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  • Writer's pictureBaba Clay Oven

A potted history of the Tandoor

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Cooking with a tandoor is the Indian way of cooking over a charcoal fire known as a tandoor. A tandoor is essentially a cylindrical clay oven, shaped like a large urn and typically at least one metre in height. Historically, tandoors were sunk up to the neck in earth.

Tandoors are believed to have originated in Persia and have been found in various guises throughout Central Asia. It takes us back to around 5000 years ago, to the Indus valley and Harappan civilisations of ancient India. Historical sites from many civilisations including Egyptian and Mesopotamian have been found to find evidence of tandoors.

Modern Tandoors were brought to India by the Mughals. Portable Tandoori ovens were invented by Jahangir, a Mughal ruler who had his cooks carry these wherever he travelled.

How tandoori cooking works

A charcoal (or wood can be used after initial coal burn) fire is built inside the tandoor and allowed to slow burn to heat the oven.

The heat is controlled by the amount of oxygen that is allowed into the pit. Our tandoor has a small window at the bottom of the tandoor that is opened and closed to control the flow of air and therefore oxygen. The walls of the tandoor reflect heat produced by the burning of charcoal and increase temperature further. Depending on amount of coal used and the stoking of the embers, tandoors can heat up to around 480C (900F).

The clay pot retains the heat for even cooking and stainless steel skewers are used for meats, fish and vegetables which are marinated in yoghurt and spices and placed vertically in the tandoor with one end resting in the coals. Using stainless steel skewers allows food to be cooked from the inside as the heat is generated from the skewers as well as giving an even cook on the outside.

Cooking in a tandoor uses many different techniques;

1) Radiant heat from the pit (this can be likened to baking).

2) Direct heat from charcoal (allows grilling).

3) Smoke cooking (from marinade and juices dripping on coals).

4) Hot clay walls (to cook flat breads, naans and rotis by sticking them on the flat clay walls).

It is also one of the healthiest forms of cooking as any oils or marination drips from the skewers on to the coal, delivering a unique, smokey flavour and succulent meat.

Tandoori cuisine

Marination is an essential part of cooking in a tandoor and cooked ingredients are usually marinated twice. Most marinades for a traditional tandoor have yoghurt as its base, which helps tenderise the meats or fish and allows the flavours of the spices to permeate.

One of the great things about Indian cooking is just how flexible it can be - a few pinches of this, a dab of that. Experiment with different flavours and discover your favourites!

Check out our recipes for some ideas to help you ace tandoori cooking!

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