Masters of the Pit: Ron Levy, Homdoor Tandoori Grills
October 25, 2011
From pits to spits and from kettles to drums, the methods and equipment used for barbecue and grilling are as varied as the cooks themselves. Today we’re sitting down with Ron Levy, founder of H?mdoor grills, to discuss what makes tandoori style of outdoor cooking so unique.
First of all, Ron, can you explain the origins of tandoor-style grilling?
The oldest examples of a tandoor were found in the settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (India) dating around 3000 BC at a mound site in what is now Pakistan. The tandoor traveled with migration of Aryan and Semitic people to the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia. Variations of the tandoori oven are used in Iran, Armenia, the “Stan” countries of the former Soviet Union, and Israel.
So how did you get into the business of creating these custom ceramic grills?
I was a potter living in New York City making large-scale ceramic pieces. In 1975, I had a show consisting of 6? tall pots that was reviewed in the New York Times. An inventive Indian who had an Indian restaurant in the city called me to see if I would make him a tandoor for his restaurant. 30 years later I am still making tandoors.
What exactly is special about your cooker, the H?mdoor?
Thank you for asking this question. We love to talk about what is special about the H?mdoor. The H?mdoor is a tandoor for the home proudly made in the USA.
The particular qualities of the tandoor, or clay oven, are what make the H?mdoor special. The clay of the oven can take extreme heat and it is somewhat porous so that the irresistible naan bread, an Indian specialty, can be cooked on the wall of the tandoor. The walls get hot from either charcoal or gas and then radiate heat to the inside of the tandoor. Food is cooked on skewers vertically in the tandoor, or hung by hooks from a skewer that sits across its mouth. It is a healthy, quick, low-fat way to cook. Clean up is easy. The H?mdoor is a freestanding, stainless steel-covered tandoori BBQ grill that is used outdoors.
We also sell a custom-installed H?mdoor that can be installed either outside or indoors. You can cook meats, fish, vegetables, and bread in the H?mdoor.
The H?mdoor cooks with three types of heat.
1. Live fire
2. Radiant heat from the walls of the tandoor.
3. Super hot air, i.e. convection cooking.
Another special characteristic of tandoori cooking is that wonderful crispness you get around the edges of the food while the inside stays moist and tender.
Because the inside of the tandoor is so hot and the food is cooked quickly (and vertically) on skewers, you don?t have to turn the food over while it is cooking.
The food is cooked with heat around the whole surface.
What are the dimensions of the H?mdoor?
The clay tandoor measures 16” tall by 16” at the belly. The mouth of the clay tandoor measures 13”. The stainless-steel H?mdoor measures 32” tall by 26 ½” wide, including the handles, and 28” at the wheel-base. The weight is just under 200 lbs.
And how hot does it get?
Cooking temperatures vary between 350-600 degrees. The tandoor can reach temperatures as high as 900 degrees, but we do not recommend cooking at that temperature.
What type of costs are we speaking?
The stainless-steel charcoal H?mdoor sells for $1299.00. This price includes 6 stainless-steel skewers, a stainless-steel pair of bread tools, a gaddi pad, or bread pad (for putting the dough on the wall of the tandoor), and a lid. The propane burner sells for $200.00 and the natural-gas burner sells for $240.00.
Both burners come with all the accessories you need to attach to either a 20 lb. propane tank, or a natural gas line.
The custom-installed charcoal H?mdoor costs $799.00. This price includes 6 stainless-steel skewers, a stainless-steel pair of bread tools, a gaddi pad, or bread pad (for putting the dough on the wall of the tandoor), a lid, and a clean out door. The burners are the same burners, at the same price as for the stainless steel H?mdoor. The stainless-steel H?mdoor is shipped via UPS in 2 boxes. You can get a freight estimate on our website www.homdoor.com. The custom-installed model is shipped via UPS in 1 box.
What are some of the specialties your customers cook on it?
Our customers have cooked some specialties including lobster tandoor, homemade chili paneer, and many different versions of chicken tandoori.
What do your customers love about it?
Everyone enjoys the adventure of cooking in a tandoor. Our customers love being able to cook many varied breads in the tandoor. They also love being able to make some of the foods that they are familiar with but have not been able to cook before this. Tandoori cooking brings exotic flavors into their homes. They find it easy to clean and entertaining to use. Parties are fun and lively. Everyone loves to try to slap the dough onto the wall of the hot tandoor. It?s a very dynamic, exciting experience.
What should a first-time user expect when cooking on a tandoor style grill?
First-time users should expect to make sumptuous foods on skewers instantly. The learning curve for skewered food is quick, easy and almost instantaneous.
The breads can be a bit more challenging. As with any new cooking apparatus, there?s a bit to get used to and there are certain skills involved in getting the dough a good consistency, and learning how thick or thin to roll it before slapping it onto the wall of the hot tandoor.
Learning how to gauge temperature is a skill as well, though we now sell a digital, infra-red, point- and-shoot thermometer that tells you instantly the temperature of the walls of the tandoor. This is a huge help in getting “dialed in” to cooking in a tandoor.
The idea of cooking bread directly on the walls of a grill is definitely pretty cool. Can you talk a little more about that aspect of tandoor cooking?
Breads are a creative part of cooking in the tandoor. There is a whole world of tandoori breads that is rich in tastes and ingredients. I made a naan stuffed with mango and cilantro last mango season. The sky is the limit in terms of possibilities. One great aspect of cooking bread in a tandoor is that you get many tries at making the bread during one cooking session. The dough is divided in several balls that make individual breads in the tandoor. You can cook at least 4 breads at one time in the H?mdoor. An experienced chef can get about 7 breads in at once. Some breads are made of whole wheat flour (and other whole grains) while other breads are made of white flour. Some recipes include yeast and yogurt and others are unleavened. You can spend a lifetime experimenting with recipes of naan, paratha, chapati, onion kulcha, and a huge variety of stuffed breads.
That’s some great stuff, Ron, and thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge of tandoor cooking with the Grilling.com community!
Do you have a particular style of outdoor cooker or know a pit maker who you’d like to see featured here? Post a comment below and we’ll do our best to get it done!
- Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Guest Editor
(Disclaimer: The Grilling.com editorial team was not compensated by nor is it affiliated with any companies, products or brands mentioned in this post. The information included is strictly for informational purposes)