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How To Make Tandoori Chicken Tikka

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This is the chicken tikka recipe everyone wants to know.

Whether you are making tandoori chicken tikka to eat on its own or add to a chicken tikka masala, this is the recipe you need to know. Follow this recipe and advice below and your chicken tikka will be as good as, if not better than you get at the best Indian restaurants.

There are of course many chicken tikka recipes out there and I have a lot of them here on the blog. But it’s this chicken tikka that goes into most restaurant style curries and wraps.

In addition to this chicken tikka recipe, I have also featured step by step photographs to help you make the most famous of all the chicken tikka recipes.

Tandoori chicken tikka

About this chicken tikka recipe.

This is the chicken tikka you will find most often added to curry house style curry favourites such as chicken tikka masala, chicken jalfrezi and chicken chilli garlic.

If you have my books ‘The Curry Guy’ and/or ‘The Curry Guy Bible’, you will know how good this chicken tikka is added to a curry!

It is also delicious served on it’s own with a good coriander chutney or hot sauce. The chicken marinade is packed with flavour which soaks right into the chicken tikka, making it not only mouthwateringly good but also juicy and tender.

Which cut of chicken is best for tandoori chicken tikka?

Chicken thighs are the best by far. Chicken thigh meat has the most flavour and it’s naturally juicier that breast meat. It also happens to be cheaper than breast meat so it’s the best way to go.

At most restaurants, chicken breast is used. There isn’t as much flavour in breast meat but it is whiter in colour than thighs which are naturally a little pink even when cooked through.

Too many people were sending their chicken tikka back because they thought the thigh meat wasn’t cooked through. So restaurants use breast meat so that they don’t have that issue.

Using thigh meat will help ensure your chicken tikka is juicier and more flavourful than what you get at most Indian restaurants.

How long should you marinate the chicken tikka?

You only want to leave the chicken in the first marinade for about 20 minutes. You probably know what happens when you pour lemon or lime juice onto raw fish. It cooks it.

That is exactly what it will do to the chicken. Citrus juice is a natural tenderiser but if you leave it on too long, it will have the opposite effect. It will toughen the exterior of the meat. That is why you add the yoghurt.

Dairy products like yogurt and milk are also natural tenderisers and they counter the effect of the lemon juice. They stop it from cooking the meat and let it do it’s job of flavouring the chicken tikka.

Once you have the yoghurt marinade stirred into the chicken, you can leave it to marinate in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. The longer the better.

Do you have to marinate the chicken tikka that long?

No but you will get a better flavour and more tender chicken tikka if you do. 

If you are in a rush, you could just let the chicken marinate while you are preparing your barbecue.

Can you use this tandoori marinade with other meats?

Yes. This is a great all-purpose marinade that you can use on beef, lamb, seafood, paneer and vegetables.

You can also use it with other cuts of chicken such as whole roast tandoori chicken.

How do you cook tandoori chicken tikka?

Believe it or not, most good restaurant cook their tandoori chicken tikka, not in a tandoor oven but over hot coals, barbecue style. They use their tandoors for cooking naans and tandoori rotis as these require a cooler temperature than cooking meat.

If you have a tandoor oven, you want to get it really hot before cooking the chicken so that it chars correctly. 

As you will see from my photos, I usually go the skewered chicken tikka route.

Chicken tikka can also be cooked in an air-fryer or in your oven but for the best results, cook it skewered over hot coals. If you would like more information about cooking with a tandoor oven, read how to use a tandoor oven here.

How do you make bright red chicken tikka?

You might want to make bright red chicken tikka which is so popular at restaurants.

The bright red colour is accomplished by adding red food colouring powder. The red food colouring adds no flavour to the chicken so I usually leave it out.

You can, however easily add the colouring to your chicken tikka.

Using food colouring for chicken tikka

I didn’t use food colouring this time but this is how to apply it. Directly on the meat.

Bright red chicken tikka.

Using about a tsp of food colouring, your chicken will be bright red as in some restaurants.

How do you add red food colouring to tandoori chicken tikka?

When you look at a container of red food colouring powder, the label will state that the powder is not to be applied directly to the meat.

Discard that advice! At restaurants, the food colouring is applied directly to the meat which is then stirred in so that meat takes on that red glow. Again, you do not need to add red food colouring unless you want your chicken to be a bright red.

Why can you not add the red food colouring to the marinade?

The marinade it made up of yoghurt and spices. If you were to add the red food colouring to the yoghurt based marinade, you won’t get a bright red but rather a pink. White and red make pink when mixed together and that is what your chicken tikka would look like.

What are the key ingredients in the marinade?

There are really two marinades for most chicken tikka recipes. These are as follows:

For the first marinade

1. Lemon Juice: This soaks right into the chicken and gives it that familiar tart or sour flavour.
2. Garlic and ginger paste: You use garlic and ginger paste in both the first marinade and the second marinade. When you add it to the chicken in the first marinade, it soaks those amazing flavours right into the flesh of the chicken.
3. Salt: A dash of salt brings the first marinade all together for a savoury flavour.

For the second marinade

1. Greek yoghurt: The yoghurt not only tenderises the meat but also stops the chicken from cooking in the first lemon juice marinade. It counters the cooking effect of the lemon juice and also adds a nice complimentary tart flavour.
2. Cream cheese or Parmesan cheese (optional): At many curry houses, about a tablespoon of cream cheese or Parmesan cheese is added. Cheese tastes amazing when grilled. There is very little added and it does not taste of cheese but it really rounds out the flavours well.
3. Garlic and ginger paste: This adds a less intense flavour of garlic and ginger to the marinade.
4. Spices: You add all of the spices to bring it all together. The spices not only add a natural colouring to the chicken but really makes it taste amazing.

Are there variations of this recipe?

Yes. Every restaurant has their own recipe for this chicken tikka but they are all quite similar.

You will see in the short video below that I added finely chopped chillies and also chopped coriander to mine sometimes.

If it sounds good, add it. Try to keep close to the recipe but if you want more spicy or the delicious flavour of coriander (cilantro) there is no reason why you should not add it.

How do you thread the chicken tikka onto metal skewers?

If you are planning on skewering your chicken tikka to cook over a live fire, you need to weave the chicken tikka onto the skewer.

Many people simply stick the skewer through. The problem with this is that when you go to turn your chicken skewers, the skewer rotates but the chicken stays in place.

By weaving the chicken through it’s meaty fibres, you can ensure that it turns when you turn the skewer.

How long can you store the cooked chicken tikka in the fridge?

You should be able to store cooked chicken tikka in the fridge, covered tightly for at least 3 days.

So if you are planning a curry feast, go ahead and cook the chicken tikka a few days ahead of serving if that is more convenient for you.

Can you freeze chicken tikka?

I don’t recommend freezing chicken tikka unless you have already cooked it. Having prepared chicken tikka in the freezer is great as you only need to take it out and defrost it before adding to a curry or two.

When freezing, be sure to freeze in portion sizes that are convenient for you.

Always freeze in air-tight containers or freezer bags and label and date them so that you know what is inside and how long it has been in your freezer. You can freeze chicken tikka for up to 6 months.

What do you serve with chicken tikka?

Whether you are using your tikka in a curry, eating it on its own or wrapping it up in a naan or chapati, the following are alway popular with a good chicken tikka.

You might like to prepare a good tarka dal, chana dal or the slowly cooked and amazing dal makhani.

Personally, I love my chicken tikka with a good chutney or two such as mint chutney, coriander chutney, mint and coriander chutney, tamarind chutney and onion chutney. All of these are also good  slathered over a poppadom. So if you’re looking to make your chicken tikka into a feast, these chutneys will take your feast up a few notches!

How do you add chicken tikka to a curry?

British Indian restaurant (BIR) curries such as chicken madras and chicken tikka masala require pre-cooked meat and grilled chicken tikka is the best option.

You can simply whip up a curry house style curry sauce, which you will find here and stir it in. Curry house style curries require a base sauce. If time is an issue, you might like to have a look at my new no-base curry house curry recipes. Your chicken tikka can be added to any of those curries even if not called for in the recipe.

Tandoori chicken tikka is also a healthy method of cooking chicken.

When at home I like to make chicken tikka for the family. The kids love it.

All of the chicken skin is removed which makes tandoori chicken tikka and other tandoori chicken recipes, light.

There’s nothing like firing up the tandoor oven and cooking the tikka until they’re just cooked through and lightly charred on the outside.

This recipe could also be made on a barbecue or even in a hot oven. I actually prefer the barbecued method as it is something I can do outside.

Pro Tips.

  • For the best flavour, use chicken thighs. If you want the chicken to look great like it does at restaurants, use breast.
  • Always cut the chicken pieces into similar sized pieces so that they finish cooking at the same time.
  • Marinate the meat for 24 to 48 hours for optimum flavour.
  • Although you can cook chicken tikka in an oven or air-fryer, you will get much tastier results if you cook the chicken over fire.
  • Baste the chicken tikka with melted ghee at the end of cooking for even juicier and delicious chicken.

 

Step by step photographs.

Ingredients for tandoori chicken.

Get all your ingredients together before starting. It’s easier that way.

Marinating the chicken in the first marinade.

Place the chicken tikka in a mixing bowl and add the lemon juice, garlic and ginger paste and the salt. Stir well so the meat is evenly coated and set aside for 20 minutes.

Whisked yoghurt for the second marinade.

While the chicken is soaking in the first marinade, whisk the yoghurt and cheese if using until smooth. You don’t want to see any lumps.

Adding the garlic and ginger paste and the spices to the yoghurt base.

Add the garlic and ginger and the spices to the yoghurt base.

The garlic and ginger and the spices whisked into the yoghurt base.

Whisk the garlic and ginger and the spices into the yogurt base.

Marinating the chicken tikka.

Add the chicken to the marinade and be sure to rub it right into the flesh of the meat. If time permits, let it marinate in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours.

The tandoori chicken tikka cooking on the barbecue/

Cook the meat on skewers over a hot fire, turning regularly. Be sure to baste it at the end of cooking with hot melted ghee.

Tandoori chicken tikka

Enjoy!

If you like this restaurant style chicken tikka, you might like to try some of these chicken tikka recipes too.

Malai Chicken 
Afghan chicken 
Chicken Shashlik
Hariyali Chicken Tikka
Pakistani Chicken Tikka
Soola Chicken Kebabs
Stovetop Chicken Tikka

This delicious homemade tandoori chicken tikka is amazing added to the following curry house style curry sauces.

Tikka Masala Sauce
Korma Sauce
Jalfrezi Sauce
Madras Sauce
Vindaloo Sauce
Saag Sauce
Dhansak Sauce
Chilli Garlic Sauce
Bhuna Sauce
Methi Sauce
Passanda Sauce
Ceylon Sauce
Pathia Sauce
Chasni Sauce

Have you tried this recipe chicken tikka?

If yes, please give it a star rating in the recipe card below and leave a comment. I love receiving your feedback and I’m sure other readers of my blog do too. Thank you.

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Yield: 4 - 6

How To Make Chicken Tikka

Tandoori chicken tikka

This chicken tikka recipe gets great results. It tastes just like the fantastic chicken tikka you find at the best curry houses. Serve it with a good chutney or add it to a curry or wrap. However you eat it, you are going to love this.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo (2 lbs.) chicken breasts - cut into bite sized pieces (tikka)
  • FOR THE FIRST MARINADE
  • Juice of two lemons or limes
  • 2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • FOR THE SECOND MARINADE
  • 250ml (1 cup) plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese or grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 2 tbsp garlic and ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder (more or less to taste)
  • 1 tsp citric acid powder or amchoor (dried mango powder)
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt (more or less to taste)
  • 2 green chillies finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 bunch of coriander leaves finely chopped (optional)
  • FOR BASTING
  • 3 tbsp melted ghee (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken tikka in a large bowl and add the garlic and ginger paste. Squeeze the lemon/lime juice over the top and sprinkle with a little salt. Rub this all right into the flesh and set aside while you prepare the second marinade.
  2. Whisk the yoghurt and cheese, if using until smooth. Then add the remaining marinade ingredients and whisk to combine. Pour this marinade over the chicken and really rub it into the flesh of the chicken.
  3. Allow to marinaded for 30 minutes or up to 48 hours - the longer the better. If you don't have time to marinate the chicken, you can go straight to cooking but the longer marination time will benefit the flavour and texture.
  4. When ready to cook, light a barbecue. Gas barbecues will work but I prefer the flavour of charcoal barbecues.
  5. You are ready to grill when you can hold your hand two inches above the grill without it being unbearably hot.
  6. Skewer the chicken if cooking on a barbecue. You want to weave the chicken onto the skewers and not just stick it through. This will ensure that the chicken tikka turns when you turn the skewers. Rub any excess marinade off the chicken before placing over the fire.
  7. Cook the chicken tikka on the skewers turning occasionally until the chicken is cooked through and the edges are blackened. This should take about 10 minutes. As the chicken is almost cooked through, baste it with the melted ghee, if using. Please do use it as your chiicken tikka will be better. You can substitute butter if you don't have ghee.
  8. Season with salt to taste if needed and serve immediately with a good chutney or add it to our curry house style curries or wraps.

Notes

Using the marinade.

This marinade is not only good on chicken tikka! You can follow the same procedure with beef, lamb, paneer and vegetables. You can even apply it to fish but fish only requires about 20 minutes in the marinade.

Other ways of cooking the chicken tikka

You can also air-fry chicken tikka or cook it in a hot oven. To air-fry, check out this recipe. If you would like to cook your chicken in the oven, try this method..

You can even cook chicken tikka on the stovetop.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 262Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 3156mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 3gSugar: 13gProtein: 5g

Did you like this recipe?

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Mark

Monday 27th of May 2024

Hello Sir! I'm marinating right now! One question, how much marinade do I leave on the chicken while grilling? Wipe it off or just sling it on the grill as is? Thanks!

Dan Toombs

Wednesday 29th of May 2024

Make sure it’s not too thickly coated but you can leave quite a bit on. Thanks Dan

mike

Monday 8th of January 2024

Hi there,

What is the name/make of the grill you are featuring? I use either a Jamaican Jerk pan or my tandoor, but both take a lot of charcoal…. your BBQ seems an ideal size for smaller cook-ups.

Many thanks for your excellent recipes and tips, meanwhile.

Dan Toombs

Tuesday 9th of January 2024

I used a Thuros portable bbq for this recipe which I love Thanks Dan

Melvyn Sibson

Sunday 17th of September 2023

Could this be done dairy-free with a non-dairy yoghurt?

Dan Toombs

Wednesday 20th of September 2023

I don't think that would work as it is the dairy that softens and tenderises the meat. Thanks Dan

Ruth

Saturday 2nd of September 2023

What if you don’t have a BBQ is there another to cook this that you’d recommend please

Dan Toombs

Tuesday 5th of September 2023

You can sue a grill and that works really well too. An air fryer also works. Thanks Dan

Kristan

Wednesday 31st of May 2023

I have made this several times already and I keep coming back to this recipe. Excellent.

Dan Toombs

Friday 9th of June 2023

Really good to hear. Thanks very much Dan

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