Skip to Content

What’s the difference between tikka masala and chicken tikka masala?

Tikka masala and chicken tikka masala are two popular Indian dishes that are often confused with each other. While they share some similarities, there are some key differences between these curries. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what defines each dish and how they compare in terms of ingredients, flavor profiles, and origins.

What is Tikka Masala?

Tikka masala is a type of curry made by cooking pieces of meat in a spiced tomato and yogurt (or cream) sauce. The word “tikka” refers to the cooking technique where the meat is marinated in spices and yogurt, then baked or grilled. The word “masala” means a mixture of spices.

So tikka masala contains grilled or baked pieces of meat in a creamy, tomato-based gravy. It’s quite a simple curry, as far as Indian cuisine goes. The marinated meat provides most of the flavor, while the sauce complements it with its richness and mild spices.

Tikka masala can be made with various types of meat like chicken, lamb, or paneer (cheese). But the most popular is chicken tikka masala, made with chunks of chicken breast or thigh meat.

Ingredients in Tikka Masala

The ingredients needed for a basic tikka masala recipe are:

  • Meat (chicken, lamb, or paneer), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Spices for marinating like coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, ginger, yogurt
  • Oil for cooking
  • Onion, garlic, ginger, tomato puree, cream or yogurt, spices for the sauce

The marinated meat is first cooked in the oven or broiler until lightly charred. Then it’s added to a sauce made of onion, garlic, ginger, tomato puree, yogurt or cream, and basic spices like garam masala, cumin, coriander, and chili powder.

What is Chicken Tikka Masala?

Chicken tikka masala is a variation of the traditional tikka masala made specifically with chunks of chicken. It’s one of the most popular Indian restaurant dishes around the world.

While traditional tikka masala has a mildly spiced, creamy tomato sauce, chicken tikka masala has a more complex, vibrant orange-red colored curry sauce. The chicken is marinated in the same way with yogurt and spices before being oven-roasted.

Ingredients in Chicken Tikka Masala

A typical chicken tikka masala recipe includes:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into pieces
  • Spices for marinating – yogurt, lemon juice, garam masala, cumin, chili powder
  • Onion, garlic, ginger, tomato puree, cream or coconut milk, spices for the sauce

The sauce uses a greater variety of spices than a basic tikka masala recipe. Common ingredients include garlic, ginger, onions, tomato puree, cream or coconut milk, coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, cayenne pepper, paprika, and fenugreek.

Key Differences Between the Two Dishes

While both dishes involve marinated, roasted meat in a creamy tomato sauce, here are some of the notable ways that tikka masala and chicken tikka masala differ:

Type of Meat

  • Tikka masala can be made with chicken, lamb, or paneer.
  • Chicken tikka masala is made exclusively with chunks of chicken.

Spicing and Flavor

  • Tikka masala has a mild, subtly spiced creamy sauce.
  • Chicken tikka masala has a more intensely spiced sauce and stronger tomato flavor.


  • Tikka masala sauce is usually pale orange in color.
  • Chicken tikka masala sauce is bright orange-red.


  • Tikka masala originated in India, likely Punjab region.
  • Chicken tikka masala was invented in the UK, adapted from the traditional Indian dish.

Let’s explore the history and origins behind each dish in more detail.

Origins of Traditional Tikka Masala

The origins of traditional tikka masala are somewhat murky. Most food historians trace it back to Punjab, a region divided between India and Pakistan. The dish likely evolved from using tandoor ovens to cook marinated meats.

Some accounts suggest tikka masala was created accidentally when a chef added a tomato-cream sauce to dried-out tandoori chicken chunks. Others say it was intentionally created to suit English tastes in India during the British colonial era.

Whatever its precise origins, tikka masala has been popular in India for generations. The dish became more widely known when restaurants brought it to the UK and North America to cater to Western tastes.

Authentic versions in India are less creamy and more tomatoey than restaurant variations in the West. They also often contain chunkier sauce rather than the smooth, velvety textures favored outside South Asia.

Origins of Chicken Tikka Masala

While traditional tikka masala hails from India, most historians agree that chicken tikka masala originated at Indian restaurants in Britain. It’s viewed as one of the early examples of Anglo-Indian cuisine.

The dish was likely invented sometime in the 1960s or 70s. No single chef or restaurant has been definitively credited with its creation. But the story goes that it was dreamed up to satisfy customers who found tandoori chicken too dry on its own.

Some accounts say it originated when a chef improvised by adding a can of tomato soup to spruce up leftover tandoori chicken. Others say it evolved from Shahi Chicken Masala, a creamier tomato-based dish.

However it was first made, chicken tikka masala quickly became immensely popular in the UK. It’s now considered one of the national dishes of Britain, alongside fish and chips.

Chicken tikka masala remains prevalent on Indian restaurant menus around the world. But it’s viewed as more of a modern, Westernized adaptation rather than an authentic Indian recipe.

Tikka Masala vs. Chicken Tikka Masala Recipes

To really demonstrate the differences between these two dishes, let’s compare some typical recipes:

Tikka Masala Recipe


  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Salt to taste


  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree
  • 1/2 cup cream or yogurt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped cilantro


  1. Marinate chicken, lamb, or paneer in the yogurt mixture for 30 mins.
  2. Grill in oven or broil the meat until lightly charred.
  3. Heat oil. Fry onion for 2 mins. Add tomato and puree. Cook until softened.
  4. Add grilled meat and cream or yogurt. Simmer for 5 mins.
  5. Season with spices. Garnish with cilantro.

Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe


  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • Salt to taste


  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cream or coconut milk
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped cilantro


  1. Marinate chicken in yogurt mixture for 30 mins to overnight.
  2. Grill chicken in oven or broiler until charred.
  3. Heat oil. Fry onion for 2 mins. Add garlic and ginger.
  4. Add tomato puree and diced tomatoes. Simmer until thickened.
  5. Add grilled chicken and cream or coconut milk. Simmer for 10 mins.
  6. Season with spices. Finish with cilantro.

Comparing these recipes shows how chicken tikka masala has a more complex marinade and spice blend. The sauce also uses more tomatoes for a brighter red color and includes ingredients like ginger, garlic, and paprika not found in basic tikka masala.

Cooking Tips and Variations

Both tikka masala and chicken tikka masala are highly adaptable dishes. Here are some tips and popular variations for each recipe:

Tikka Masala Tips

  • Use higher fat cuts of meat for added juiciness.
  • Broil, grill, or pan fry instead of baking for more charred flavor.
  • Stir in fresh cream just before serving for extra richness.
  • Switch in your favorite protein like shrimp or paneer.
  • Use half yogurt and half cream for the sauce.
  • Finish with fenugreek or garam masala for more spice.

Chicken Tikka Masala Tips

  • Marinate chicken for longer to increase flavor – up to 24 hours.
  • Use chicken thighs instead of breasts for juicier texture.
  • Broil, grill or pan fry chicken instead of baking.
  • Use full-fat coconut milk for dairy-free creaminess.
  • Stir in butter or heavy cream at the end for extra richness.
  • Add extra spices like smoked paprika, chili flakes or garam masala.

Both dishes are also great candidates for slow cooker or Instant Pot cooking to let the flavors develop even further.

Serving Suggestions

Tikka masala and chicken tikka masala are usually served with:

  • Basmati rice or naan bread
  • Onion and lemon wedges
  • Raita (yogurt dip)
  • Cucumber salad
  • Papadum crackers

The rice or naan soaks up the rich sauces. The raita, salad, and lemon wedges provide cooling contrast to the spicy curry. And papadum adds a satisfying crunch.


While tikka masala and chicken tikka masala share some common ingredients and techniques, they differ in terms of their:

  • Meat (chicken only vs. varied)
  • Spicing and flavor profiles
  • Color
  • Country of origin

Traditional tikka masala has its roots in India, likely the Punjab region. It’s characterized by its mild, subtly spiced tomato-cream sauce.

Chicken tikka masala was invented later by Indian chefs in the UK. It has a more intense tomato-spice flavor and distinctive orange-red color.

So in summary:

  • Tikka masala is the original, versatile Indian dish that can use various meats.
  • Chicken tikka masala is the famous Anglo-Indian version made specifically with chicken.

Both are staples at Indian restaurants worldwide. Their rich flavors and tender bites of protein in tomato gravy make them universally loved curries.