If you’re looking for something new and different to try on the BBQ this year, why not try this Tandoori Style Chicken? Barbequing whole chickens is pretty fun and usually a show stopper for crowds. This recipe is not authentic (since I am not of Indian heritage) but it is a pretty great Canadian recreation of Tandoori chicken. Very few people have access to a traditional tandoor oven, so a BBQ is an excellent alternative in a pinch!Jump to Recipe
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Tandoori Chickens Possible History
Tandoori chicken seems to be a bit tricky to pin down, when it comes to its origins. The best known accounts seem to say it was a man named Kundan Lal Gujral, in around 1947 in Peshawar. Eventually he ended up in New Dehli where he would eventually open Moti Mahal, which is still a world renowned restaurant today. The process of cooking in the large clay ovens, known as tandoor ovens wasn’t his creation. What he managed to do was master the art of cooking meat in the ovens. He also honed the staples that we would recognize in the recipes today. Namely, yoghurt and lime just to tenderize.
Tandoor ovens were not used often for meats before Kundan, since they tend to run at around 480C. So his methods were key in adopting the technique. Though, I won’t be the end all voice on this, and many will say that he wasn’t the one to invent the recipe. Whoever it was, the world is thankful! The recipes will differ based on where they originate and the cooks preference for spice. Usually they will include; ginger, turmeric, chillies, black pepper, and garam masala. The yoghurt and lime will help sooth the heat from the spices.
The tandoor oven does function similarly to a western style oven in many ways. The large clay or metal pots contain a fire that burns in the bottom, giving the food the iconic smokey taste. An insulating layer of concrete or mud surrounds the pot. The fire in the bottom of the (usually) jug or beehive shaped pots licks up the sides slightly and causes a radiant heat. If the lid is opened, the oven can produce a combination of radiant and convection heat. Traditionally the chickens will be skewered, whole or in parts, and the skewers will be placed down into the center of the pot. They are regularly rotated and basted with oil, while the oven is kept at it’s high temperature.
A Western Version
Now, obviously, to have a tandoor oven for our chicken would be amazing. And though you can buy them on Amazon, most of us don’t have a few grand to drop on a kitchen toy. So we make do with what we have. I have heard of friends who’ve had success using pizza stones in their ovens. But I prefer to get the smokey tastes and crispy bits that only come from barbequing.
Using a charcoal barbeque or cooking over a true fire will wield the best results, but you can absolutely use a gas grill too. With a gas grill you will have no trouble maintaining temperature, unlike the charcoal or fire, that will need stoking and monitoring throughout the process. But if you’ve got an afternoon to enjoy sitting around the barbeque, then I see no trouble with a little stoking!
I love to serve my tandoori chicken on top of potatoes or rice. And we will normally whip up a quick coconut curry sauce to go along with. Because I love sauce mostly. So I have included the recipe for the sauce as well, if you are also a sauce lover. If you need a simple and delicious potato recipe, the Breakfast Potatoes are a hit at our house.
In my research, I found a few articles about people who built their own tandoor ovens, and it was very fun to read about! Check those out here, here, and here to give it a try if you’re feeling adventurous. Also, check out my post on How to Butcher a Chicken, if you need a refresher course.
BBQ Tandoori Style Chicken
- 1 5-6lbs Chicken
- 1 Scant cup Plain Greek Yogurt
- Juice of 2 Limes
- 3 tbsp Garlic finely minced
- 1 inch Ginger Root peeled and grated
- 2 tsp each – Chili flakes, Cumin, Ground Coriander, Garam Masala
- 2 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp Tomato Paste
- 2 tbsp Honey
- 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil or other neutral oil
Simple Coconut Curry Sauce (optional, but delicious)
- 1 large Red Onion quartered, with stem still attached
- 1 can Coconut Milk full fat
- 1/2 inch Ginger Root peeled and grated
- 1 tsp each Cumin, Coriander, Chili Flakes
- 2 tsp Tomato Paste
- 1 cup Good Quality Chicken Stock
- 1 1/2 tbsp Butter
Prepare the Chicken (3-12 hours before cooking)
- Using very sharp kitchen scissors, remove the chickens back bone. To do this, lay the bird breast side down on your cutting board, with the legs away from you. Start your first snip on one side of the neck through the neck hole. Cut through the skin, meat and bones down one side of the spine all the way to the tail. Repeat on the other side. This isn't a smooth cut, there will be crunching and squishing. Don't worry, you can do it. Set aside the spine, once it's removed. You will use it to make your curry sauce later.
- The chicken should now be much easier to open out like a book and lie flat. Lie it on your cutting board breast side up, and press down firmly with both hands on the breast bone. You want to crack the breast bone slightly and get the bird to lay more evenly flat. Set it into a dish for marinating.
- In a bowl, combine the yogurt, lime juice, garlic, ginger, spices, salt, tomato paste, honey, and oil. Whisk together fully.
- Spread the marinade all over the chicken. Really rub it into all the nooks and get it under the skin if you can. Make sure it's well covered on both sides. Cover the dish and set in the fridge for 3 hours and up to over night. The longer you marinade it, the more the spices will absorb into the meat, so this is all about your preference.
- Prepare your BBQ. Light your fire or charcoal on one side of the grill. You will want quite a lot of coals going, and be prepared to add more tinder or coals through the process, since it takes about an hour and a half.
- Have on hand; a sturdy pair of tongs, a container of oil with a brush, a thermometer (the one built into most grills is good. Otherwise a laser thermometer works), and some oven/BBQ gloves for moving the coals and the chicken as needed.
- Once the hot side of the grill is steadily burning and about 500F, you're ready to go.
- Oil the indirectly heated side of the grill (the cooking side). I don't scrape off any of the marinade, I like it to get a good sticky, crispy crust. Gently lay your chicken with the legs splayed out, bone side down on the cooking side of the grill. Close the lid.
- Keep an eye on the fire and temperature throughout. I try to not let my grill drop below 400F for the process. And also watch that your chicken isn't burning faster then its cooking. To maintain control of the chickens cooking, I will prop open the lid a regular intervals to allow some heat out, while keeping the smoke in.
- After about 1 hour -1 hour 15minutes, very gently, flip the chicken over. It's time to get that skin crisping. Be as careful as you can not to pierce the meat with your tongs, we want all those juices to stay in.
- Over the next 30-45 minutes rotate the chicken around to get as much of the skin crisp as possible. During this last bit of time, grill the quartered onion pieces if you are hoping to make the coconut curry sauce as well. The chicken is done when the juices from the thigh run clear, and all the meat is firm to the poke. Allow the chicken to rest, tented with foil before carving ans serving.
Coconut Curry Sauce
- When the grilled onions are cool enough to touch, remove their stems and dice them up.
- Set a medium pot over medium heat, and add a couple tsps of oil. Once hot, sear the reserved chicken spine all over. Try to really build up a nice bit of crustiness on the bottom of the pot without burning it. If it starts to look like it's burning turn the temp down a bit. Remove and discard the spine once you've seared it well.
- Add the diced onion and ginger to the pot. Saute for 2-3 minutes to soften the ginger. Add the spices and the tomato paste and stir to combine everything. Let the spices become fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the stock to deglaze and scrape up all those yummy bits from the bottom. Let the sauce come up to a good simmer and bubble for about 5 minutes. Then add the coconut milk. Simmer until the sauce is the thickness you'd like. Anywhere from 10-15 minutes is usually good for us. Finally, whisk in the butter to create a velvety smooth sauce.
- Serve it poured over your carved up chicken along with some rice or potatoes.