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Big Green Egg as a Tandoor Oven?

July 25th, 2008 by Michelle | Filed under Ceramic Cooker.

We decided to try using the Big Green Egg (BGE) as a tandoor oven.

Features of a traditional tandoor

A tandoor is typically a cylindrical clay oven, open on the top. It can be heated by charcoal or gas (in modern versions). It runs at temperatures from 500 to 800 degrees F. Very long skewers of marinated meat are lowered into the oven vertically. Cooking time is quick, usually 8 to 15 minutes. The meat is surrounded on all sides by intense heat which caramelizes the surface, and the quick cooking time minimizes moisture loss. The marinade is not oily enough to drip and cause flames.

Features of the Big Green Egg ceramic cooker

The BGE is one type of ceramic cooker. It can easily attain temperatures of 700 degrees or more if the dome is kept closed. However, it does have a circular vent at the top about 4 inches wide (on the medium, large, and extra large sizes) that can be completely exposed. We decided to see if we could use the top vent hole as a tandoor opening. This would enable us to avoid opening the cooker which would destabilize the temperature and risk flashback each time it was opened (and we don’t want direct flame on the skewers). It would also enable us to do quick doneness checks and remove and reload new skewers easily if we wanted to cook more food.

If it works, the BGE would have a couple advantages over a traditional tandoor oven. Because it lacks the wide open top, it would use far less fuel (charcoal lump) and less steam would escape from the cooker/food, hopefully making the food even more moist. We have noticed that even at our favorite restaurants that do fresh tandoori (not steam table buffets!), that quality can be variable. If the BGE can maintain more consistent temps, we might have more consistent results. Also, regular tandoor ovens can take over an hour to come up to temperature, the BGE attains high temperatures quickly, especially with the top wide open as we will do.

Of course, the small size of the opening is a disadvantage, and even worse, you lose the ability to do traditional naan by slapping it onto the oven walls.

Photos of our attempt

Here’s the skewer going into the BGE. There is an onion at the bottom just to help keep everything from sliding off:

Four skewers loaded up:

A view into top opening — very hot!:

The Finished Product

We lost two the onions inside the cooker; they weren’t for eating anyway. The skewers, two chicken, two beef:

And here’s the final product, plated:

So how was it?

Good and bad. The chicken that was on the ends of the skewers (top and bottom) was excellent. Some of the middle pieces were a little underdone. It was all very moist and nice and crusty on the outside.

Also in the bad category was one casualty: the gasket between the base and the dome lid. It got fried and a small part of it melted as well, detaching from the dome.

Conclusions and plans for next time

We made the mistake of packing the skewer and not allowing space between the pieces. Part of the quick-cooking tandoor method is for the hot skewer to aid in cooking the inside of the chicken. Spacing the chunks may solve the problem of the middle pieces not finishing at the same time as the ends.

We were able to cook more meat at one time than we expected; the small opening won’t be a major limitation, so that’s a plus.

We also started this experiment under the assumption (given that many tandoors are gas) that most of the heat is indirect and we used a placesetter (a ceramic plate that fits in the cooker between the coals and the top of the dome) to avoid direct heating. Looking at pictures of charcoal tandoor ovens, we see that meat does get direct heat from the charcoal. The placesetter directed the heat the sides of the cooker (straight onto the gasket area and up the dome. This likely contributed to frying our gasket. Next time we plan to place a pan deeper in the cooker to hold the ends of the skewers and catch any drippings (limiting flame-ups).

The expected quick startup time, was quick indeed, it took only a few minutes to get up to 700 degrees. This is an advantage of the BGE.

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8 Responses to “Big Green Egg as a Tandoor Oven?”

  1. Josh | 13/01/10

    Great article, thanks!

    Did you try anything besides chicken? Salmon perhaps? Wondering how to do Salmon in addtion to chicken or lamb. Were 4 skewers the max?

    Salud
    Josh

  2. Karl Zed | 22/02/10

    Having the BGE for only some months. I attempted a whole tandoori snapper.

    I didnt have skewers, so I visited the local metal works and bought some 4.6mm stainless steel rods. I cut the rod into 2 approx 70cm lengths.

    I loaded up the marinated whole snapper on the skewer and manouevered it in to the BGE. Closed the lid and waited.

    Result:
    Fish fell off skewer, I managed to resurrect it and the bits that were nearer the coals tasted great, but the bits in the middle were undercooked.

    Will try again.

  3. Big Egg Grill | 1/07/10

    Thanks for this I will be trying it soon. I hope I dont blow a gasket.

  4. Mike guthrie | 12/11/10

    I tried the Tandoor oven thing with the egg. It worked but never got hot enough 800+F.Built a Tandoor with twice the size air intake and all problems solved. I can cook @ 900+ F plus naan works in the tandoor but not in the egg.

  5. Jami | 7/05/11

    How did you make the Tandoor mike

  6. Will | 13/07/11

    Thanks for sharing Ken. I’m wondering if the melting gasket is a design flaw or defective product? Because the set up you explained using the plate-setter is also the route that BGE recommend if one was to bake a pizza in the egg. The heat from baking pizza can also go around 600 - 700. Have you tried baking one with plate setter?

  7. Josh | 19/04/12

    I think if you want to use the BGE as a Tandoor, you need to let it heat up for longer than 15 minutes - probably an hour at temp! In my (albeit limited) experience, it is imperative to keep it at high temps for a while before cooking - it allows the whole egg to be at a constant temperature and radiate heat towards your food from the ceramic walls (if cooking indirect). I don’t think the melting gasket is a big deal - in fact I think if you’re not melting it you’re not doing it properly!!

  8. jk | 29/08/13

    the melting gasket.. can we avoid that by putting some aluminium foil T shaped to deflect heat from hitting the gasket.. as discussed for what ever reasons. I want to protect my gasket so I will try today by putting aluminum foil and then shutting it. lets see if this works.

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