini incinerates before the carrots are even close to done.
Sometimes we pre-cook hard root veggies like beets and yams over steam for a few minutes to get them going, but this isn’t necessary.
Whole garlic cloves and shallots, with skin intact and coated in olive oil, roast up deliciously!
We have only tried flat bread so far. We use a basic yeast naan recipe though a rotti would probably also work. There are lots of youtube videos of people smacking bread on to the inside of their tandoors. We are by no means experts but we have successfully done it. Wearing an oven mitt helps A LOT. Also, probably having a properly cured tandoor makes bread making easier. (Sorry, no photos of this yet!)
STEP 3: Skewering
We use long flat barbecue skewers. We specifically chose skewers that were roughly 6 inches shorter than the inner height of the tandoor.
To keep the food from falling off them when hung vertically, we drilled a small hole in the tip of each skewer.
We ALWAYS space meat on the skewer with a hard narrow veggie, like a carrot chunk impaled length wise. We find that if meat is pressed against other meat it leaves a soft squishy area at the point of contact because the flame never gets at it.
After the food is skewered up, we pass a turkey dressing skewer through a potato chunk, then through the hole in the skewer, and then through another potato chunk. This creates a stop at the base of the skewer and also protects the food above from the direct scorchy flames. These are ‘sacrificial’ potatoes in that they tend to get the brunt of the fire but a lot of people seem to find them delicious.
STEP 4: Cooking
We hang our skewers over the tandoor using a metal bar that rests on the top edge. The food just dangles in the oven. Contrary to our expectations, the food cooks fastest and crispiest when it is at the outer edges of the oven, not directly in the centre. Further, the side of the food facing the clay wall cooks far faster than the side facing inwards so we rotate our food periodically throughout the cook. We have had as many as 16 fully loaded skewers in the oven at the same time! It took us several cooks to get the hang of the oven so that we could trust it to be left unattended. The cooking time varies significantly cook to cook depending on the food, the wood, the heat, the flame, and the mood the tandoor is in that day but in general food is on the oven for about 30 minutes, give or take.
In the winter, the tandoor is a lovely place to keep warm while dinner cooks…
That’s all there is to it!