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butter chicken vs tikka masala: Similarity and Differences

Many foodies find it challenging to distinguish butter chicken vs tikka masala because of their subtle differences. Some even claim they are the same dish and wonder why they are listed separately on an Indian restaurant menu. 

If you are a lover of chicken, curry dishes, and Indian food, cooking butter chicken or chicken tikka masala is something you should try. Americans and the British people share their love for these two.

Indian food has a unique taste, flavor, smell, and color. These two popular spicy dishes combine flavorful meat, aromatic spices, and sauces. Butter chicken and tikka masala are two of the most popular Indian dishes. 

Although butter chicken and tikka masala are similar in many ways, there are differences in their preparation, style, and origin. These are factors even connoisseurs and chefs often overlook.  

serving bowls filled with bright red tikka masala and butter chicken

What is Butter Chicken? 

Butter chicken (Murgh Makhani) is an Indian dish concocted by Punjabi Hindu restaurateurs Thakur Dass, Kundan Lal Gujral, and Kundan Lal Jaggi.

They were founders of the Moti Mahal restaurant in New Delhi in 1948. 

In the 1940s, people could not store unsold chicken leftovers in the refrigerator.

Kundan Lal Gujral did not like to waste the leftover chicken, so he tried to make something from the dried chicken chunks.

He added butter, tomatoes, and some masalas to make gravy and, in the process, invented the butter chicken. 

You can marinate this curry-based dish with small chicken pieces in garlic, ginger, and curry spices. You then cook the chicken in a deliciously creamy and slightly spicy tomato-based sauce. 

The magic of butter chicken is in its sauce. The trick is to cook the tomatoes for about 15 minutes or until they are dry. 

This Indian dish is so versatile that it can be a side dish, appetizer, or main dish.

You can also use tofu instead of chicken to create a vegetarian version with the same taste and texture. 

What is Chicken Tikka Masala?

Tikka is a Persian word that means pieces or bits. On the other hand, masala is a mixture of several ground spices, a common ingredient in Indian cooking. 

Chicken tikka masala’s origins are traced to Ali Ahmed Aslam, a Bangladeshi chef in a curry shop in Glasgow, Scotland, around the 1970s.

This dish is famous for being one of the most popular non-vegetarian dishes in the United Kingdom. 

Many say that the origin of tikka masala resulted from a customer complaining that the chicken was dry. Ali Ahmed Aslam, the chef, and owner of the Shish Mahal restaurant, added some spiced tomato gravy to remedy the dry chicken. 

Another theory says tikka masala traces its origin to the British soldiers in British India who ate chicken served in a creamy tomato gravy to lessen the spiciness.

Today, chicken tikka is a true British national dish. However, this theory received much criticism.

After all, many claim that chicken tikka masala is an Indian dish with added masala sauce because the British people want their meat with gravy. 

This popular dish follows the cooking rules and methods in Indian culture. 

Butter Chicken Main Ingredients

Butter chicken, also called murgh makhani, is soft and juicy.

First, it would be best to marinate small chicken pieces in garlic, ginger, and spices. Then, you cook the chicken until you achieve a tomato-based creamy and spicy sauce. 

  • Chicken
  • Tomato paste
  • Yogurt
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Garam masala (spice blend that includes toasted and ground cinnamon, peppercorn, mace, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, and cumin seeds)

Chicken Tikka Masala Main Ingredients

Tikka masala is similar to butter chicken, although it is less creamy and has more tomato flavor

  • Chicken
  • Yogurt
  • Cream
  • Tomato sauce
  • Chili pepper
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Ginger
  • Garam masala
Infographic showing difference between  Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken

Tikka Masala vs. Butter Chicken Difference

If you are not familiar with the main dishes in Indian cuisine, you will find it challenging to differentiate between butter chicken vs tikka masala.

Both these two dishes have the same appearance.

However, if you have eaten them, you will notice the difference between butter chicken and tikka masala right away – they do not taste the same.


These two look similar because the chicken meat comes with a heavy sauce in both dishes. 

However, the sauce of butter chicken is of a light orange-brown color. Conversely, chicken tikka masala has a richer and redder sauce. 


Tikka masala and butter chicken have similar ingredients, except that butter chicken includes cumin pepper, and tikka masala has chili pepper. 

Butter is the crucial ingredient of chicken butter, while chicken tikka masala’s most important ingredient is the tomatoes.  

While most of the butter chicken and chicken tikka masala ingredients are the same, the difference lies in the amounts of the ingredients used.

For example, butter chicken uses more cream, while tikka masala uses more tomatoes and pepper.

Cream and butter are used in large amounts in butter chicken, while there is no butter, and only a little cream is in tikka masala. Butter chicken also uses less tomato than tikka masala.

The Chicken

The most noticeable difference between both dishes is butter chicken uses bone-in chicken while tikka masala is prepared boneless.


Butter chicken and tikka masala look the same, but you will notice their difference once you taste them. 

Butter chicken has a strong butter flavor, which lowers the intensity of its curry spices. On the other hand, tikka masala has more kick and a more aromatic curry and tomato paste flavor. 

Although both consist of aromatics and Indian spices, many say that tikka masala has a more intense flavor than butter chicken. 

Despite the difference between butter chicken and tikka masala’s flavors, they are incredibly delicious and highly addictive. It’s hard to stop eating when you’re served either of these.


Tikka masala has a more spicy, stronger tomato hit than butter chicken but without the same level of creaminess.

Tikka masala leans more toward being like fish curry. Butter chicken, on the other hand, has less tomato intensity. 

The sweet and mild taste of butter chicken is a deviation from the spicy flavor of tikka masala.


Butter chicken has a creamy texture. It is creamier than tikka masala because of the butter, while tikka masala is more tomato-ey. 

Chicken masala is often drier than chicken butter.

Cooked chicken butter comes with a softer and more moist texture because of the added butter and because you cook the dish in a pan on the stovetop.

Cooking Time

Both butter chicken and tikka masala have a cooking time of about 40 minutes. You need to marinate the chicken in both recipes beforehand. 

You can prepare butter chicken and tikka masala without marinating the chicken beforehand as long as you extend their cooking times by at least 20 minutes. 

The additional cooking time allows the chicken to fully absorb the marinade ingredients so you can get the right flavors for the dishes.

Method of Cooking

You can cook butter masala in a pan on the stovetop. You can cook chicken tikka masala, a dry dish, in the tandoor (a cylindrical metal or clay oven for baking and cooking). 

Marinate the chicken before cooking the butter chicken. You then cook the chicken pieces and make the tomato sauce, spices, and cream sauce in a pan. 

Cook the sauce first, add in the chicken, and allow it to simmer. You can finish your butter chicken by adding some butter. 

You can prepare tikka masala by marinating the chicken pieces in yogurt and species. Transfer the chicken to a tandoor and bake until done. 

How to Serve

They are both curry chicken dishes. You can serve them with fluffy basmati rice or jasmine rice, roti (unleavened flatbread made from stoneground whole wheat flour native to India), or naan bread (leavened bread). 

You can also serve butter chicken and chicken tikka masala with vegetables or other side dishes. It tastes amazing when served as an appetizer.


Butter chicken traces its origin to India. Tikka masala is an Indian dish invented in the UK

Both these two dishes resulted from restaurant chefs’ experiments.

The age-old question remains: Which is better, butter chicken or tikka masala? 

There is no easy way to tell if one is better than the other because these two curry dishes are both amazingly delicious. Your choice depends on how much of a lover you are of spicy dishes.

dish filled with chicken in red indian masala sauce

Frequently Asked Questions

What does butter chicken taste like? 

Butter chicken comes with a creamy and slightly sweet taste because it comes with tomatoes and butter. The cooked chicken chunks come with a creamy curry sauce.

Tikka masala Vs Curry

Tikka masala and chicken curry are similar but have some significant differences. The thin, creamy chicken tikka masala sauce is less spicy than curry. It is a tomato-based dish that includes cream and yogurt.

Thus, it has a milder taste than curry. Chicken curry comes with a slightly sweet, spicy, thick sauce that contains vegetables and coconut milk. 

You prepare chicken tikka masala by marinating the chicken pieces and adding the tomato-based sauce. On the other hand, you cook chicken curry in an onion sauce and add garlic paste and other spices. 

Is masala a curry?

Masala is not curry. Curry is a generic term that refers to any dish made with salt, spices, meat, seafood, vegetables, cottage cheese, cheese, and masala (a creamy blend of spices commonly used in Indian cooking). 

Curry sauce and masala are spice blends you can mix with any dish to achieve an aromatic and spicy kick. The difference between masala and Indian curry is in the mix of ingredients. Masala comes with a warm, aromatic blend, while curry has an earthier blend. 

Korma vs. Tikka Masala

Both of these dishes are staples in Indian restaurants, and they share the same appearance due to their cream-based sauces. They are even cooked in the same way, and both are often served alongside naan bread.

However, chicken korma’s sauce is not masala. Instead, the chicken korma sauce is made with yogurt, almonds, coconut milk, cashews, coriander, and poppy seeds. Noticeably, it does not have tomatoes, cream, and butter, which characterizes tikka masala.

Final Thoughts

There is much talk about the subtle difference between butter chicken vs. tikka masala. Butter chicken and chicken tikka masala are both Indian chicken dishes with a creamy tomato-based sauce.

The difference between butter chicken and tikka masala is that butter chicken is incredibly creamy, while tikka masala has a more tomato taste.

Everything boils down to your taste preference because butter chicken and tikka masala are both delicious dishes that will satisfy your taste buds when cooked the right way.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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