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Hot Trend in BBQ: Tandoor Ovens

Breads such as naan are stuck to the inside of the oven using a damp cloth or cushion, where they bubble and cook in mere minutes, similar to pizza dough placed in a brick oven.

Other foods, usually meat, are placed inside on extra-long skewers.

The high, indirect heat -- averaging 650-750 degrees Fahrenheit after preheating -- seals in moisture quickly; coupled with the right marinade, a wet spice rub and the fire itself, meats, vegetables and even fruit seem to inhale a depth of flavor that a traditional backyard grill can't quite produce.

This is healthy cooking, too, as the quick sear makes the need for additional fats or oil almost nonexistent.

The key is to use high-quality spices (Cardoz recommends EthnicGrocer or Penzeys Spices ), fresh herbs and occasionally yogurt to bring out the natural flavors of food.

Tandoor How-To

As Cardoz says, "If you're proficient with a grill, it's easy to work a tandoor."

Practice does make perfect, however; numerous stories abound of naan that doesn't quite stick to the tandoor wall and ends up in the embers, where it is quickly vaporized before it can be retrieved.

When it comes to what to cook in your tandoor vs. a traditional grill, the options are endless.

"Any kind of meat works, from a full leg of lamb to flank steak, and a wet marinade is better than a dry rub in most cases," Cardoz explains.

"Seafood is also great: shrimp, crab, lobster, a whole black bass or red snapper, or chunks of meatier fish, like mahi-mahi, striped bass, tuna or swordfish all cook well on skewers. In terms of vegetables, the more traditional ones are cauliflower, peppers and even whole eggplants, but you can do anything you normally cook on a grill -- zucchini, mushrooms, onions."

And for dessert?

"Pineapple, peaches, or any other firm fruits. As long as they'll stay on the skewer, they'll be terrific," Cardoz advises.

Accessories, all the rage for grills, are fairly minimal for tandoor ovens.

Most come with at least one naan hook, a naan scraper and skewers that are at least three feet long to reduce the chance of burned hands and forearms. A cover and some good oven mitts are the only other items you'll need.

MARINATED HANGER STEAK
Recipe courtesy of Floyd Cardoz, from
one spice, two spice

You can make this recipe in a tandoor or on a grill.

1½ tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cloves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¾ cup canola oil
6 six-ounce pieces hanger or flank steak, each 1½ to 2 inches thick

1. Coarsely grind the coriander seeds, peppercorns, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and cloves in an electric spice grinder. Sift the ground spices through a coarse sieve into a bowl. Stir in the salt and ¼ cup of the oil.

2. Pat the spice rub all over the steaks; marinate, covered and refrigerated, for at least 4 and up to 36 hours.

3. Preheat the tandoor oven or grill.

Tandoor: Thread the steaks on skewers, leaving space between each steak. Cook for 6-8 minutes for medium-rare.
Grill: Lightly oil the grill grate, and place the steaks over a medium flame, cooking for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium-rare.

4. Transfer steaks to cutting board and let them rest at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut them against the grain at a 45-degree angle into ¼- to ½-inch slices. Arrange the meat on a warm platter and serve at once.

To control the temperature, small vents can be opened or closed, and ash from prior fires can be kept in the pit for use in lowering flames if they get too high.

A hardwood charcoal, without additives, is Cardoz's preferred fuel, but most home tandoors are equipped for easy hookup to a gas line. In that case, professional installation is recommended.

Cooking With Gas

Kurt Eickmeyer, VP of sales and marketing for Wood Stone Corporation, says that while Cardoz favors charcoal over gas for better smoke flavor, "We recommend natural gas or propane for use with our tandoors, because regulating, understanding and maintaining the heat can become an adventure unto itself."

While tandoors are energy-efficient, "for most clients, gas gives an additional ease of operation and flexibility," Eickmeyer says.

Fuel costs are comparable to those for a traditional gas grill. "Generally, 40,000 BTUs is the maximum heat needed to saturate the vessel. The only minor downside is that it does take a while to get the heat up so that it remains at a consistent temperature -- one to two hours. But as compared to a DCS 36" grill, which has three 25,000 BTU burners, you'll still probably use half the amount of gas," Eickmeyer points out.

The Wood Stone tandoor comes in round, square or octagonal shapes, fully assembled, and runs about $10,000 with shipping.

Wood Stone's first request for a tandoor came from chef Wolfgang Puck more than ten years ago. "Despite the fact that we understood ceramics because it's the core of our stone hearth oven business, we didn't understand what it was all about," Eickmeyer says. "We had to learn how the clay actually cooked in order to replicate it for our customers."

Ultimately, the tandoor didn't fit in with Puck's new concept, but Wood Stone ended up with a new product line that has been improved upon over a decade of research and with the support and enthusiasm of high-profile chefs such as Oprah's personal chef Art Smith, Puck and Cardoz.

So test your creativity this summer: Instead of throwing shrimp on the barbie, thread them on a skewer and put them in a tandoor.



Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Evie Task is a freelance writer and public relations consultant based in northern N.J.
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