Home » Tips & Guide

Butter Chicken vs Tikka Masala: What’s The Difference?

Disclaimer: There may be affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you sign up for a free trial or purchase through the links, but there is no extra cost to you.

Despite their similarities, butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are not the same. These dishes have unique origin stories, appearances, tastes, spice levels, and textures. One is dairy free, one is not.

I grew up eating and cooking both butter chicken and chicken tikka masala. Once you’ve enjoyed either dish enough times, there is no confusing them.

In this article, I’ll provide you with the “need to know” background on butter chicken and tikka masala, what makes them great, and how to tell them apart. 

Picture of butter chicken next to a picture of tikka masala. Text reads, "Butter Chicken vs Tikka Masala".

What is Butter Chicken?

Butter chicken, also known as murgh makhani and chicken makhani, is a classic Indian recipe from the northern region of India. This dish was originally developed in 1948 by Kundan Lal Gujral and Kundan Lal Jaggi, the owners of the legendary restaurant Moti Mahal in New Delhi. 

The recipe was made as a way to use leftover tandoori chicken, and the rest is history. 

Butter chicken has two components: tandoori chicken and a luscious makhani sauce. The chicken is marinated and grilled before adding to a rich gravy made with cream, tomatoes, cashew, ginger, garlic, an aromatic spice blend, and of course, butter.

It is a popular Indian dish served all over the world, but it comes with its fair share of variations in flavor, spice levels, and color, depending on where it is served.

What is Tikka Masala?

Chicken tikka masala literally translates to “pieces of chicken in a spice blend.”

This dish is often considered to be an Indian classic dish. But in reality, it has a British origin. Tikka masala is believed to have been invented by a Bangladeshi chef who worked at an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, Scotland.  

This dish also has two components: chicken tikka and a rich tomato-intensive gravy (or curry).

The chicken tikka is boneless pieces of chicken marinated in spice and herb-based yogurt, which is then char-grilled. These cooked chicken chunks are then added to a flavorsome tomato and onion-based sauce. 

Though the dish draws some inspiration from butter chicken, it is more popular in the rest of the world (especially the UK) than it is in India. Some people would even argue that it is the national dish of Britain.  

Differences between Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala


To understand the difference between butter chicken and chicken tikka masala, you must first understand the most evident sensory difference. That is their appearance. 

Tikka masala is more red in color, irrespective of how spicy you make it. This is because of the fresh tomatoes, tomato paste, and type of chili powder used in the gravy. 

On the other hand, butter chicken gravy is orange in color as it contains cashew nut paste, cream, or milk, which is used to achieve the creamy texture of the gravy.

Flavor Profile

Tikka Masala can be spicy hot, or mild, whereas butter chicken is always mildly spiced. Many people also describe the flavor of butter chicken as slightly sweet and the flavor of tikka masala as hot and tangy.

Butter chicken has a strong flavor of butter and cream that mellows the spices. The gravy also has a slight flavor of tomatoes and ginger to balance the intensity of the cream. 

Tikka Masala has more of a kick. You get the bold and intense flavor of tomatoes, onions, and spices.  

Texture and Creaminess

Butter chicken is made with cream, butter, yogurt, and cashew nut paste. This makes the gravy’s texture very smooth and luscious.

Traditionally, when the gravy is cooked, it is blended in a food processor or with an immersion blender. The gravy is passed through a sieve to smoothen it even further. This makes it velvety and creamy.

Tikka masala gravy is way thicker and drier. This is because of the large amounts of chopped onions and tomatoes used in the gravy. There is no dairy product used to make it smooth or creamy.

Preparation of Chicken

Butter chicken is traditionally made with tandoori chicken. It is bone-in chicken marinated in a mixture of red chili powder, ginger garlic paste, lemon juice, chaat masala, tandoor masala, oil, yogurt, and salt. Then the marinated chicken is cooked in a tandoor (clay oven) at 480-570 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Chicken tikka masala is made with chicken tikka, which is actually a type of chicken kebab. It is pieces of boneless chicken marinated in yogurt and spices. These pieces are then put on skewers and cooked over an open-fire grill. 


Tikka masala is most commonly made with chicken. But the dish has a lot of common variations in which the gravy base remains the same, and the chicken is replaced by paneer (cottage cheese), button mushrooms, boiled chickpeas, and even mixed vegetables.

Butter chicken has two popular variations. One is paneer makhani, which is tandoori cottage cheese added to the same butter-based gravy. The other one is dal makhani. It refers to a whole black lentil preparation made using the same buttery gravy. Both these variations are also popular all over the world. 

The Bottom Line

Butter chicken is a rich and creamy preparation that is low on spice, and tikka masala is a tangy and spicy tomato-based recipe. But both are equally delicious.

While the difference between butter chicken and tikka masala may not have been strikingly evident until now, I guarantee you’ll be able to tell the difference the next time you see them, whether it’s their color, creaminess, spiciness, or taste. 

You can easily tweak butter chicken and tika masala to suit your taste. I love to make the butter chicken gravy as a dipping sauce to serve with some juicy chicken wings. This recipe of Sous Vide Chicken Wings is perfect. Try it out! You’ll thank me for this idea.

If you’re a complete stranger to cooking chicken wings, here is a quick guide on how to perfectly cook chicken wings every time. Then you can even add them to tikka masala or butter chicken sauce to make the complete dishes. 

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make tikka masala or butter chicken, use either sous vide chicken thighs or sous vide chicken breast and simmer with a jar of tikka masala sauce or butter chicken sauce.

Both preparations are also ideal to use with chicken you’ve had to refreeze. The sauciness will cover the moisture lost in the refreezing process.

Tikka Masala vs Butter Chicken FAQs

Is butter chicken the same as tikka masala?

No. Butter chicken is not the same as chicken tikka masala. They are two completely different dishes. While they are both tomato-based curries with chicken as the main ingredient, their flavor profiles are completely different. Tikka masala is more spicy and tangy, and butter chicken is more creamy and mellow in spice. They are different in appearance and color as well. One is bright red, while the other is orange. 

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

Chicken butter masala and butter chicken are similar dishes and can often be confused with one another. Both dishes consist of chicken in a buttery tomato sauce with some variation in the spices used. The biggest difference between the two dishes is the second tempering added to chicken butter masala. This tempering makes the sauce chunky in comparison to that of butter chicken. In addition, butter chicken is made using tandoori chicken, whereas chicken butter masala is made using steamed chicken or raw chicken that is cooked in the sauce.

What does a butter chicken taste like?

Butter chicken has a well-balanced flavor of richness, sweetness, and tanginess. You can taste a lot of flavors at once. It’s like a flavor riot in every bite. There is a smokiness from the chicken, creaminess from the butter and cream, tanginess and sweetness from the tomatoes, and a mild hint of heat from the spice blend. 


  • Savini

    Savini Gauri is a trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America, and a culinary expert at Kitchen Ambition. She has a passion for dietary restrictive cooking and alternative cuisine. Savini loves to work with simple ingredients with an aim to make cooking and baking an accessible skill for everyone. Her life's goal is to taste and try as many global cuisines as possible.

    View all posts

Leave a Comment