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what's the difference between "butter chicken"

and chicken tikka masala, except for the *butter*?

they both have creamy, tomato-y sauces, tandoori grilled chicken (boneless), onion, ginger, cardamom, cumin, fenugreek, etc.

(i love both dishes; i eat both at restos; i've cooked them (well, using a grill, not a tandoor -- oh, how i wish!); and i've perused many and various cookbook and online recipes for both dishes.)

isn't butter the only difference? if not, tell me what i'm overlooking, please!
(is it the chicken marinade? -- seems the same except maybe not ginger in regular tandoori vs. tikka?)

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  1. i too have eaten them both. chicken tikka masala is pieces of chicken. when i make butter chicken at home i can use bone in chicken. dont know if thats the real difference but will research this more and attempt to figure out. but interesting question.

    1. As a frequent eater of both in American restaurants, I can report the following (experientially, though not necessarily authoritatively); Tikka Masala sometimes can be spicier and the sauce a bit more "gritty" than Tikka Makhani (Butter chicken). Makhani sometimes can be a bit more creamy and mild, but not always. Technically, Makhani should have enough butter in it that it looks a bit "slick" and has a more pronounced butter flavor. Being creamier and more buttery, someone watching their calories might choose Masala over Makhani, though neither is going to help you shed pounds. Lastly, it is rare to find both on the menu in the same place, which leads me to believe that Indian restaurants in America regard the dishes as pretty much the same.

      1 Reply
      1. re: HSBSteveM

        Further to my post above, I just returned from London. I ate at two restaurants and had the Chicken Makhani (butter chicken) at both. At the second place, the item was actually listed on the menu as follows:

        CHICKEN MAKHANI (Chicken Tikka Masala)

      2. I did check out recipes for both. I think butter seems to the main difference. so whatever butter contributes to the taste is the difference between the two. isnt chicken tikka masala considered the 'national dish of the uk ?' maybe someone from the uk boards could help out as to the origin and explain the difference.

        1. Hi, alkapal, thanks for inviting me to join in, but afraid I haven't much to say. (That's a very unusual occurrence indeed!)

          I've not had much experience with either dish. In fact, I'm surprised to learn that Butter Chicken is made with chicken cooked in a tandoor. I'd thought it was cooked like a madras, with the usual pre-simmered chicken.

          Did you see this thread? Warning -- it makes the answer even more confusing:


          1. Being confused about the same thing, I did my search couple of years ago and here's what I concluded. Please feel free to add your opinions.

            Most of the non veg dishes in India have mogul roots. But these two chicken dishes have originated in restaurants. Chicken tikka masala originated in UK (therefore boneless) and butter chicken originated in India (has bones until the restaurant decides otherwise).

            I don't know how much of it is true as all this search is internet based and not based on a book.

            1. I had this same question. At my local Indian joint, the owner gave me this answer...."tikka masala" doesn't have butter and is white meat" and "butter chicken" has butter stirred into the sauce and is dark meat. Not sure if this is the authentic answer but it's this way at his place!

              1. And also the dark meat was cut with a cleaver into chunks, BONE STILL IN as well.

                1. It seems the concensus involves butter in makhani and some differences in the chicken, either it's preparation or white vs dark meat. I live in NYC and have a couple of local places that I eat at often that seem to take a different approach. First, both places have BOTH on the menu so they don't see them as identical.

                  At one place, they use chunks of boneless white meat in both. Their masala is a very creamy, deep tomato reddish orange and the makhani seems almost like the same sauce with butter and also more cream. The spice level is mild and similar between the two.

                  The other place has more prominent differences. Their masala is also a deep tomato red but has a surprising lack of cream. It's not a stew but it's close to it. There is only a mild hint of cream. The makhani is an amber orangish golden color with a definite lack of strong tomato and they use both boneless white and dark meat.

                  1. Chicken Tikka Masala is a British invention, and uses chicken tikka as it's base, which is marinated grilled boneless chicken cooked in a tandoor (or on a grill). The cooked chicken develops a smoky flavor, and then the sauce is made with pureed tomatos or tomato sauce, spices and finished with dried methi, or dried fenugreek leaves.

                    Chicken Makhani is a Punjabi indian dish. That is pieces of chicken rubbed or marinated with spices, maybe some ginger and garlic, and then cooked in a pan. The sauce is made with tomato sauce, cream, and spices, then the chicken is added in to simmer, then finished off with some butter. It's popular at punjabi style dhabas and at weddings.

                    The sauce for Chicken Tikka Masala tends to be have less cream than CM, while chicken makhani tends to be less tomatoey than CTM.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: boogiebaby

                      "The sauce for Chicken Tikka Masala tends to be have more cream than CM, while chicken makhani tends to be more tomatoey than CTM."

                      Thanks for your insight. It's weird though because both of my go to Indians in NYC are exactly the opposite of what you've said. I guess there are bound to be differences from restaurant to restaurant.

                      1. re: apayton

                        Ugh, sorry, I just realized that I wrote it backwards! I just fixed it -- CTM is more tomatoey, and CM is more creamy.