Easy, healthy, and flavor-packed tandoori chicken is the king of the tandoor oven and loved the world over. While the grill is my favorite way to prepare it, I also give detailed instructions for using your broiler. And grilled skinless, boneless chicken thighs are the perfect way to start my mouth-watering chicken tikka masala. While you can certainly marinate it longer, just 30 minutes is enough when using such a flavorful blend of spices.
A big winner from North India, this chicken dish is traditionally made in a tandoor. This cylindrical clay pot was used in the Indus Valley for thousands of years. And its endurance comes from how well it cooks food at a high temperature, giving poultry, meat, vegetables, and even bread a lovely smoky flavor quickly.
A highly spiced marinade keeps the meat from drying out. I have parted ways from the traditional recipes by streamlining this dish to one marination, no yogurt, and have found that a last-minute brushing of ghee is unnecessary. While typically served as street food or an appetizer, I make this dish the star of a meal.
If you want that famous tandoori red color, please see my tandoori masala powder recipe for ideas.
Why this recipe is so special
- It is so much more flavorful than most tandoori chicken served in a (U.S.) restaurant
- An easy to follow recipe with lots of tips and tricks
- The chicken does not require a long marination time
- If you've never cooked Indian food, it is a great place to start!
Besides using my homemade tandoori masala powder, there are only 5 ingredients required, AND one is optional. The marinade is tandoori masala, ginger-garlic paste, salt, lemon juice, oil, and (optional) kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves).
Please note that many Indian recipes for marinating chicken will include yogurt. Yogurt is a great tenderizer, but chicken thighs in this dish become very tender when cooked long enough. When you leave out the yogurt there is no excess marinade to wipe off the chicken before grilling it.
Sadly, restaurant tandoori chicken is too often dry without much flavor. We are going to solve that with this easy process. While not "authentic" this recipe will give you flavorful, moist chicken that will make you forget all those disappointing birds.
In a medium-sized non-reactive bowl, mix the marinade ingredients except for the chicken. Add the meat and coat thoroughly coat with the marinade. Marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours.
Prepare your grill. My preferred grill is my trusty Coleman, and I use hardwood charcoal.
- Open both vents halfway.
- After your charcoal is ready, dump it out, covering just half of the grate, so you have two heat zones.
- Beginning with the cooler side, place your chicken on the grill and let it cook covered for 10 minutes.
- Turn the thighs over and switch the pieces so that ones nearer the heat are farther away.
- At about the 140-degree mark, around 8 minutes, move the chicken to the hot side of the grill. Cook on each side until it is nicely charred in spots. This will take about 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
I like to cook chicken thighs from between 175°F (80°C) to 185°F (85°C) degrees. Dark meat becomes even more tender up until 200°F (100°C).
Electric grill: Set half the burners on a gas grill to the medium-high heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Proceed as above.
Adjust the oven rack 6 inches from the broiler and allow it to preheat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and top with a well-oiled wire rack. Place the chicken pieces on the rack and broil for 10 minutes. Turn the pieces over and check again in 8 minutes. You are looking for both sides to be evenly charred and an internal temperature of 175°F (80°C) to 185°F (85°C).
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! It will take longer to cook, and you will want to score the meat all the way to the bone in several places. This will allow the marinade to penetrate and the chicken to cook more quickly. However, it will take longer to cook. Start with the skin side down on the grill, and don't move the chicken until it easily releases. At least 20 minutes.
Yes, with the understanding that it is much trickier to cook. White chicken meat is not forgiving, so even 3 extra minutes on the grill can dry it out. Tips: score the meat in several places to allow the marinade to penetrate. Marinade it for at least an hour. Take it off the grill at 155°F (68°C) to 160F (70°C) degrees, if you dare. (The USDS recommends 165°F (75°C) but white meat can be pretty dry at that temperature.)
Yes! A hot grill (ideally charcoal) or even your broiler can give you extraordinary results. Possibly better than what you've ordered at your local restaurant.
Tips and Tricks
- If you want to add heat to your dish, add Kashmiri red chili, deggi mirch, or cayenne to taste.
- Add even more flavor for each pound of chicken with:
- Patak’s tandoori marinade (1 tsp) in addition to tandoori masala
- 2 teaspoon of your favorite Indian pickle
- 1 teaspoon Dijon or Coleman’s mustard
- Replace some or all of your oil with mustard oil
- Add a teaspoon of mint or coriander chutney
- If you have your heart set on some smokiness, but you are not grilling your chicken, add 2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, or a 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke, or replace some or all of the oil with mustard oil.
- The acid in lemon juice breaks down the fibers of poultry or meat, so if you are marinating for longer than 4 hours, I recommend that you stir in the lemon juice just before cooking.
- The next time you buy charcoal, try hardwood (natural chunk) charcoal. It lights faster, burns hotter, and leaves very little ash.
What to Serve Alongside
This is a great place to put your stamp on this beloved dish. Besides a quick spritz of fresh lemon or lime and gilding of ghee before serving, you can also add a sprinkle of chaat masala. Sliced raw red onions might also make someone happy.
Besides the usual sidekicks of rice (I am partial to my Goan-style rice), naan, green chutney, and raita, you might consider a yogurt potato or kachumber (cucumber) salad. I also like to perch my chicken on the ubiquitous bell pepper and onion sauté.
Dishes to Make with Tandoori Chicken
Either using leftover tandoori chicken, or you might just whip up a batch of tandoor chicken to make:
- Chicken tikka masala
- A filling for momos
- Naan pizza topping
- Wraps, tacos, or sandwiches
- Flavor fried rice
- Fold into a pasta sauce
- Tandoori chicken biryani
Some other recipes to try:
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments below. Thank you! ~Alonna
This recipe is one of the 10 dishes I make over and over!
Recipe Card 📖
Tandoori Grilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs See Notes below.
- 1/4 cup tandoori masala powder ~ Buy or make, or see Notes below
- 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste ~ Or 1 tablespoon each ginger and garlic grated or finely minced. Make!
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea or table salt ~ Or to taste. Substitutions
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) ~ Optional
- Gather all your ingredients.
- In a medium-sized non-reactive bowl, mix the marinade ingredients except for the chicken. Add the meat and coat thoroughly coat with the marinade. Marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours. If you are marinating for more than 4 hours, don't add the lemon juice until just before cooking. See Notes below.
- While your chicken is marinating, prepare the grill. For a charcoal grill set both upper and lower vents to half-open. Heat your charcoal briquettes or hardwood charcoal.
- For a gas grill set half the burners on a gas grill to the medium-high heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes.
- Bring the chicken to room temperature 20 minutes before grilling.
- When the charcoal is halfway covered with ash, dump them evenly on half the grill. Cover and allow the grill to heat up for 5 minutes. Using a wire brush clean the grill grate and oil well.
- Place your chicken on the cooler side of the grill and let it cook covered for 10 minutes. Turn the thighs over and switch the pieces so that ones nearer the heat are farther away. Cover.
- At about the 140°F (60°C) mark, around 8 minutes, move the chicken to the hot side of the grill. Cook on each side until it is nicely charred in spots. This will take about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. I like to cook chicken thighs to between 175°F (80°C) to 185°F (85°C). Dark meat becomes even more tender up until about 200°F (100°C).
- For the gas grill: Proceed as above beginning with placing the chicken on the grill.
- Adjust the oven rack 6 inches from the broiler and allow it to preheat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and top with a well-oiled wire rack. Place the chicken pieces on the rack and broil for 10 minutes.
- Turn the pieces over and check again in 8 minutes. You are looking for both sides to be evenly charred and an internal temperature of 175°F (80°C) to 185°F (85°C).
- If you prefer using other chicken parts:
- Breasts: white meat tends to dry out very quickly. Use the same method but cut 3 or 4 deep gashes in each breast to allow the marinade to penetrate. Remove from the heat when the temperature is no higher than 165 degrees. Many chefs stop cooking at 160F (70°C) or even 155°F (68°C). This is up to you. (The USDS recommends 165°F (75°C), but white meat can be dry at that temperature.)
- Bone-in, skin-on thighs: this works too, but the chicken will take much longer to cook. Also, when grilling, start the chicken skin side down and don't try to flip them for at least 20 minutes or until the skin releases. Otherwise, you will leave the skin on the grill.
- If you don't have time to make tandoori masala powder, here are some other ideas. Follow the instructions on the package.
- Eastern tandoori masala: this spice powder came closest to my version. The chicken was full of flavor without being too spicy.
- Use my Goan garam masala recipe or your favorite spice mix.
- MDH tandoori barbeque masala: a very good spice mix with a hint of chili.
- The acid in lemon or lime juice breaks down the fibers of poultry or meat so if you are marinating for longer than 4 hours, I recommend that you stir in the lemon juice just before cooking.
- If you have your heart set on some smokiness and you are not grilling your chicken add 2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke, or swap out 1/2 or all of the oil for mustard oil.
- Roast tandoori chicken is one of the Top 20 Indian Dishes, enjoy!