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Hot Trend in BBQ: Tandoor Ovens

Tandoor-Oven Treats
For many of us, this is when we turn our attention to the great outdoors.

The cover is off the pool, the grill and patio furniture have been cleaned off, and we're running through summer recipes to wow our guests as we prepare to start weekend entertaining.

Bookstores are displaying barbecue and grilling books galore, and the garden and back yard are starting to show signs of life.

By midweek, everyone is officially praying at the altar of the local meteorologist for cooperation.

So now that everything is spruced up and ready to go, how can you make this barbecue season a truly memorable one?

Dive in to one of the hottest cuisines in the world, which until now, has been relegated to Indian restaurants: tandoori cooking.

The ancient tradition of preparing food in a tandoor oven has a history with roots that trace to Turkish, Arab and Persian cultures.

Originally developed in central Asia and later brought to India by the Moguls, tandoor ovens were traditionally made of hand-molded clay, often with hay and animal hair mixed in for structural reinforcement.

The contemporary tandoor is thankfully lined with high-temperature ceramic, which not only maintains cooking temperatures, but also resists extreme temperature changes.

The tandoor is wider at the bottom, resembling a tall planter turned upside down, and foods are put in via the opening at the top.

The end result of a centuries-old method is still pleasing today -- foods are uniformly seared on the outside, moist on the inside, and natural sugars caramelize to create a flavor profile that isn't nearly as easy to achieve on a standard grill rack.

According to Floyd Cardoz, executive chef and partner of Manhattan's Tabla restaurant, and author of one spice, two spice , it is uncommon for Indians to have a tandoor at home.

More likely is for a village to have a community tandoor where residents purchase their breads.

But this is not your typical neighborhood bakery -- it's not even a storefront, but rather one individual who is selling naan (Indian flatbread) to his neighbors.

Tandoors are constantly lit, so despite being built in the ground, temperature shifts and potential cracks caused by moisture seeping in to the clay aren't much of an issue, especially when the ceramic tandoor is surrounded by a stainless-steel housing.

High Heat, High Flavor

Cardoz uses Wood Stone tandoors in his restaurant, and offers high praise for their home use as well.

Photo: Amy Kalyn Sims

At home, he has "a very primitive one in a metal barrel that sits on the side of my back yard. It was originally installed a decade ago, when I was creating dishes for the menu at Tabla."

Today, he uses it a couple of times a month, along with his Fortunoff four-burner grill with rotisserie.

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