This Tandoori Chicken Recipe is super easy to make and cooks perfectly in your air fryer!
Traditionally, chicken tandoori is cooked in a very hot cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor oven, but I don't have one and I'm guessing you don't either. So, grab your air fryer or you can grill them on your Indoor or Outdoor Grill!
I've tested this recipe using the air frying functions of the Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooker & Air Crisper, the Ninja Speedi, and the Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill. All worked great!
I also have the Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Oven and thought that would be the best choice because it gets up to 700℉/370℃, much closer to the high temps of tandoor oven, but once I tried air frying them instead, I felt the results were even better!
So, grab some chicken, some spices, and your air fryer, and let's make some delicious Air Fryer Tandoori Chicken!
Suggested Kitchen Tools for Tandoori Chicken
- Air Fryer or Grill
- Large Mixing Bowl
- Paper Towels
- Plastic Wrap
- Large Tray
- Cutting Board
Ingredients & Substitutions
Tandoor Chicken is marinated chicken that gets its name from the cooking vessel traditionally used called a tandoor oven.
There are many different variations in the spices used and while my version may not be considered authentic, it certainly is delicious and easy for home cooks to make.
My top pick for Tandoori chicken is chicken thighs. Even if you don't ordinarily like chicken thighs, please give them a try in this recipe. In order to get the charring and all the flavors developed in the tandoori chicken, the internal temperature of the chicken often goes above 165℉/74℃ and into the 180's (80's℃). Chicken thighs handle these higher internal temperatures beautifully and do not dry out like chicken breasts tend to do.
I use skinless boneless chicken thighs, but you could use bone-in and remove the skin or leave the skin on. I have tested the recipe with cutting slits into the chicken thighs, but I preferred the texture of the chicken better when I skipped this step and didn't notice any difference in flavor.
Chicken legs are also a common cut of chicken used because they can handle the higher internal temperatures that the chicken is cooked to without drying out. If you use chicken legs, remove the skin and make a slit or two into the thick part of each raw drumstick. While I don't usually do this with chicken thighs, the legs will benefit from slits because the meat fibers are a little tighter and the slits help the marinade penetrate the meat better.
If you want to use boneless skinless chicken breasts, you can; but try not to cook them much past 165℉/74℃ or they can become tough and dry.
No matter what type of chicken you use, you will still air fry on 400℉/200℃, but the cooking time may change. The thighs are done in about 12 minutes, the legs could take a little longer, and the chicken breast timing will depend on their thickness and size. I recommend using a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperatures.
The yogurt-based marinade is the key to a really delicious tandoori chicken and consists of yogurt, lemon juice, fresh ginger and garlic, and a flavorful combination of Indian spices.
I recommend using plain Greek yogurt which is thicker in consistency and creates a nice thick base for the marinade. If all you have is plain yogurt which is thinner in consistency, you can strain it to remove more of the whey and it will become Greek yogurt. If you use thinner yogurt, your marinade will still be delicious, but it won't cling to the chicken pieces as much and you will lose some flavor.
You can use bottled or freshly squeezed lemon juice or omit it. I made the recipe without lemon juice and it was just fine, but I do think the touch of acid really balances all of the other flavors. You could also substitute lime juice or orange juice for the lemon juice if that is all you have.
Garlic & Ginger
When it comes to garlic, I always think fresh is best and recommend mincing your own garlic for this recipe. The jar of minced garlic just doesn't have the same flavor, but it can be used if that is all you have. The ginger can be grated from the root, or sometimes I use ginger paste that I find in a tube in the refrigerated part of the produce section in my grocery store. I have not noticed any difference in flavor when using freshly grated ginger or ginger paste.
There are different spice blends used to make chicken tandoori, but the basics are mostly ones you can find easily in your local grocery store or you may even have them in your spice cabinet.
I use a combination of garam masala, salt, pepper, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander powder, cayenne powder, and fenugreek. The cayenne powder is only to be used if you want a little spiciness to your tandoori chicken. You can use all sweet paprika or all smoked paprika if you want more of a smoky flavor. I like the combination of both.
What you might notice is missing in my recipe is red chili powder and you can certainly add it in if you like. (affiliate link)Kashmiri chili powder is commonly used, but I didn't have any and, when I used regular chili powder, I didn't like the flavor as much as the combination of smoked paprika, sweet paprika, and cayenne pepper.
The Kashmiri chili powder along with red dye #40 is what creates that firey red hue in tandoori chicken you may get at Indian restaurants. This recipe is much lighter in color, but just as flavorful and it is not necessary to add dye just for color.
Another common ingredient is turmeric powder and you can absolutely add a teaspoon to the blend of spices, if you like. Personally, I am not a fan of turmeric and I left it out.
How to Make Air Fryer Tandoori Chicken
Making Tandoori Chicken is very easy to do, but you do want to plan ahead because the chicken has to be marinated for at least 4 hours (overnight is better) before cooking. This allows all the flavors to develop and penetrate the chicken. Trust me, it's worth the wait!
Mise En Place (prep)
There are only three parts to making this recipe, making the marinade, marinating the chicken, and cooking the chicken. However, there are a lot of spices involved and this is where Mise En Place (everything in its place) really becomes important.
Take the time and pull out all the spices needed before you do anything else. Then, measure them out one at a time and put the spice bottle back in the cabinet or move it to the side once you place that spice into a small mixing bowl. This way you can keep track of what is in the bowl and what isn't. Trust me, it is easy to make mistakes when dealing with multiple spices and the difference between ½ teaspoon of cayenne and 2 teaspoon of cayenne can definitely ruin your dish! Read each measurement carefully and go in order.
Now is a good time to mince the garlic and grate the ginger. I used an entire bulb of garlic to get 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic, but this will depend on the size of the bulb. You will need about 4" of ginger root to get 2 Tablespoons of grated ginger.
Quick Tip: Grating Ginger
Frozen ginger is so much easier to grate. Simply peel the fresh ginger and place it into a freezer bag. When you need fresh ginger, grab it out and grate it right from frozen.
Make the Yogurt Marinade
Once you have all the spices measured out and into a bowl, mix them well to combine them.
In a large mixing bowl, add the Greek yogurt, minced garlic, grated ginger, and lemon juice. Whisk to combine.
Add in the blend of spices and whisk well. You want the marinade to be thick like a cake batter, but if it is too thick (like whipping cream) you can thin it out with some water. Add 1 tablespoon at a time and whisk well in between additions.
Prepare the Chicken
The only thing I do to prepare the chicken is cut the thighs in half and lightly salt and pepper each side of the chicken.
You don't have to cut them in half, but I found it is easier to work with them in the air fryer when they are smaller pieces.
Once all the chicken is seasoned with salt and pepper, add the pieces to the bowl of marinade and mix everything around so all the pieces of chicken are coated well with the marinade.
You can transfer the chicken and marinade to a sealable plastic bag or cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, but over night is preferred. You can leave the chicken in the marinade up to 2 days.
Air will dry out the marinade and also cause some color changes. To prevent that push the plastic wrap down into the bowl until it covers the chicken before sealing the bowl.
Air Frying Chicken Tandoori
Once the chicken has marinated for at least 4 hours, you want to remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and place them on paper towels in a single layer to remove the excess moisture. This is a crucial step that prevents steaming in the air fryer which prevents the crisping and charring we want to achieve.
DO NOT rub the marinade off, you want most of it on there. Just let the paper towels absorb the excess moisture.
While the chicken is on the paper towels, preheat the air fryer on 400℉/200℃ for a full 10 minutes and make sure the air fryer basket or rack is in the air fryer during preheat.
You want to use a rack whenever possible that raises the chicken as close to the heating element as possible. This will give the most direct hot heat and the best char on the chicken.
Place the chicken in a single layer on the rack or in the basket and air fry for 6 minutes, then flip the chicken over and air fry another 4-6 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken has reached at least 165℉/74℃
If the chicken is sticking, it is not ready to be flipped and give it another minute or two and then try to flip. If it's still sticking, just let it cook the entire time without flipping. It is better to have only one beautiful charred side then to rip the chicken apart trying to flip it.
Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to cook the chicken in batches.
When the chicken is done, place it on a serving platter and serve it with basmati rice and naan bread. Enjoy!
Other Cooking Methods for Tandoori Chicken
If you don't have an air fryer or need to cook more volume of chicken at once, you can certainly use your oven or grill.
The process is exactly the same for marinating the chicken so follow all the steps in the recipe and use these suggestions for cooking.
Preheat your oven to 500℉/260℃. Use a roasting rack whenever possible and place the chicken on the rack that sits on the tray. This will allow for more air flow around the chicken and prevent steaming as it cooks.
Bake at 500°/260℃ for 6-7 minutes and then flip the chicken over and bake another 6-7 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken is at least 165℉/74℃.
Grilling over high heat is another great way to cook the marinated chicken. Make sure to preheat the grill on high so the cooking surface is hot when you put the chicken on.
Grill on high for about 4-6 minutes and then flip the chicken. If it sticks, let it cook longer. If the temperature of the grill is too high and burning the marinade, turn the heat down. It is normal to see the marinade darken quite a bit.
Once you flip the chicken, grill another 2-4 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches at least 165℉/74℃. It is perfectly fine if the temperatures are higher, mine usually read about 180℉/82℃ when I grill the tandoori chicken.
Storage & Reheating Instructions
How to Store Leftover Tandoori Chicken
Leftover tandoori chicken is great to use in chicken salad, in wraps, or reheat and have dinner again!
Store tandoori chicken in an airtight container or sealable bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Before freezing it is very important that the chicken is cold, so I recommend refrigerating the leftovers overnight before freezing them.
If the food is warm when packaged for freezing, steam can be produced inside the container or freezer bag, resulting in ice crystals forming.
Air is another issue when freezing food, so make sure you choose a container that is the proper size for the amount of leftovers. You don't want a large container for a few strips of tandoori chicken or there will be too much air trapped in the container which can lead to decreased quality of the meat.
My preferred method for freezing is using a vacuum sealer which eliminates this issue. As a bonus, you can also reheat from frozen right in the vacuumed sealed bags using sous vide!
Freeze your leftover tandoori chicken with basmati rice in a vacuum-sealed bag and when you want to reheat it, use a sous vide machine to reheat right from frozen. Set the sous vide temp to 165℉/74℃ and place the bag in the heated water for about 90 minutes and you will have perfectly reheated tandoori chicken and rice without drying out the chicken!
How to Reheat Chicken Tandoori
I recommend wrapping the chicken tandoori in aluminum foil before reheating it in the oven to avoid it drying out. Reheat on 325℉/165℃ for about 15 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165℃/74℃
You can reheat the chicken in the air fryer on 300℉/150℃, but you do run the risk of it drying out because of the fan. Make sure the internal temp of the chicken reaches at least 165℉ when reheating.
One of my most favorite methods for reheating foods that tend to dry out is using sous vide. Place the chicken in a vacuum-sealed bag and sous vide on 165℉/74℃ for one hour.
Frequently Asked Questions
While the spices do play a role in the color of the chicken, most of the time when you see that fire-red color it is because red food dye was added.
Yes, you can make half or double the recipe by decreasing or increasing the ingredients.
The cooking temperatures and times remain the same.
Chicken Salad: Chop up the leftover chicken and add it to some yogurt with chopped cucumbers and cashews. Spice it up with a little garam masala and whatever other spices you love.
Chicken Wraps: Place the strips of chicken in a flour tortilla along with slices of cumbers and a curry sauce or yogurt dressing.
Air Fryer Top Pick Recipes
When people think air fryers, they often think of quick foods that you buy in the freezer section of the grocery store, but there is so much more you can make and here are my top eight recipes that aren't the usual!
Air Fryer Chicken Tandoori Recipe
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon fine grind sea salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¾ cup Greek yogurt
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic 1 bulb
- 2 Tablespoons grated ginger 4" root
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- Mix all the dry spices in a small bowl.1 Tablespoon ground cumin, 1 Tablespoon corriander powder, 2 teaspoons fenugreek, 2 teaspoosn garam masala, 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1½ teaspoons fine grind sea salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- In a large mixing bowl, combine Greek yogurt with minced garlic, grated ginger, and lemon juice. Whisk together.¾ cup Greek yogurt, 1 Tablespoon minced garlic, 2 Tablespoons grated ginger, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- Add in the spice blend and whisk to combine.
- Cut the chicken thighs in half where they naturally tend to divide and season each side with salt and pepper. You can trim the fat off of them, but I usually don't. It adds flavor and keeps the chicken moist.2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, 1 teaspoon fine grind sea salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Place the chicken pieces into the marinade and mix so all the chicken is coated in the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, 10-12 hours perferred, and up to 2 days.
- Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Preheat the air fryer on 400℉/200℃ for a full 10 minutes with the rack or the basket in the air fryer. Try to use a rack that will cook the chicken as close to the heating element as possible for the best results.
- Place the chicken on the rack or in the air fryer basket in a single layer and air fry on 400℉/200℃ for 6 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook another 6 minutes or until the chicken reaches at least 165℉/74℃ internally. If the chicken is sticking, don't force it, just keep cooking another minute or so and it will release. Do not worry if the chicken temp goes higher, the chicken thighs can handle that. Mine usually will be above 170℉ /77℃.
- Remove the chicken and place on a platter. Depending on your airfryer, you amy need to cook in batches. Cover with plastic wrap if you are cooking the chicken in batches so it stays hot.
- Serve & Enjoy!
ABOUT THE RECIPE AUTHOR, LOUISE LONG
Louise is a full-time recipe creator and food blogger @ The Salted Pepper. She has over 30 years of experience with cooking and recipe development. She owned a restaurant for several years and was a full-time RN until retiring to blog full-time.
She published her first cookbook in the Fall of 2018 and is very interested in writing several more.
Louise is also the creator of an online Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooking Course with over 100 instructional step-by-step videos. People absolutely rave about the course and all the value they have received from it.
Louise has several very active Facebook groups that help people with the basics of cooking and getting the most out of the Ninja Foodi.
Louise is also a YouTube creator and you can find most of her recipes in video format on The Salted Pepper YouTube channel.
She is very responsive to messages and eager to help in any way she can. Get more Information about Louise & contact information
I WOULD LOVE TO SEE WHAT YOU ARE COOKING UP IN YOUR KITCHEN! TAG ME @THESALTEDPEPPER ON YOUR FAVORITE SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM WHEN YOU MAKE A DISH!
BE SURE TO FOLLOW THE SALTED PEPPER RIGHT HERE ⇓⇓⇓⇓⇓