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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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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Links:

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

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

63 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Lynn Hopffgarten

    Exceptional recipe; heating the spices is obvious but genius I hadn’t tried. I have no grille so used the broiler and oven. Next time, I will start under the broiler to get the outside sealed and then transfer to a ceramic oven to finish. Used the same marinade for broccoli, yellow squash and onions and served with cauliflower mashed potatoes. Lovely meal for my daughter and her girlfriend!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Anita

    I have tried many such recipes and this is by far the best!!!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Leej

    What is the maximum time we can leave fridge to marinate? Have a camping trip and would like to keep ready 24 hours before .

  4. Jana

    It was yummy

    xxxxxyyyyy

  5. EL

    Ask any Indian and they will tell you two things; yogurt makes the dish milder and curry leaves make a world of difference. So I will modify the recipe to really give you a punch of flavour after 4 to 12 hours of marinating.

    4 Tbsp Chili oil
    2 Tbsp salted butter
    1 Tbsp Kashmiri Chili Powder
    2 tsp smoked paprika
    1 teaspoon cayenne
    1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
    2 Tbsp garam masala
    1 tsp ginger powder (spicier than fresh ginger)
    4 freshly minced garlic cloves
    1 teaspoon ground coriander
    1 teaspoon Kala Jeera or ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
    2 Tbsp full fat yogurt or greek yogurt per 3 chicken breasts
    2 Tbsp lemon juice
    1 tsp vinegar
    4 minced garlic cloves
    1.5 or 2 teaspoon (for unsalted butter) seasoning salt
    Curry leaves from two or three stems (depending on quantity of chicken)

    Modified cooking instructions: Add freshly minced garlic and curry leaves to oil right away. Add garam masala and ginger powder last and for 30 sec only on medium low heat, the other spices prior for 2 min. Blend everything in blender. Use sink water to cool blended mixture. All ingredients can be purchased from pakistan or indian grocer. This modification is top gun and should yield 3X to 5X the flavour of the original recipe which is critical especially use chicken breasts.

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