I’m a big fan of Indian food. I grew up on it so it’s in my blood. Homestyle Indian, mind you. Not what you get in restaurants. Tandoori chicken was always going on. It’s the Indian equivalent of a backyard barbecue.
That’s why I don’t understand why it’s never very good in restaurants. My parents had a backyard grill. Restaurants have a tandoor oven. They should win. Makes no sense.
Maybe it’s because my parents cooked over charcoal. Maybe it’s a happy filter I put on my childhood. I don’t know. But I do know I can make better tandoori chicken at home and so can you.
Watch how to make tandoori chicken
Tandoori chicken needs high temperature – set your grill on max
Charcoal grills help a lot. It will work with gas but it won’t have that charcoal magic to push it over the top. I know. I’m annoying on this subject.
But I just love the taste of anything cooked over charcoal. And this tandoori chicken is no exception.
No matter what grill you use, high heat is key. A tandoor is blazing hot. Hotter then you can get your grill. So crank it up when you make tandoori chicken. Maximum, indirect heat.
Tandoori marinade from scratch
You can buy tandoori masala. Add some oil. Mix it up with your chicken. That’s not bad. You can also buy tandoori pastes. I use a bit in the marinade. Also not bad.
But you can do better. Way better. Make it from scratch. I know. It’s a long list of ingredients. Daunting. Don’t let that put you off. This is seriously good marinade.
This is probably going to take a trip to an Indian grocer. If you are getting into cooking Indian you will need to start doing that anyway. Probably pretty regularly at first.
And in a pinch, you can leave one or two ingredients out if you can’t get them easily. It will still work. Different. But still good.
Keep the acid for the end
Don’t use acidic ingredients for long marinates. Yoghurt and lemon are great for short marinations. If you use them for more than an hour or two you get mushy chicken.
You have no hope if you put chicken in lemon for 24 hours. This is where I think the restaurants are falling down.
I was actually in India when I figured this out. I was at a tandoori kebab restaurant and loved what I was eating. So I started asking questions.
They told me they didn’t use yoghurt in the marinade. That’s when the light came on for me. No yoghurt. No mushy chicken. That fixed my tandoori chicken once and for all.
You may think that’s sacrilege. A violation of the manifesto of tandoori chicken. Guess that makes me a heretic. That’s a role I’m good with. Leave yoghurt out. Add lemon at the end. Dare to be different.
Pay attention to your grilling for the best tandoori chicken
Grilling technique matters here. Cook over indirect heat until your chicken is almost done. Move it over to direct heat to get a bit of char right at the end.
Start your thighs 5-10 minutes before the white meat and drumsticks. You don’t want to overcook the more delicate pieces before the thighs are done.
That’s pretty much it. Marinate. Grill. Enjoy. You’ll never look back.
- 1 3-4 lb chicken or a mix of chicken parts
- tandoori marinade recipe below
- 1/2 lemon juice
- 1-2 tbsp ghee to brush (optional)
- 1 Tbsp cumin powder
- 1 Tbsp coriander powder
- 2 tsp hot curry powder - Madras curry powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 Tbsp kasoor methi - dried fenugreek leaves
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp mint sauce - Google Coleman's mint sauce
- 1 Tbsp cilantro leaves/stems
- 1 Tbsp Pataks tandoori paste - optional
- 1 Tbsp garlic ginger paste
- 3 Tbsp oil - neutral oil like vegetable or canola
- 4-6 Tbsp water - to make a runny paste
- 1 pinch red or orange food colouring - optional
- Combine all the ingredients in the tandoori marinade except the lemon. The lemon goes in at the end. Lemon is acidic. It "cooks" the chicken as it sits. You don't want this.
- Cut the chicken into 10 pieces. Quarter the chicken. Cut the drumstick from the thigh. Cut the wings off the breasts. Halve the breasts. Remove the skin from the breasts, drumsticks and thighs. Leave the skin on the wings.
- Combine tandoori marinade with chicken. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.
- Add the lemon juice right before you light the grill.
- Light your grill. Build a two zone fire if using charcoal. Turn your gas grill to max on all the burners except one. You want high, indirect heat. If you can get your grill over 500F that's perfect.
- If you have a kamodo grill experiment with higher temperatures. I'm not saying go to 800F and walk away though. The hotter the grill, the more you have to pay attention. Gets pretty tricky above 600F.
- Different chicken pieces cook at different rates. Keep that in mind. Start your thighs first. Breasts and drumsticks next. Wings last. And don't just check one piece with your thermometer. Move it around. And pull your chicken pieces when they are ready. Perfect tandoori chicken means all the pieces are cooked perfectly.
- Grill the chicken over indirect heat until almost done - around 20-25 minutes. This depends on how hot your grill is so use your instant read thermometer and cook to about 155F. Always use an instant read thermometer.
- Move the chicken over direct (high) heat and grill an additional 2-4 minutes, turning every minute. You want a bit of char but you don't want it to burn or dry out.
- Brush with a bit of ghee if using. Serve garnished with a bit of cilantro and thinly sliced white onion or shallot. A bit of raita works nicely too.
Tandoori chicken in the ovenYou can make tandoori chicken in the oven. A little extra oil helps though so add an extra tablespoon or two to the marinade. Pre-heat to 450. Place your baking dish in the oven to get nice and hot. Once it's hot place the chicken in the pan. Keep some room around each piece. Don't jam them all in. Roast as you would any other chicken. When the chicken releases from the pan flip it. Flip it a couple extra times while the chicken cooks. When an instant read thermometer reads 155F remove the tandoori chicken from the oven. Fire up your broiler. Once it's rip roaring hot give your chicken a bit of char. Watch it carefully and rotate the pan to ensure even browning.