Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala: How They’re Different And Calories for Each

Butter Chicken vs Tikka Masala Differences

Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala: How They’re Different And Calories for Each

Butter chicken and tikka masala are two of the most well-known and well-loved Indian dishes. Although there are many similarities between them, there are also quite a few differences that set these two recipes apart. If you’re trying to decide between butter chicken vs. tikka masala, we’ll help you understand the difference between these two dishes.

Both butter chicken and tikka masala include chicken marinated in a delicious sauce, but there are some significant differences in their ingredients and how they’re made. While butter chicken comes with a creamy sauce, the sauce in tikka masala is a tangier and savory tomato sauce. Butter chicken is also usually more mild while tikka masala is a spicier dish.

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Let’s take a closer look at both dishes so you can decide which one you’d like to try next time you’re in the mood for Indian food.

Tasty butter chicken curry dish from Indian cuisine.
Butter chicken is a mild Indian curry with a creamy, yogurt-based sauce.


Butter Chicken vs Tikka Masala: What Is the Difference?

The primary difference between butter chicken and tikka masala is their sauces. Butter chicken has a creamy sauce that includes butter and milk (sometimes coconut milk is used) while tikka masala has a chunkier tomato-based sauce. The texture of the sauces also differs as butter chicken is blended or pureed while tikka masala isn't pureed and has a chunkier texture.

Generally, butter chicken has less spice than tikka masala as well. It should be noted that tikka masala, while it shares similarities with Indian dishes, has often been called Britain's national dish while butter chicken originated in New Delhi.

What Is Butter Chicken?

Butter chicken is a popular dish in Indian cuisine that, as the name suggests, includes a serving of butter. However, some say that when the original Indian dish was created, the “butter” was meant to refer to the smooth texture of the sauce, not the addition of butter.

This dish is also known as murgh makhani and originally came from New Delhi, India. Butter chicken is prepared by first marinating chicken in lemon juice, yogurt, and spices. The chicken can be grilled, seared, or baked, and is served in a creamy, buttery, tomato sauce. 

Although it may not be the healthiest dish, butter chicken is a delicious chicken dish with mild spices. The spices may vary, but they usually include a combination of cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, garam masala, pepper, and fenugreek. Compared to other Indian dishes like tikka masala, the spices are relatively muted, especially with the addition of butter and cream in the sauce. This is the perfect go-to for those who prefer milder spices than traditional Indian cuisine.

Chicken tikka masala spicy curry meat food in cast iron pot with rice and naan bread close up
As a spicier dish, tikka masala pairs well with rice and naan bread.

©Natalia Lisovskaya/Shutterstock.com

What Is Tikka Masala?

Tikka masala is another popular dish with Indian origins that has many similarities to butter chicken such as roasted chicken and yogurt-based sauce. Like many Indian dishes, the color of the sauce comes from a blend of spices that typically include turmeric, pepper, cumin, coriander, and cardamom.

The sauce of tikka masala is a yogurt-based type of gravy that isn’t as creamy as the sauce of butter chicken. Although tikka masala is similar to many Indian dishes, it was actually the British who added the gravy-like sauce to the original recipe. In fact, it was voted the most popular dish in the UK at one point and even considered Britain’s national dish.

Since then, Chinese stir fry has made it to the top of the list, but tikka masala is still a close second. It’s not surprising that tikka masala is such a popular dish worldwide with its mildly spicy and earthy flavors.

Is Tikka Masala the Same as Chicken Tikka?

Frying pan with Tikka Masala
Frying pan with Tikka Masala

©Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

When you search for tikka masala recipes, you might find some for chicken tikka. Despite the similar name, chicken tikka and tikka masala are not the same. Chicken tikka is actually the name of the chicken used in tikka masala.

On its own, chicken tikka describes boneless chicken pieces marinated in a variety of spices and is typically served on skewers or as chicken tikka kebabs. Tikka masala is chicken tikka served in a tomato sauce with masala or a mix of spices.

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Are Butter Chicken and Tikka Masala Curry?

While in the U.S., we may think of curry as a type of spice, it has a different meaning in the context of Indian cuisine. Curry, which comes from the word for sauce, is used to describe a type of dish that includes a sauce or gravy and is served with meat or vegetables. In many cases, it’s served on a bed of rice as well.

Curry powder was actually a mixture of spices adapted by the British to mimic the spices found in Indian cuisine. In traditional Indian cuisine, a mixture of spices was referred to as masala and curry would refer to a specific dish that included a sauce with a mixture of spices. In this sense, both butter chicken and tikka masala are a type of curry.

Is Butter Chicken Healthier Than Tikka Masala?

Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala: Which is Healthier
A comparison of Sukhi brand tikka masala and Trader Joe's butter chicken

There may be some variety in the healthiness of butter chicken and tikka masala depending on where you order them from or if you make them at home. For the comparison above, we selected two popular microwavable meals, which probably have lower calories than what you'd find at a restaurant. Overall, Sukhi's tikka masala has more calorie density. A 140-gram serving has 180 calories while a much larger 250-gram serving of Trader Joe's butter chicken has 270 calories. When it comes to ordering the two dishes from a restaurant, tikka masala will usually have higher calories than butter chicken, but butter chicken may be higher in sodium.

Tikka masala is also usually higher in carbs, but this may vary depending on how the chicken is cooked. From our at-home comparison above, Sukhi's tikka masala actually has significantly fewer carbs. There are many recipes out there to cook both dishes at home.

For a healthier version, you can use substitutes for the butter in butter chicken or cream in tikka masala. Both dishes are often served with a side of naan bread, but you can choose a side of vegetables for a healthier option.

Nutritional Values of Butter Chicken vs. Tikka Masala

The ingredients of butter chicken and tikka masala are similar, especially because they both include grilled or baked chicken marinated in a blend of spices. The difference in nutritional values of butter chicken vs. tikka masala is mainly due to the ingredients in their sauces.

Even though tikka masala sauce sometimes includes coconut cream or another similar fat, the sauce of butter chicken is much creamier with the addition of butter and the blending of the sauce. The amount of salt and other spices in each dish may vary.

Here’s a look at the different nutritional values of the two dishes that may compare more closely to versions you find at restaurants versus our comparison above of cook-at-home meals:

Nutritional ValuesButter ChickenTikka Masala (1 Serving)
Total Fat35.2 g19 g
Sodium1208.9 mg860 mg
Carbs12.8 g53 g
Dietary Fiber1.7 g4 g
Sugar4.9 g3 g
Protein26.5 g39 g


Infographic comparing butter chicken and chicken tikka masala.
Many people choose to have these chicken dishes over rice.
  • Butter chicken has a creamier sauce than chicken tikka masala. The way that these dishes' sauces are blended creates the differences in texture.
  • Chicken tikka masala has a tomato-based sauce. Butter chicken's sauce is made with butter and milk, hence the name of the dish and the creamy texture.
  • Chicken tikka masala is generally spicier than butter chicken. This is an important distinction for those sensitive to spice.

If you’re a fan of Indian cuisine, you’ve likely tried butter chicken and tikka masala. You may have noticed that even though there are different flavors in the two dishes, there are many similarities as well. 

Tikka masala and butter chicken are both chicken dishes, but the main difference is their sauce. Butter chicken has a buttery, yogurt-based sauce that is typically pureed to make it smooth and creamy. On the other hand, the sauce of tikka masala is more of a tomato gravy. Compared to butter chicken, it is thicker, chunkier, and spicier.

Next time you visit your favorite Indian restaurant, try one of these delicious dishes. Or, try this amazing butter chicken recipe!

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Homemade Indian Butter Chicken with Rice and Naan Bread

Famous butter chicken

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  • Author: Moms Who Think



2 eggs, beaten
1 cup crushed buttery round cracker crumbs
½ teaspoon garlic salt
ground black pepper to taste
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
½ cup butter, cut into pieces


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place eggs and cracker crumbs in two separate shallow bowls.

2. Mix cracker crumbs with garlic salt and pepper.

3. Dip chicken in the eggs, and then dredge in the crumb mixture to coat.

4. Arrange coated chicken in a 9×13 inch baking dish.

5. Place pieces of butter around the chicken.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.

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