Flavors of the Tandoor: Grilling Delights from India

Indian cuisine stands out due to its remarkable diversity in cooking methods. From sautéing to steaming, deep frying, clay pot cooking, braising, pressure cooking, dum cooking, and using a tandoor, the array of techniques sets it apart from other cuisines.

The multitude of methods reflects the vastness of India’s culinary traditions, every method bringing its distinct delicious touch to the dinner table. The method of cooking in a tandoor distinguishes itself as one of the unique ways of cooking. Indian tandoori BBQ offers an array of vegetarian, chicken, fish, and meat dishes to satisfy every palate.

What is Tandoori Cooking?

The term “Tandoori” comes from the word “Tandoor,” which refers to the oven itself. Tandoori cooking is a method of using a tandoor, which is a cylindrical clay or metal oven. A tandoor is constructed within an enclosure or even dug into the ground, ensuring optimal insulation.  A key aspect of tandoori cooking involves allowing heat to escape only through the top vent. The temperature inside a tandoor is maintained under 500°C or over 900°F.

Indian Tandoori BBQ  involves marinating vegetables and different types of meat and then cooking it inside a tandoor. The marinated item is placed on lengthy metal skewers, lowered into the oven, and cooked in this smoky, very high-temperature oven until it is fully done. Tandoori BBQ is known for its succulent taste, signature char, smoky BBQ flavor, and a combination of spices that create an extraordinary blend of flavors.

It’s a treasured cooking method in Indian cuisine, offering a wide range of dishes, from tandoori chicken to different types of kebabs and breads like naan. Let’s explore some of our favorite dishes that come to life through tandoori cooking:

1. Tandoori Paneer Tikka

Tandoori Paneer Tikka, a beloved choice among vegetarians, serves as a fantastic substitute for chicken tikka. Cubes of paneer, onions, and bell peppers undergo a flavorful marinade composed of yogurt and a blend of aromatic spices like tandoori masala, chaat masala, amchur powder, and paprika. After marinating for a few hours, they are threaded onto skewers and grilled or cooked in a tandoor to perfection.

2. Tandoori Bharwan Aloo

Any starter with potatoes (aloo) is always a crowd-pleaser. Sliced potatoes with a central hole are fried and then filled with a paneer mixture. This filling comprises yogurt, ginger-garlic paste, green chilies, red chili powder, garam masala, and chaat masala. After stuffing, the potatoes are skewered and grilled and then topped with a final sprinkle of chaat masala before serving.

3. Chicken Tikka

Chicken tikka holds a special place as a cherished Indian BBQ delicacy. Marinated in a blend of yogurt, ginger garlic paste, pre-made chicken tikka masala, lemon juice, and oil, both chicken breast and thigh pieces rest in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. These flavorful pieces are then grilled or cooked in a tandoor until fully done. 

Served alongside sliced onions, lime wedges, chutneys, and freshly made naan, this dish offers the ultimate experience of the finest grilled chicken you will ever taste.

4. Seekh Kebab   

Seekh kebabs are an explosion of fiery flavors, juicy textures, and a sensation that simply melts in your mouth. Lean ground meat undergoes marination with a blend of fresh cilantro, mint, green chilies, onions, ginger-garlic paste, and an array of dry spices like red chili powder, red chili flakes, garam masala, cumin, coriander, chaat masala, and chickpea flour.

These elongated cylindrical kebabs are threaded onto metal skewers and cooked over a tandoor or grill. Served alongside hari chutney raita and tamarind chutney, seekh kebabs are a treat worth savoring.

5. Tandoori Naan

Naan stands as India’s most favorite leavened flatbread. Crafted from a mix of all-purpose flour, yeast, milk, baking powder, baking soda, and yogurt, this bread emerges soft and buttery, a true delight. The dough is portioned into balls resembling baseballs and baked in a tandoor oven. The array of naan varieties is extensive, featuring favorites like butter naan, garlic naan, onion naan, chili cheese naan, and keema (minced meat) naan.”

Some other popular tandoori BBQ items include goat chops, malai boti, and tandoori BBQ wings.

Most people do not have access to a real tandoor,  these tandoori dishes can certainly be made on a BBQ grill, in the oven, or on a griddle on the stovetop. To replicate the smoky BBQ flavor indoors, an effective technique is the Dhungar Method.

This involves placing a small bowl in the center of the marinated dish, adding a hot piece of coal to it, and then drizzling a bit of oil on the coal. Once smoke emanates, promptly cover the dish with a lid for several minutes. This method infuses the taste and aroma akin to that of a tandoor.

Tandoori grill BBQ delights remain the top choice at weddings and festivals, with tandoor ovens set up outdoors. Guests are treated to exquisite tandoori specialties hot off the grill. Whether you are savoring delicious Indian tandoori BBQ dishes from your grill at home or at a restaurant, prepare for an unforgettable taste adventure that will leave you wanting more.

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About the author:

Hira Shaikh is a die-hard Chicagoan residing in Texas. She is an avid foodie and travel enthusiast who also enjoys creating new recipes in the kitchen. Besides her corporate job, her sweet tooth and passion for food lure her to hunt down instagrammable restaurants and cafes to try and critique.

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