Nashville Hot Chicken

Nashville Hot Chicken

Is the “Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich” from Wendy’s not enough to get your heart racing anymore? Have you beaten every hot Buffalo wing eating contest in town? It’s time to graduate to “Hot Chicken,” the regional fried chicken specialty from Nashville, TN.

Traditionally served on a few slices of white bread, with a sliced sour pickle to take the edge off the heat, what sets Nashville Hot Chicken apart from upstate New York’s saucier contribution to the chicken world, is the thick, spicy, violently red paste that gets applied to the chicken after it comes out of the cast iron skillet. The paste varies slightly from chicken shack to chicken shack, but Nashville’s Hot Chicken experts seem to agree that the base recipe is about 3 parts cayenne pepper to one part lard. The liquefied fat and pepper oozes into all of the nooks and crannies in the crunchy chicken, dripping onto the soft, spongy sliced white bread underneath, which keeps the grease and spice from oozing onto your clothes and into the eyes of any small children that may be standing nearby. The result? Nuclear-strength fried chicken that stays perfectly crunchy, enrobed in layer upon layer of lip-burning, endorphin-surging, sinus-clearing, eczema-inducing amounts of heat and spice.

Prince's Hot Chicken

Photo: Flickr/alaina

Though Hot Chicken is served throughout Nashville (and even celebrated in its own annual festival), the technique for producing such incendiary chicken was developed by the Prince family, owners of “Prince’s Hot Chicken.” Located in a nondescript strip mall, sandwiched between a nail salon and a wig store, the Prince family has been making Hot Chicken since the 1950’s. As the legend goes, the great-uncle of the current owner, André Prince Jeffries, was a proud womanizer and Lothario. After being caught by his live-in girlfriend after spending the night with another girlfriend, Thornton Prince’s main squeeze decided to teach him a lesson by cooking up a breakfast batch of the spiciest chicken she could muster (because, evidently, “cooking your philanderer some chicken” was how most domestic disputes were handled in the 1950’s). To his girlfriend’s ever-mounting chagrin, Thornton Prince loved the chicken so much, he began serving it in his own restaurant and, presumably empowered by his newfound spicy chicken-strength, continued sleeping with as many other women as humanly possible.

Since Prince’s keeps their exact technique and ingredients a secret, attempts to copy the Prince’s Hot Chicken recipe reach far and wide. Some insist that some of the heat is applied prior to frying, which seems unlikely, as Prince’s offers four levels of heat, which can all come from the same batch of fried chicken. Other would-be amateur Hot Chicken chefs insist that the paste is made of two parts cayenne pepper to one part “Slap Ya Mama” Cajun Seasoning, or further enhance their spicy chicken paste with garlic, sugar, or additional hot sauce. In 2008, contest judges at Music City’s Hot Chicken Festival awarded their grand prize to civilian Justin Jones’ recipe. It may not be Prince’s original recipe, and it doesn’t claim to be; it may be, however, as close as we’re going to get to authentic Nashville Hot Chicken without taking a serious road trip.

Frying chicken in a cast iron skillet is an art; there’s no shame (at least not amongst we Yankees) in finishing your chicken in a 375 degree oven, if it gets too dark on the outside without reaching a safe 165 inside. Serve it just the way they do at Prince’s: on two slices of enriched white bread, with a few slices of sour pickle on a toothpick. It’s a peculiar combination, but it works. When the chicken is gone, you get bonus points for wolfing down the grease-and-cayenne-soaked bread.

Nashville Hot Chicken

Nashville Hot Chicken
Adapted from a recipe by Justin Jones, Winner, 2008 Music City Hot Chicken Festival

Ingredients:

  • 2 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
  • 2 cups buttermilk (or two cups whole milk + 2 tablespoons white vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup self-rising flour
  • 10 ounces plus 2 tablespoons lard, divided
  • 3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 slices white bread
  • 6-8 slices sour pickle, sliced

Method:

Nashville Hot Chicken

In a shallow baking dish or large freezer bag, combine chicken breasts and buttermilk. Cover or seal and let soak in the refrigerator overnight.

In a deep, heavy cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 10 ounces of lard to 375 degrees. Check temperature of oil throughout the cooking process using a candy thermometer, adjusting heat as needed to keep oil as close to 375 as possible.

Nashville Hot Chicken

Remove chicken from buttermilk, and dredge in flour. Add chicken to hot grease, and cook, turning every 3-4 minutes, until chicken is golden brown and a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees, about 20-25 minutes. Drain chicken on paper towels.

Nashville Hot Chicken

Microwave remaining two tablespoons of lard for 30 seconds, or until liquefied. Add cayenne, sugar, salt, and garlic powder, and stir well to combine.

Nashville Hot Chicken

Apply to bone-side of chicken using a brush, a spoon, or your hands (wear latex gloves!), flip chicken over (so it is skin-side-up) onto two slices of white bread, and baste with more of the paste. Repeat for remaining chicken breast. Serve with sliced sour pickles and a dozen cans of cheap beer.

Nashville Hot Chicken

Bonus Video:

Comments

  1. Joe Ricchio says

    “Everytime Somethin’ Go, Throw Some Chicken at Somebody. Know what I’m Sayin?”

    Brilliant. I feel the need to go to Nashville..

  2. Buckshot Malone says

    “Music is the soul of Nashville, but hot chicken feeds the soul of Music City”. Buckshot Malone (July 1977)

  3. Jonathan Holmes says

    I bet using rendered chicken fat and chipolte paste for the sauce would be great too! I’m thinking about firing up the deep fryer and getting busy. Pretty standard Jewish – Mexican Soul Food.

  4. says

    i’m disappointed in my nashville friends! for all the time i’ve spent in nashville, no one ever took me out for hot chicken. dang. i want.

  5. Ed Pauley says

    I read about Prince’s Hot Chicken in a national magazine years ago. It just so happened I was visiting Nashville on a regular basis around that time and just had to go. It is a unique experience all the way around. The first time I went I asked for the Hot chicken and the lady working the cash register said “honey are you sure?”. I said yes and did not regret it. I love fried chicken, I am from KY, and I love spicy food. It was the best fried chicken I have ever had. I have hopelessly been trying to make it at home ever since. I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  6. Prince'S Hot Chicken says

    Fun read, and we’re blessed as a family to have been in business since the 1940’s. Thank you for supporting us and it’s articles like this that inspire peopel to try Hot Chicken at least once. It’ might be fire in the belly, but it’s a burn that’s oh so good.

    Your recipe, by the way, is too much work. Don’t over think how it’s done. Time and Temperature are more important ingredients to perfect fried chicken. Cayenne is just 1 of many spices used to make fried chicken spicy. HINT-HINT;0)

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