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Tandoor Oven Construction

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The construction of a Tandoor Oven - Robert Musa

A tandoor is a clay oven consisting of a vertical clay tube with sloping sides positioned over a hearth with an air inlet to one side. It produces a very intense heat which is usually used either to cook meat on long skewers or flatbreads on the vertical inside faces of the oven. In a British context we normally associate tandoors with Indian restaurants where commercial gas fired tandoors are often used to cook naan breads and tandoori meats and kebabs.

Construction of the tandoor begins .....in Roberts words below....

We've decided on a size for the tandoor of about 17 inches at the base and perhaps 12 inches at the top. The final oven will be either a terracotta pot, or brick, or a combination of both.

So, in the spirit of making it up as we go along, here is our tandoor construction blog in which you can follow along as we make our mistakes. This weekend we laid out the perimeter of the oven enclosure with concrete block. Within the enclosure we have laid an insulating base of 2 inches of vermiculite and cement.


Vermiculite base on concrete patio (about 32 inches square)

We leveled the vermiculite and laid a firebrick base on top of this and then packed more vermiculite and cement around the bricks to hold them in place. I used a mud of fireclay, sand and water under the bricks where needed, to fine tune the leveling of the base. (Always lay your high brick first if you need to make small adjustments to the level).


Firebrick base surrounded by vermiculite and cement

The remaining vermiculite insulation will be poured in dry (without cement to bind it) once the tandoor is built.


Got a new (bigger) terra cotta pot from Home Depot with an internal diameter of 18 inches. Cut the bottom off with the angle grinder. Bottom hole will be big enough to slap naan onto the side without accidentally burning the wrist. It so happens that Weber makes a grill which will fit inside on the little ledge of firebricks. I need to cut the grill in half so I can insert and remove it as desired. The lower level of firebricks has been mortared as shown below.


About 30 inches high


Air Hole (and ash removal hole) in the Back About 4 Inches Square

I think the tandoor might need some more thermal mass and also perhaps some more support (in the event it cracks). I have no idea whether or not this will work and as I told Eva this morning, this might end up as our practice tandoor. In any event, we mixed up a mortar of fireclay, sand and cement in the ratio of (approximately) 2-2-1. The mortar mixture was wetted to the consistency of modeling clay and then applied to the pot (after wrapping the pot in wire).


Wire Wrapped Pot

The clay shrunk over night and we had quite a few big cracks in the mortar this morning. But as my friend John the Greek used to say, there are 3 responses to any situation which are always appropriate; (1) so what, (2) who cares and (3) big deal. Tonight, a small test fire


This weekend we built up the walls around the tandoor and filled the cavity with perlite (until I ran out). Must make a Home Depot run this afternoon


As I figure it, that space in the wall will be too small for perlite to flow thru… Doh!!!

Well you can't make that much progress without cooking something, right? So we had the first meal out of the tandoor this weekend.


Fire in the Hole !!!!

Got the oven up to about 600 F and still no cracks. I'm going to have to practice at fire management. It's not as easy as the pizza oven has become and flare-ups are a problem. But the food tasted authentic.

Finished the countertop. The countertop around the tandoor is only loosely attached (in the event it needs to be removed for repairs). Going to have a tandoor party this weekend I think.



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Tandoori ovens, moveable & stationary:

Saw these advertised:


And also these multipurpose ones that could work just as well:


Dare not imagine the prices involved!!

Watched Marut Sikka cook in a portable Indian style tandoor right in the studio: it seems he thinks it is a feasible alternative within the reach of [very very upper] middle-class wallets!!??? How very might that be in rupees?

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This is a high-powered recipe:


This my idiot-style recipe meant only for idiots like myself:

Yoghurt in blender; Add with a light touch

Garlic cloves. Be cautious

Fresh ginger

Coriander powder, fresh ground if possible

Cumin powder & Shah zeera, ditto

Garam masala: clove, cassia, cardamom. Be sparing or cautious

Red pepper powder [of diverse persuasions]

Kasuri methi



Blend well and add to skinless scored fryer thighs, drumsticks, or halved Cornish game hens.

Wash out blender with a TINY bit of bottled lemon or lime juice or the real stuff. Add to marinade. US fowl is fat, no extra oil is needed in marinade. Marinate turning evry 8 hours for as lng a you please. Evryone ha his/her own preference regarding "overmarination". Some Indians love galauti or mushy meat created by variousmeans, others hate that texture. Some love acharifcation, the pickling effect as in a saurbraten long marination, sourness penetrating deep, others dismiss it as a defect of overmarination in tandoori. It is a defect for traditional Indian chicken but for American fatty, larger thighs, can be quite refreshing.

You may cook this chicken over a charcoal grill, brushing it with marinade. A the final stages, when it isbeginning to take coor, the marinad is sicking and turning grainy brown, sart brushing with butter in which sme whole kauri methi ha been mixed in. The kasuri methi charring lightly will add an inimitable smoky flavor, compensting for the absence of a tandoor. Then dress fnishedchicken with slit thai chilies, red onions, PINCH black salt. Keep chaat masla, sliced limes, on the side. In yoghurt dissolve bottled mint chutney and serve as relish with warmed store-bought naans.

The chicken ma be cookd in an oven or oven broiler as well.

Monica Bhide: The Everything Indian Cookbook p24 & p 98 see her Garam Masala [Warm Spice mix]

Tandoori Spice Mix / Tandoori Masala

1/2 tsp carom seeds

1 TBL Warm Spice Mix

1/2 tsp ginger powder

1/4 tsp black salt

1/2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves

1/4 tsp dried mango powder

Pound or crush the the carom seeds

Tandoori Chicken from Surjit's Chicken House, Amritsar, via Madhur Jaffrey.

Grind the following:

1 1/2 tbs Cumin

1 1/2 tbs Black Peppercorns

seeds of three Black Cardamoms

1 tbs (green) cardamom seeds

1 tsp cloves.

Put in a blender:

3 green chillies

2 cloves of garlic

1 1/2 inches ginger

1 1/2 tsps salt

1 tbs paprika

2 tbs cream

4 tbs oil,a little water

grind this up and add the ground dry spices. Marinate scored chicken for up to two days.

I have made this and it is very good.

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Oh no, my friend. Just color. Drops of red and yellow food color; long ago cochineal was preferred. Try annatto seed cooked in a liitle oil and the cooled extracted oil added to marinade. Forget about adding synthetic color to your food. Many superb dhabas in India absolutely do NOT add any color.

The only people who employ kesar beautifully and creatively in marinades are the Iranians: juje kebabs, chicken cubes grated onions, very very lightly warmed just this side of toasted saffron threads crushed. Check out recipes. Charcoal grilled. BTW, can you find out answers to the questions I posted upthread? No Indians here seem interested to find out for me how much Indian saffron and essences cost today. This has to do with cooking biryani. Maybe your parents might know? Or your friend's mother? Thanks much.

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hmmm seem to have missed the questions. I have someone coming over from Delhi in a few weeks and can certainly ask them to find out. Would you mind posting the questions again?

Separately, I had a question on the ideal biryani cooking vessel. What should be its shape, height etc. Most biryani techniques call for pouring the rice over the meat and then putting it for dum. Is the rice ever supposed to touch the bottom of the vessel or just cover the meat from above? I would imagine if in the former there will be some frying that would take place in addition to cooking the rice and will require a wider bottom vessel. In the latter, the rice would just steam and a taller vessel would be required. Any thoughts?

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Rice never to touch bottom of the vessel. I have seen just once a beautiful braising vessel with an extremely tight fitting lid, and never met up with that shape in spite of years of searching.

For shapes ONLY, regardez sil vous plait:


the low saute pan, sides 4 inches, with "ear" handles: 6-8 inches deep also fine. You need a cover. Demeyer Atlantis is super, but maybe overkill, but if you receive a bonus.......... You can buy cover cheaper, separately.

What you really want is a handle-less variant of this excellent sauteuse: ask them where to find one. Buy a cover from them separately.


Toll free: 877-828-4616

SSAU-7 7 Qt. Stainless Steel Saute Pan 13 1/2" x 3" $68.25

These people have some of the best frying pas around.

You live in NYC: Go to the restaurant supply stores just uptown from Chinatown after having browsed first at Bridge Kitchenware.


Sitram Catering Saute Pan 4.9qt, 11in With Help-hdl

Cookware / Stainless Steel Cookware / Sitram Catering of France / Saute Pans

The Catering cookware is part of the Sitram classic commercial 18/10 stainless steel cookware series. Its features include heavy gauge stainless steel construction with a 2-2.5mm copper sandwich between stainless steel for uniform and responsive heat conduction. Uniquely designed stainless steel handles with a heat sink, are welded to the pan instead of riveted to provide ease in cleaning. Ideal for any heat surface including gas, electric. Oven proof and dishwasher safe. Lifetime warranty NSF approved. Made in France.

Item #: CPSL-S-28

List Price: $165.00

Your Price: $86.40

This is coming closer towards the ideal shape. abit deeper with 4-5 inch sides woul be great. The material is excellent. The rice needs to spread out and not crush itself. The meat juices and fat need to touch each grain and enrobe it in the very short time there will be some bubbling type upward percolation. At this point the rice wil develop a crack along its suture and bendback like a bow to absrb whatever it can. This crak must close up during dum nd the grain MUST straighten up without breaking in the middle. Can you see several problems here? This will hep you thinkout for yoursel many of the finer points ssociatedwith biryani cooking, this dhanushtankar and relaxation.

Excess moisure in meat

excessive parboiling of rice

improper dual layer of rice: note there is always only 1 layer of meat in this Kacchi-pakki style or KP style. Phodniji supplies the C or chili!! :)

improper, excessive loading of rice--canot spread. each variety ofrice need different space becaue each has dfferent sarch properties therefre will absrb meat juice diferently. Also the pure aged dehradun/jammu basmati wil elongate extremely in one direction aymmetrically , and its structure is very prone to breaking trasersly across its waist. This bowing-out property is exceedingly precious & delicate, and need to be handledwith a caress of respect and love. [JD is there with his stethoscope, hovering over his tiny charges, intent on their tiny Vishnubhog heatbeats. It takes that sort of love. Some keep dousing their fingertips in water and touching the vessel side [remember these were open air] and according to how long they can keep the tip on the sides of the degh, ong years of experience tells them much.]

[its parboiling etc. is a special topic, its yakhni must be fatty and gelatinous. Good basmati will elongate 3-5 times its dry length 1.5-2 times its par-cooked length. It iseasily broken by the bubbling froth of meat and fat juices that carry a head of protein-scum, should any of these be in excess or bubble too vigorously.]

the amount of fat, and cut of meat + marinade: how much total liquid will be present in the system, including the ghee + some cream/milk place on the top of rice. The latter is to basicall moiten this layer and convey the saffron halfway down.

cooking in ungazed clay like a romertopf also is a fine idea but many more adjusments need to be made, rice needs to be basically raw, barely parboiled: a great kacchi-kacchi device. Romertopf brand shape only in the large sizes good for KK biryani. [What on earth would a CKK be?? Karhade?]

how the steam will move ABOVE the rice: how much headspace: some but not too much

this is also the time when temperature control becomes significant, because with falling temperature, the rice needs space to move back, and the gelatin-fat provide elasticity to retrogrde to straightness. Young's Modulus of Elasticity, you are an engineer, so thin about this: elastic versus plastic deformation i.e. breakage. Stress & strain, the difference. That gelatin, other proteins and fat providing shear strength. or many peopl, the whole experience is in the mouth felof rice, the meat, its fat, the alu bukhara. In many southern biryanis I see photographs where the rice textures are broken, muddled, stuck together. Immediately, I know we are taking a whole dfferent language when it comes to what is good biryani. Even to what IS biryani!

This iswhy we go back to the origin ofthe meat animal. its age, provenance, how fed etc. Only then will a master set to work, having purchased from a known butcher who ha cut through bones in a particular way, eaing certan proportions offat, muscle andbone, certain SIZE. Fat from different area has different properties and cooking rates, seena etc. Goat versus sheep. Breeds. Gram-fed or not. Too much to write

When you add saffron, it should color about 1 in 7 of the grains. These are small points, but they all add up to a great versus a pedestrian work. When you spoke of a spicy hot Avadh biryani I was taken aback. We are speaking of two quite different styles, then. My style has no heat whatsoever, other than the aroma of peppercorns. The highest note there is the occasional sournes of the alu-bukhara to cut the richness of mouthfuls past, and quite essential to further enjoyment. It is all about the meat, the rice and the background of spicing.


A ceramic-lined cast iron 5-6 quart dutch oven, $40 at the supermarket, is more than adequate for most everyday biryani, including entertaning upto 6 people: 2kg fat meat, 4 cups rice, with other sides.


7.5 qt bb pot


multi-purpose : raan!


This should go to the biryani thread:I am going to try cut & paste!

Oval French Oven 9½ qt

Edited by Gautam

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