Updated: Sep 27, 2019
Well known for their unique shape and size, a saj is a grill that originated from the Middle East that features a metal dome and a heat source below it (wood/coal, electric, or gas). The dome shape of the saj makes it useful for baking flatbreads (marouk bread), and pita bread. Cultures from across Asia and the Indian subcontinent feature similar grills as people have been using them since for centuries. Likewise, pita bread has been around longer than anyone can say and it too has spread across the world, possibly thanks to its built-in pocket that allows a you to ditch the utensils and dig in!
Today, I recommend two options for home saj setups to make marouk or pita bread for ourselves. I’ve found that Alpine Cuisine, and NIAT have affordable saj bread makers, but I was curious to determine which the best model was for marouk and pita bread enthusiasts who wanted to bake in their own home.
Alpine Cuisine’s Professional Saj Bread Maker
Alpine Cuisine is a brand owned by Aramco Imports that specializes in high quality cookware, kitchen gadgets, decorations, and appliances. The Alpine Cuisine brand has been around for going on twenty years and they’ve built themselves into a major figure in the global kitchenware industry.
The Professional Model Saj Bread Maker is a compact, electric bread maker that retails for $79.99. It features a non-stick cooking space that is 16 inches in diameter, an automatic thermostat, and heat resistant handles that remain cool to the touch. So far as electrical specifications go, it runs on a voltage of 120v 50/60Hz, and at a power of 1400W. It can reach temperatures up to 536 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing for fast baking.
Because the heat source is electric and the unit itself is slim, it works nicely as a countertop saj grill. I have heard some say that the wide diameter of the grill makes it cumbersome for their particular kitchen, or for storage between uses, but one can always measure their countertops to determine if the size will become an issue - besides, the point of a saj grill is to make large flatbreads especially when making man'oushe za'atar so this shouldn't be a problem.
NIAT’s Non-Stick Mitad Grill with Dome Cover
NIAT Products have been in the consumer appliance business since 2000. Operating out of Seattle, Washington, NIAT is an independent manufacturer, retailer, and wholesaler that offers kitchenware products of both consumer and commercial grade.
The Non-Stick Mitad Grill is an electric flat surface grill aimed at home bakers. The 16 inch diameter cooktop can be covered with the included metal dome to allow for temperature and humidity control. The unit runs on a voltage of 120v, 60Hz, and at a power of 1450W. It can reach temperatures of 500 degrees Fahrenheit and it has a built in overflow spout that helps to control spills and splatters. The legs and handles are heat resistant and remain cool during operation of the unit, while the five foot power cable is long enough for ideal unit placement and short enough to stay out of the way. All of this comes standard for a retail price of $138.99.
The controls on the Mitad Grill have been praised as easy to understand and the unit is light and portable. This makes it user friendly and has earned it many fans. However, I understand that the power cord has failed on some units, and that over time the rubber rings meant to protect the unit’s power leads sometimes degrade so if you purchase this model, keep this in mind when cleaning and storing your grill.
How to Make Pita Bread on a Saj?
The process of making pita bread on a saj can be broken up into a few easy steps (this is only one example of many recipes you can try). You will need the following ingredients in this Arabic pita bread recipe.
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1-½ Cups Warm Water
1 Tablespoon Yeast
1 Tablespoon Sugar
A Sprinkle of Salt
An Oil of Your Choice for Dough Coating
Once you have your ingredients together, you can begin the pita making process.
Mix your yeast and sugar into ½ a cup of warm water. Allow it to stand for at least 10 minutes. Sift half of your flour into a bowl and sprinkle in a pinch of salt or two. Form a well in the center of the flour and pour your yeast mixture in. Add the remaining water.
Mix the contents, gradually adding in the rest of your flour. After the dough has formed you can turn it out onto a liberally floured counter for kneading. Keep kneading the dough until you achieve a smooth consistency and it stops sticking to the counter.
Oil up a bowl and place the dough inside, turning it about to make sure the oil coats it. Place a damp cloth over the bowl and put it in a still, warm room to rise. Allow two hours to pass before you remove it, by which time it should have roughly doubled in size.
Knead the dough once more and divide it into two inch balls. Using a floured surface and floured rolling pin, flatten the balls into circles.
Place the dough circles on your pre-heated saj grill. Watch them closely as they bake, and flip them after a minute or two. The bread should begin to puff up as it cooks, which will eventually allow for the signature pita pocket to form.
I recommend tweaking the ingredients, cook time, and temperature until you arrive at a combination that produces your ideal pita bread. Nothing tastes quite as good as something you made yourself!
What's the Best Choice?
Of the saj bread makers I’ve outlined, I feel that NIAT’s Non-Stick Mitad Grill is the overall best choice. It provides the slimmest design without sacrificing a large cooking surface, and the dome lid allows for both open air and enclosed cooking. The versatility, ease of use, and portability of the unit all make it highly desirable. Although it is a flat cooking surface, I consider it more versatile if you're also interested in making other foods such as pizza, injera, roti, chapati, and many others. While the price is a little steeper than some of its peers, it seems that you get what you pay for and in the long term the investment would be worthwhile for any home baker that wants to improve their pita bread.
However, if you are more of a traditionalist, and strictly want to make marouk flat breads, then the Alpine Cuisine's dome style saj grill may be your best choice for the price point.