Tandoori Chicken

GrillIndianGrilled Chicken

Make tandoori chicken on your grill! Chicken legs marinated in lemon juice, yogurt, and aromatic spices.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Tandoori chicken gets its name from the bell-shaped tandoor clay oven which is also used to make naan, or Indian flatbread.

Skinless legs and thighs are marinated in a tenderizing mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, and spices and the meat is slashed to the bone in several places helping the marinade penetrate and the chicken cook more quickly.

The chicken gets its characteristic red hue from either lots of fiery chile or the addition of red food dye.

We’re not that big on food dyes here, so we’ve skipped it, but if you must have your chicken bright red, feel free to add a bit of red food dye to the marinade.

You don’t need a tandoor oven to make tandoori chicken! (Thank goodness). You can cook it over a grill (charcoal preferred) or just in an oven with a broiler.

Tandoori Chicken

The key to tandoori chicken is to use bone-in thighs and legs (yay! our favorite cuts) because they have enough fat to stay moist under the heat of the grill. We don’t recommend this dish with chicken breasts, they’ll dry out too easily.

The pieces should be skinless. Here’s a trick though, if you find yourself with extra skins (we bought our pieces skin-on), soak them in the marinade and slowly fry them until crispy. Better than bacon.

Tandoori Chicken Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Marinating time: 6 hours
  • Yield: Serves 4-6

If you don't have a grill, you can broil the chicken for a few minutes on each side to get some browning, then finish in a 325°F oven until done.


  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp garam masala
  • 1 Tbsp sweet (not hot) paprika
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (can sub buttermilk)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 whole chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs), or its equivalent, skinless, bone-in


1 Heat the spices in oil: Heat the oil in a small pan over medium heat, then cook the coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, garam masala and paprika, stirring often, until fragrant (approximately 2-3 minutes). Let cool completely.

2 Whisk spices into yogurt, add lemon juice, garlic, salt, ginger: Whisk the cooled spice-oil mixture into the yogurt, then mix in the lemon juice, garlic, salt and ginger.

3 Cut deep slashes into chicken, coat with marinade, chill: Cut deep slashes (to the bone) in 3-4 places on the leg/thigh pieces. Just make 2-3 cuts if you are using separate drumsticks and thighs. Coat the chicken in the marinade, cover and chill for at least an hour (preferably 6 hours), no more than 8 hours.

4 Prepare grill: Prepare your grill so that one side is quite hot over direct heat, the other side cooler, not over direct heat. If using charcoal, leave one side of the grill without coals, so you have a hot side and a cooler side. If you are using a gas grill, just turn on one-half of the burners.

Use tongs to wipe the grill grates with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil.

5 Shake off excess marinade, place chicken on hot side of grill: Take the chicken out of the marinade and shake off the excess. You want the chicken coated, but not gloppy.

Put the chicken pieces on the hot side of the grill and cover. Cook 2-3 minutes before checking.

Turn the chicken so it is brown (even a little bit charred) on all sides

6 Move to cool side of grill, cover and cook: Move chicken to the cool side of the grill. Cover and cook for at least 20 minutes, up to 40 minutes (or longer) depending on the size of the chicken and the temperature of the grill. The chicken is done when its juices run clear.

Let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. It’s also great at room temperature or even cold the next day.

Serve with naan, and Indian flatbread, or with Indian style rice, with yogurt-based raita on the side.

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Tandoori chicken background in the Wikipedia

Tandoori chicken, the busy (lazy?) American way - from John of Food Wishes

Oven Baked Tandoori Chicken from RecipeTin Eats

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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

51 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Amy

    Question! Can I use plain fat free Greek yogurt for this recipe? Thanks!

    Show Replies (1)
  2. David

    This is essentially how I make tandoori chicken. Good recipe. You will not fail using this recipe.

    A few notes:

    The piece of chicken being used is a leg quarter, that is the term used when the leg and thigh are left together.

    You can marinate this for days. It will help the flavors get into the chicken.

    Buttermilk will not taste the same or as good as yogurt.

    Cilantro is a great addition to the marinade and a traditional ingredient.

    Most of the spices in the recipe are unnecessary since garam masala already includes them. You can substitute curry powder in place of the garam masala, just add a little cinnamon. The only real differences between the two are curry powder is tumeric based and garam masala is not and curry doesn’t have a strong flavor of warm spices in it usually like cinnamon, cardamon, and nutmeg.

    You could just mix 1 tablespoon of cumin with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, and a dash of cloves/nutmeg to make garam masala from scratch. Even just a simple 2:1 cumin cinnamon mix would work. Most people don’t have garam masala in their cabinet and it is really expensive at the store.

    I’d add fresh garlic at about the same rate as the ginger.

    If you are going to keep the skin on, after you put the slices in the chicken, tuck some of the marinade under the skin.

    Finally, the real important thing: This is the perfect meat to make butter chicken with! half an onion sauteed in a good amount of butter, a tablespoon of tomato paste, a little more garam masala. Cook it for a while then throw it in a blender with a little heavy cream. Blend it until it is completely smooth and done. You could throw some cauliflower or veggies in this and serve it over basmati rice as the side dish. I can’t imagine eating any other type of rice with tandoori chicken.

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  3. Ellie

    I am planning to cook this for tomorrow dinner. What if I marinate it for a night? Will it be too salty?

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  4. Jj

    My attempt came out somewhat bland. Will try again.


  5. Sandra

    I used leg quarters with skin on and marinated 6 hrs before putting on grill. Although the cook was nice, there wasn’t enough flavor under the skin. Next time I will use skinless or remove skin. Otherwise good recipe. I will also add red food coloring to give it more of a traditional Indian look.


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