The easy-and-cheap Home Tandoor Tikka Chicken (and Tandoor Teriyaki Salmon on the side)

I quite fancied building a tandoor in my garden but the wife said no, so i decided to convert my exclusive and patented Sputnik Smoker into a temporary tandoor. What could be harder?

So I got some chap on ebay to cut me three bits of 3mm steel with a plan that it would form a triangle within the circle and thus a mega hot tube within the smoker so that i could cook in it. I used pythagoras to work out the dimensions and got it more or less correct. I also bought some rather large kebab skewers, 8mm square tempered steel. I wanted to buy 4 but they only sold them in packs of 14, so i have 14 of them now.

So all tooled up with masses of steel i made my Tikka marinade. This consisted of minced up garlic and ginger, yoghurt, lemon, tomato paste, and dried cumin, coriander, chilli, turmeric, paprika that i cooked off in some oil first. I mixed this up and marinaded the chicken for about 18 hours.

The chicken was cut into big chunks, about 4 cm squared id say.

I lit the charcoal and put a layer of unlit charocal at the bottom/sides of the tandoor. Then i put the lit charocal on top and added more unlit charocal. I used 10kgs in all, which was a lot but i wanted to get the tandoor super hot.

Usually tandoors are about 400 celcius, well i put a fan under mine to really get it going and i have no idea hot hot it got but the steel plates were glowing red so it was damned hot.

I put the chicken in and nearly burnt my arm off it was so hot. Within about a minute or two the chicken at the bottom was pretty much blacked as it was too hot. And it wasnt coooked inside. So a slight change of plan ensued.

I took the chicken off and cut it in half, so probably about an inch squared now and put it back on the skewer. Then we tried again.

The chicken went a golden/chargrilled colour in 2 minutes and so we got it out to have a look at it and it was fully cooked and piping hot. And it really was 2 minutes to cook it.

We had it with naan and salad and it was tasty.

I also then cooked some salmon on it which has been marinaded in Teriyaki. It cooked very quickly and slipped off which was rather annoying, i had to fish it out the bottom with some tongs which wasnt very easy. So next time i shoved a potato on the bottom so it didnt slip off and that worked and the salmon was great. A lovely smokey/chargrilled sweet taste.

So what did we learn from our first tandoor experience? Well, first off, it worked very well indeed and a lot better than I was expecting. I could have used less charocal, probably half, as it got very,very hot. The chicken needs to be small, about 2 or 2.5 cm squared as it will cook from the outside and inside. The steel skewer gets very hot too so when you take it out don't put in on anything wood as it will mark it. And it will only take 2 minutes to cook the chicken so you really have to keep an eye on it. Also the tandoor/smoker was still hot enough 8 hours later for us to cook our skate wing dinner on it.

So all in all very successful and we will definitely be trying it again.

Photos to follow shortly.....

NEW CONTENT! Further Brisket Thoughts

Cor - that was a long break. All the Gastroteers have had some children in the intervening hiatus. Anyway, we are provisionally back on the scene.

I cooked some brisket on Saturday, and I have some thoughts I would like to share.

All of the brisket

My First Successful Brisket Close Up

I bought the meat from the excellent The Butchery which is run mainly from a large butchers installed under a railway arch in Bermondsey. The Butchery is run by Nathan Mills who used to work for The Ginger Pig and Barbacoa, he's a softly spoken Australian, and I first met him when I did one of his Knife Sharpening Courses, which managed to rejuvenate the sushi knife that I thought was lost when MANT used it to carve the seven bird roast that time. I also did his "Bash the Beef" masterclass more recently, where we butchered a hindquarter of beef over a fairly tiring eight hours.

Anyway, I picked up a whole brisket from The Butchery last Thursday, and stuck it in some rub. Since it's still early days with mastering the brisket for me, I wanted to stay as traditional as possible, so I used the recipe at, which is probably the best barbecue resource on the internet. My previous attempts with brisket have always been disappointing, and most shamefully, the brisket we turned in at the British Barbecue Society was not cooked for nearly long enough.

Brisket is a very tough cut, it's the basis for both pastrami and salt beef, where very long stewing times reduce all the chewy connective tissue to sticky deliciousness. The idea behind cooking brisket Texas style is to do the same thing. But if you cook it for too long, the whole thing falls apart. Having done it a few times, though, I would definitely err on the side of too long. If it's overcooked, then you've got some delicious meat that happens to be a bit flaky. If you've undercooked it, you've got 4kg of inedible meat. One other driving factor is the amount of fat on the cut - often brisket is cut pretty lean, as there are some large chunks of fat surrounding it, and these are often trimmed back - I have a sneaking suspicion that this has been part of the problem with our previous briskets. So, when Nathan was cutting it, I specifically asked him to leave as much fat on as possible. The downside is that most of the rub ends up on the fat, not on the meat, and the fat ends up getting trimmed off when the meat gets served. So, it's a bit of a swings-and-roundabouts affair really, but again, given the success of this one, I strongly think plenty of fat on the joint is part of the solution.

The rub I used was pretty traditional - mostly black pepper with some mustard powder, plus a couple of dried ancho (the mild ones) chillies. Also sugar and salt in my favoured proportions (2 parts spice mix, 2 parts granulated sugar, 1 part salt). I reduce the amount of salt in my rubs, since I'm using normal table salt. A lot of the instructions on the internet regarding proportions for salt sugar and spice rubs are American, and therefore assume you are using kosher salt, which is like Maldon sea salt, and hence is much less dense. If you substitute table salt, you'll implicitly be putting loads more salt in, as it's more dense, and the instructions are by volume. I don't see the point of using expensive Maldon or rock salt, when it's basically the same chemical, so for the moment, I'm provisionally recommending the "half times as much salt" until I've finessed the answer.

The brisket, in profile, has a thin bit "the flat", and a thick bit "the point". The best eating is on the point, as it's the fattiest. I cut mine in half, separating the pointfrom the flat. This is naughty, and is generally frowned upon, but it made it fit nicely in the smoker, and I reckon we could get away with it in competition. We'll see what Seffers and MANT have to say about it.

So that was 24 hours sitting in a dry rub (I'm afraid I forgot to try AmazingRibs' recommendation of using oil as a binding agent with the rub - I will try this next time).

After getting a babysitter in, and taking my good lady to see The Book of Mormon (which we both very much enjoyed), we returned home, and at around midnight, I got the smoker out. It was extremely cold outside, and I imagine my neighbours probably thought it was more likely that I was burning my house down than that I was starting a barbecue. Anyway, they refrained from calling the police, so at about 1AM Saturday morning, the rubbed meat went into the hot smoker, plus a good amount of apple wood. I've also just bought a Maverick Wireless Thermometer, which is totally awesome. I embedded the meat thermo in the beef, the barbecue thermo on the grill, and took the receiving end of the unit. I therefore had a neat readout of the temperature of the meat and the internal temperature of the barbecue in the comfort of the kitchen. It wasn't cheap, but it makes things a LOT easier.

I then went to sleep, and early next morning (around seven) I got up and checked the temperature: the meat had got up to 65C, and the barbecue temperature had fallen to 90C. I lit some more charcoal, and topped up the barbecue with more charcoal, more wood, and more water in the water pan.

Later in the morning, the barbecue had cooled to around 90 again. Meat had got up to 70C. I figured this was "the stall" - the meat had got to the internal temperature where it won't go any higher due to surface evaporation. The solution is "the crutch", where you wrap the meat in foil. So the meat came out of the smoker, went into an oven dish with some water (I wanted to use some beer, but it turns out my wife had already drunk all the beer in the house), which was covered and crimped with several layers of foil - this went into a 120C oven for the rest of the day, until about an hour before serving, when the beef came out. The crutch worked well - it didn't dry out, and plenty of fat was rendered off the joint. On taking the meat out of the oven prior to serving, the internal temperature was satisfactorily at 90C.

And that's pretty much it - I tried to be careful to cut it neatly perpendicular to the grain, to ensure minimum chewiness, but in truth it probably wasn't necessary, since the connective tissue had melted nicely. If anything it was a bit too falling apart - I'd probably have lost marks in the judging, but it was genuinely juicy and delicious, which have been features decidedly lacking from all my previous attempts at brisket.

So, this method seems to work, the next few goes will be tweaks to this ur-brisket.

We ate it with the usual crowd, accompanied by some rolls, slaw, beans and potato salad. The booze was generously provided by my uncle, who gave me some really beautiful claret which I decided to use on this occasion. The food wasn't too spicy to overpower the wine, and I think everything worked pretty well.

In Summary
In summary, my learning points are as follows:
- allow a lot of time - this was 3.5kg of meat cut into two pieces, and it was cooked for 20 hours. There was room to take it out early in this situation, but I wanted to be sure, next time I'll finesse it more
- don't forget about "the crutch" where the meat is covered in foil later into the cooking - obviously it'll be covered from the smoke, but by this time it should have absorbed as much smoke as it can take
- leave the cut very fatty - this will baste the meat. You can trim off the fat at the end, and turn it into burnt ends (which I did - dangerously delicious).
- for the moment, keep the spicing simple, Texans seem to stick to just pepper with a dash of mustard
- cut the meat perpendicular to the grain
- Maverick thermometers are brilliant

BBBQS Mayhem in May 2011

There's been a flurry of posting before this, but this should serve as a summary. The dust has settled, the weekend is over, and we are all a little older, wiser, and more tired. And plenty hung over.

So, as regular readers will know, this entire blog was created as a way for us to document our discoveries in the food world, in particular the art of slow smoking. The main competition we had our eyes on was the Pitmasters Competition (previously the British Barbecue Society Competition). There are several rounds, and the one we attended this year and last year was the "warm up" Mayhem in May competition. We want to keep attending until we have mastered the art of slow smoking, after which we will enter ourselves for the full-on championship rounds, the main prize of which are places at the Jack Daniels and American Royal Barbecue competition. We are a long way from there, but we aim to get there.

But for the moment, we are learning - and the other competitors in Mayhem in May are great people to learn off - many of them cater slow smoked foods for a living, and have some impressively immense equipment that makes our battered bins look very small and squalid.

So we all left work early on Friday evening, with fully packed up cars. Me and Seffers were in the vanguard, whereas MANT, Harry and Stoods were held up in traffic. Hence, me and Seffers had to put the tents up. Look what a cracking job we did.

There was a great deal of carousing on Friday night, and I was induced by a baying audience to bring out the ukulele and music stand. Mission accomplished. There was some minor fracas when it was discovered that I'd forgotten to bring saucepans, toothpaste, shower gel, a spare chopping board, nutmeg, pudding plates, barbecue sauce ingredients, enough rub, and breakfast ingredients. In my defence, I did bring bread-making ingredients, and a ukulele. AND a music stand. MANT also forgot the tongs, so I reckon we're even. LEARNING POINT FOR NEXT YEAR: pack saucepans etc.

So, on Saturday morning everyone woke up with hangovers induced by Yeti's rum. We put up the gazebo and our famous banner:

The first event of the day was Ready Steady Q - a warm up event in the style of Ready Steady Cook where you're given a meat, can choose some extra ingredients, and must produce a dish in an hour using only a barbecue. MANT and I competed. I put too much chilli in my ratatouille (what kind of idiot puts chilli in a ratatouille anyway?) and MANT's was too peppery, so neither of us qualified for the next round. Entertainingly, there was also a film crew making a short about the competition. I think MANT gave better comments to camera than I did, but we'll see.

After that, it was time for lunch. We had a dual-headed lunch. A delicious pig cheek and shallot stew, and a smoked trout, which was caught by my mother-in-law, and lightly smoked by us as a kind of post-lunch pudding type affair. Both very tasty indeed.

And after all that, it was time to get down to business. At 2:00 we were given our meat.

We then had about 24 hours to cook the meat and hand it in. Hand-in was staggered from noon on Sunday to 2:00 PM. So, the first thing to get down to was rubbing the meat with our spice rubs. So we had chicken thighs, baby back ribs, spare ribs, a pork shoulder, and an enormous beef brisket. When in a situation like this, the important thing is not to think too much but just get rubbing. There had been some muttering in the ranks that MANT was being too dictatorial, but at this point panic set in, and MANT was unanimously voted in as Dictator for Life. He chose a path of higher-than-usual heat, and a consequently shorter cooking time.

I hate demembraning

After that there wasn't much to do but wait until our annointed cooking times. MANT planned out the timings (last year we were marked down for over-cooking) and Seffers studiously documented them in a notebook. I also attempted to make bread in the barbecue, but the less said about that the better. We did decide to inject the pork shoulder with a mixture of cider vinegar and apple juice in the middle of the night. And Stoods heroically stoked the fire until 4 in the morning. I think the maximum anyone slept was about three hours.

By four o'clock in the morning, we were all awake again, no thanks to Stoods' last minute whisky enthusiasm. It was time to put the brisket on (although we had been warned repeatedly during the night that we were skating close to the ice with our brisket cooking time).

All night we had been plotting. And our plots were laid out in neat lines on notepaper provided by Seffers. These notes would be our Rock of Certainty to cling to throughout the maelstrom of the coming cook-off. So the first thing we did was set fire to them while making breakfast.

Our plan was the high temperature / short cooking times (relatively speaking). This was a high risk gamble, and we took it in order to distinguish ourselves from the competition. The meat was rubbed and marinaded (and in the case of the pork, injected), so it was pretty much a matter of "stick it in the smoker when the timing tells you to."

Meanwhile, the secondary activity of making the entry for the pudding competition had begun. I figured that since we had a smoker, we might be able to use it like a conventional oven to bake a pie. With a tray of water between the coals and the food, the direct heat would be absorbed by the water, and so the ambient air / steam temperature would be somewhere only a bit north of 100C. A slow oven, basically. So I figured a custard tart might work, since that needs to be cooked slowly so that you can get it out before it sets too much (so it still has a smidgen of wobble).
But, we are men of science, so the first thing we wanted to find out was whether you could bake with the direct heat of the coals (i.e. with the mediating tray of water removed) in a sort of "upside down grill" arrangement.

Turns out you can't.

So anyway, I made a pastry from flour, ground almonds, sugar, 1 egg, and a dash of water to bring it together. I rolled it out into the pan, rested the pastry, then blind baked it in our makeshift "ovens", on top of the pork.

And rather amazingly, it did actually work. We used lemons wrapped in foil to weigh down the pastry, by the way.

Things were going well here, so now it was time for a nice argument with Seffers and MANT about the ingredients for custard. As any idiot knows, you need double cream, egg yolks, caster sugar and vanilla. Since this was a custard tart, it was necessary to finish with nutmeg, but I forgot the nutmeg. I did remember the vanilla though. Those are the ingredients - also, Liz Upton recommends some cornflour or custard powder to stabilise the mixture and make it a better consistency. There was no custard powder at the village shop, but Seffers did manage to get some cornflour. Anyway, those are the ingredients - but the relative quantities were a subject of much debate. MANT was pushing to reduce the quantity of eggs, but he's weird about eggs - and Seffers had a recipe that sounded like heresy to me. Broadly, we took the average of everyone's suggestions, made a custard, heated it gently on the gas hob to thicken a little, then it was poured into the prepared pastry case and baked at the top of the pork in the smoker for a hour and a half. I was expecting it to take less time than this, and I was anxiously checking it to see if it was setting. Thankfully it did set in the end. I idiotically didn't take a photo when it first came out of the smoker it looked beautiful - but we needed to cut it into six portions and make it look nice. However, the pastry tin was not springform. This is a learning point for next time. It's a gigantic pain in the ass trying to get perfectly wobbly custard tart out of a non-springform tin. My ham-fisted attempts caused MANT to laugh so much he was still wiping tears from his eyes when it came to handing the pudding in. We also bought some raspberries, some of which we had dropped in the custard before baking, the rest we turned into a basic jam and smeared in between the slices of tart.

There was a bit of time to do a tour of the field and check out our magisterial competitors. I think these pictures will show the quality of the competitors we were up against.

Our neighbours Bunch of Swine. They very generously gave us some of their ribs. They were delicious. This was the first time they competed, but man they were organised. A delicate ballet of smoking. Ours wasn't a ballet. More a drunken line dance where nobody knew whether they were gentlemen or ladies.

The Jambo. Custom built - hit tech smoking.

BBQ Shack - these guys really knew what they were doing.

I think these guys knew what they were doing. It was a stag weekend for them - but they seemed to work really hard.

Smoque - these chaps were looking to set up a series of restaurants in the Midlands. They also hosted the massive party on Friday night that left everyone with brutal hangovers - but that allowed me to play the ukulele.

Royal Pit Crew. Look how neat everything is.

Yeti - what a great guy. As well as giving us great barbecue tips, he also told me the secret of baking proper sourdough bread (which I will go into in another post).

Is any further comment necessary? Wow.

So let that gallery put our achievements in context. The time for handing in was drawing near. While Seffers and MANT and Harry tended the pits - me and Stoods took on the most important job of the entire weekend - arranging the parsley. This was a tip from the Smoque guys. You get marks for presentation, so it's important to make the bed of parsley look nice. The rules stipulate that your entry can't be marked distinctly in any way (to keep the judging anonymous). So within the bounds of the strict rules you need to make your bed of parsley look nice. It's best to make sure there aren't any stalks, and you want to keep each tiny bit of parsley the right way up so you get the nice bright green, rather than the dull green from the other side.

Behold our handiwork.

From there it was just a logical progression to add some meat to the prepared containers:
We won chicken last year, pretty much by accident. So this year we attempted to recreate the winning method, by leaving the chicken soaking in some melting ice overnight, and trying to crisp up the skin as best we could.

I think we could probably have followed Seffers' advice and crisped the skin for longer, but they were broadly acceptable

MANT said we ran out of rub for the ribs. But I thought they looked pretty good. They certainly tasted OK - but I think maybe the meat could have been a bit less yielding. It's good to get just a little bit of chew in there.

We were broadly happy with the chicken and the ribs. We weren't at all happy with the brisket and the pork:

We took a decision not to pull the pork, but to serve it in slices. Unfortunately the injections left unappetising marks through the flesh. And it tasted pretty dreary.

And the brisket was terrible. Wildly undercooked and tough. The rub was quite nice, though.

So, we handed our meat, pudding and barbecue sauce in and waited.

Here is a picture of the Stoodley family waiting.

Eventually the tension was broken - the results were announced. We didn't place for any of the meat categories. Looking at the detailed results afterwards, it turns out we came quite close to placing in chicken. They were surprisingly nice about our brisket - which is mystifying. Here are the judging notes:

3 Gastroteers
Great skin, some parts a little dry,
Good texture and taste, requires a little more flavour,
Fatty soapy flavour, bland, appearance unappealing, lacked flavour, looked dreadful
Very tough, nice flavour, undercooked

Pretty fair, basically.

However, there was a surprising turn-up in the minor categories when we took third prize in pudding. Go custard tart!

So overall, we learned a lot about hot smoking / barbecuing, and about cooking outdoors. It was a really fun weekend, although it was pretty tiring. The British Barbecue Society Competitions get the Gastroteers "Hearty Recommendation" Award. We will definitely be back next year. We don't feel we are quite ready to compete in the big league competitions, but we'll stick to the Mayhem in May until we're a bit happier with our results.

And Relax

Meat marinading. Now we can relax for a bit.

rub going onto the brisket leave for 10 ish hours

The Main CompSo, the proper competition has begun. we've been given our meat. now we're going to prep the meat and leave it to marinate.


Delicious Trout

All of the gastroteers would like to express their gratitude to Caroline for giving us the enormous brown trout. We lightly smoked it, and it was delicious.

Second Lunch

Second Lunch


results!ResultsNeither of us got through.


CamerasThey are filming us.MANT ingredientsMANT going for spring onions, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, potato, and courgette. The meat is ostrich.

Salt, pepper, thyme are his spices.PotatoesChips?I think he's going for chips...

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