Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala: Decoding the Delicious Difference

butter chicken vs tikka masala

Embark on a flavorful journey as we delve into the iconic culinary duel of butter chicken vs. tikka masala. This article unveils the secrets behind India’s two beloved dishes, contrasting their rich histories, distinct tastes, and sumptuous recipes to sate the curiosity of food aficionados worldwide.

What is Butter Chicken?

Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken, also known as Murgh Makhani, traces its roots back to the vibrant lanes of Delhi, India, in the 1950s. This dish emerged from the ingenious minds of chefs at the Moti Mahal restaurant, who sought to repurpose leftover tandoori chicken.

They simmered these pieces in a rich, creamy tomato sauce infused with butter and a blend of aromatic spices, giving birth to an instant classic. The dish was designed to be mild yet flavorful, catering to a wide palate with its smooth, buttery gravy that beautifully complements the tender, marinated chicken.

Over the years, Butter Chicken has become a global phenomenon, embodying the essence of North Indian cuisine with its luxurious texture and comforting flavors.

What is Tikka Masala?

Tikka Masala

Tikka Masala stands as a testament to the cross-cultural culinary fusion, wrapped in a controversy regarding its true origins. One popular theory suggests that it was born in the UK, crafted by South Asian chefs to suit the British palate, incorporating creamy tomato gravy and grilled chunks of marinated chicken known as “tikka.”

Another tale narrates its accidental invention in Glasgow, Scotland, when a chef added tomato soup and spices to satisfy a customer’s request for a sauce. Despite its disputed birthplace, Tikka Masala is celebrated for its robust and complex flavors, characterized by a tangy and slightly spicy tomato-based sauce that envelopes the smoky pieces of chicken tikka.

This dish reflects the dynamic nature of Indian cuisine and its ability to adapt and thrive in various culinary landscapes.

Ingredient Composition

The distinction between Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala begins at their core — the ingredients. Butter Chicken calls for a harmonious blend of ripe tomatoes, heavy cream, and, as the name suggests, a generous amount of butter, which lends the dish its signature silky texture. The spice mix typically includes milder flavors like garam masala, turmeric, cumin, and fenugreek leaves, contributing to its subtle yet rich taste profile.

In contrast, Tikka Masala’s ingredient list is slightly more extensive, with a base that also uses tomatoes but leans heavily on yogurt for marinating the chicken, giving it a distinct tang and tenderness.

The cream in Tikka Masala is often less than in Butter Chicken, balancing the acidity of the tomatoes. The spice palette is broader and bolder, with the addition of paprika, coriander, and chili powders, creating a more pronounced heat and complexity in the dish.

Preparation Methods


The preparation of these dishes reveals more about their individual identities. Butter Chicken involves marinating the chicken in a simple mix of yogurt and spices before cooking it in a tandoor (clay oven). The cooked chicken is then simmered in a creamy tomato sauce enriched with butter, which melds the flavors and tenderizes the meat further. This method ensures the chicken is flavorful and succulent, with the sauce achieving a smooth consistency.

Tikka Masala, on the other hand, starts with marinating the chicken pieces in a spicier yogurt mixture, often for longer periods, to infuse more robust flavors. After grilling or baking the marinated chicken to achieve a charred exterior, it’s added to a spicy tomato-based sauce, which has been seasoned with a wider array of spices.

This process not only imparts a deeper flavor to the chicken but also allows the sauce to thicken and develop a more complex character.

Flavor Profiles

The flavor profiles of Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala are distinct, reflecting their unique spice blends and preparation methods. Butter Chicken is renowned for its mild, slightly sweet flavor, characterized by the creamy tomato sauce that envelops the tender chicken pieces. The spices in Butter Chicken are carefully balanced to enhance the dish without overpowering it, creating a comforting and rich taste that’s accessible to all palates.

Tikka Masala offers a bolder, more assertive flavor, with a tangy and spicy edge that sets it apart. The use of yogurt in the marinade and a more diverse array of spices in the sauce introduces a complexity that can range from moderately spicy to quite hot, depending on the recipe.

The charred pieces of chicken tikka add a smoky undertone to the dish, further enriching its flavor profile. This makes Tikka Masala a favorite among those who appreciate a more intense taste experience and a deeper spice kick.

Sauce Consistency and Texture

The sauces in Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala not only differ in flavor but also in their consistency and texture, which are pivotal to their character. Butter Chicken’s sauce is known for its velvety smoothness, achieved through the blending of cooked tomatoes, cream, and butter. This process results in a rich, creamy sauce that gently coats the chicken, enhancing its succulence. The sauce’s texture is a critical aspect of Butter Chicken, offering a luxurious mouthfeel that complements the tender meat.

Tikka Masala’s sauce, by comparison, tends to have a slightly thicker consistency with a more pronounced tomato base. The use of yogurt in the marinade and less cream in the sauce itself contributes to a denser texture. The sauce clings to the charred chicken pieces, imbuing them with its vibrant flavors. The tomato paste or puree, combined with a variety of spices, gives the Tikka Masala sauce a hearty, rustic feel that’s both satisfying and aromatic.

Spice Level and Heat


The spice level and heat in Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala are defining features that cater to different taste preferences. Butter Chicken is typically milder, designed to soothe the palate with its creamy sauce and gentle warmth from the spices.

It’s an ideal choice for those who prefer subtlety in their dishes, as the spices are used to enhance rather than dominate the flavor profile. This makes Butter Chicken widely appealing, serving as a comforting dish that soothes rather than stimulates the senses.

Tikka Masala, on the other hand, embraces a bolder approach to heat and spice. The dish is known for its potential to pack a punch, with a spice mix that can include more potent ingredients like chili powder or fresh green chilies.

The level of heat can vary greatly depending on the recipe or personal preference, but it’s generally higher than that of Butter Chicken. This heat is balanced by the tanginess of the tomatoes and the slight creaminess of the sauce, creating a dynamic and invigorating eating experience that spice enthusiasts often crave.

Nutritional Information

When comparing the nutritional aspects of Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala, several factors come into play, including calorie content, fat, and protein levels. Butter Chicken, with its generous use of butter and cream, is often richer and higher in calories. The dish’s indulgent sauce makes it a luxurious treat, but it can also be heavier, making it less suited for those looking for lighter fare.

Tikka Masala, while also creamy, usually contains less butter and cream, which can result in a slightly lower calorie count. The yogurt used in marinating the chicken adds a source of lean protein and probiotics, making it a tad healthier.

However, both dishes can be modified to suit dietary preferences; for instance, using lighter dairy alternatives or adjusting the amount of oil and cream can make both dishes more calorie-conscious.

Serving Traditions


The serving traditions of Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala contribute to their enjoyment and are an integral part of the dining experience. Butter Chicken is traditionally served with a side of naan or basmati rice, which acts as the perfect vehicle for its creamy sauce. The dish is often garnished with a dollop of cream or a sprinkle of fresh cilantro to enhance its visual appeal and add a hint of freshness.

Tikka Masala, with its thicker sauce and bolder flavors, pairs well with both rice and Indian bread, such as naan or roti. The choice of accompaniment can depend on personal preference or regional traditions. Additionally, a side of cooling raita (a yogurt-based condiment) or a fresh salad can complement the spice level of Tikka Masala, offering a refreshing contrast to the dish’s intensity.

Both dishes can be adapted to suit the occasion, whether it’s a casual family dinner or a more formal gathering. The presentation can be elevated with the addition of garnishes, such as chopped herbs, sliced almonds, or a swirl of cream, to make the dishes as visually appealing as they are delicious.

Butter Chicken Recipe and Step-by-Step Guide

Butter Chicken Recipe


  • 500g boneless chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 can (400g) tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish


  1. Marinate Chicken: In a bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, garam masala, cumin, and salt. Add chicken pieces and marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. Cook Chicken: Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add marinated chicken and cook until browned on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside.
  3. Prepare Sauce: In the same pan, add butter and sauté onions until golden. Add tomato puree and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add garam masala, cumin, and salt.
  4. Blend Sauce: Once the tomato mixture is cooled, blend it to a smooth consistency. Return the blended sauce to the pan.
  5. Final Touches: Add cooked chicken to the sauce, and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and kasuri methi, simmering for another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
  6. Serve: Garnish with chopped cilantro and a swirl of cream. Serve hot with naan or basmati rice.

Cooking Tips for Butter Chicken

To enhance your Butter Chicken, consider these tips:

  • Marinate the chicken overnight to deepen the flavors.
  • Use ripe, juicy tomatoes for the sauce for natural sweetness.
  • Adding a pinch of sugar can balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) adds a distinctive flavor to the dish; crush the leaves and sprinkle them towards the end of cooking.
  • For a silkier sauce, strain the tomato mixture before adding the cream and butter.

Tikka Masala Recipe and Step-by-Step Guide

Tikka Masala Recipe


For the Marinade

  • 500g boneless chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • Salt to taste

For the Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 can (400g) tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped cilantro for garnish


  1. Prepare Marinade: In a large bowl, mix together the yogurt, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, paprika, turmeric, garam masala, and salt. Add the chicken pieces, ensuring they are well-coated with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  2. Grill Chicken: Preheat your grill or broiler to a high setting. Thread the marinated chicken onto skewers and grill until they are charred and cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the skewers and set aside.
  3. Cook Sauce: Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the finely chopped onions and sauté until they are soft and golden. Stir in the ginger-garlic paste and cook for another minute until fragrant. Add the tomato puree, garam masala, chili powder, paprika, and salt. Let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and the oil starts to separate.
  4. Combine Chicken and Sauce: Add the grilled chicken pieces to the sauce, mixing well to ensure the chicken is thoroughly coated. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to absorb the flavors.
  5. Final Touches: Stir in the cream and continue to cook for a few minutes until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  6. Serve: Garnish the Tikka Masala with chopped cilantro. Serve warm with naan bread or rice, offering a side of lemon wedges for a tangy accent.

Cooking Tips for Tikka Masala

For a perfect Tikka Masala, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Achieve the right char on the chicken by using a high-heat grill or broiler.
  • Adjust the spice level with green chilies or chili powder to suit your taste.
  • A splash of lemon juice added to the marinade will tenderize the chicken and add zest to the dish.
  • Simmering the sauce for an extended period allows the flavors to meld together beautifully.
  • If the sauce is too thick, a little water or chicken broth can adjust the consistency without diluting the flavors.

FAQ: Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala

Q1: What is the main difference between Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala?

The primary difference lies in their flavor profiles and preparation methods. Butter Chicken is known for its creamy, mild sauce, while Tikka Masala has a tangier and spicier tomato-based sauce.

Q2: Can I use the same spices for both Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala?

While there’s some overlap in spices, Tikka Masala often includes more robust spices like paprika and chili powder, contributing to its heat, whereas Butter Chicken uses milder spices for a subtler flavor.

Q3: Is one dish healthier than the other?

Both dishes can be adapted to healthier versions by moderating the cream and butter used. Typically, Tikka Masala can be slightly lighter due to less cream and butter in the recipe.

Q4: Are Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala traditionally served with specific sides?

Both dishes are commonly served with naan or rice, but they can also be paired with various Indian breads, salads, or raita depending on personal preference.

Q5: Can I make vegetarian versions of Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala?

Absolutely! Paneer (Indian cottage cheese), tofu, or vegetables can replace chicken in both dishes to create delicious vegetarian alternatives.

Q6: How long can I store leftovers of Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala?

Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Ensure to reheat well before serving.

Q7: Are Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala suitable for freezing?

Yes, both dishes freeze well. Store in freezer-safe containers and thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Q8: Can I make Butter Chicken or Tikka Masala less spicy for children?

Yes, you can adjust the spice level by reducing or omitting chili powder and selecting milder spice blends.

Q9: What makes Tikka Masala’s sauce thicker than Butter Chicken’s?

The thickness in Tikka Masala’s sauce comes from the tomato paste and less cream used, whereas Butter Chicken’s sauce is made creamier with more butter and cream.

Q10: How can I achieve the smoky flavor of restaurant-style Tikka Masala at home?

Grilling the chicken on high heat or using a touch of smoked paprika in the marinade can impart a smoky flavor to your homemade Tikka Masala.


Exploring the delightful intricacies of Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala reveals the depth and diversity of Indian cuisine. Each dish, with its unique blend of spices, cooking techniques, and rich history, offers a distinct taste experience.

By understanding their differences and mastering their recipes, you can savor the essence of Indian culinary tradition right at home. Whether you’re drawn to the comforting creaminess of Butter Chicken or the tangy zest of Tikka Masala, these dishes are a testament to the vibrant flavors and cultural richness that Indian cuisine has to offer.

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