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All About Nashville  Blog

Is Nashville Hot Chicken Spicy?

Updated: Jan 8


Nashville hot chicken with white bread and dill pickle
Nashville Hot Chicken

Is Nashville hot chicken spicy? As a local, I am often asked how hot is real Nashville hot chicken. My short answer - it depends.


Growing up in Mississippi where we have tamales, boiled crawfish and tabasco, I think hot chicken has some enjoyable decent heat. However, if you are from the midwest you will find it spicy if not "just really hot." When it comes to Nashville hot chicken, the medium is hot and very hot is a religious experience with sweating and hallucinations.


As a foodie tour guide, I claim it depends on your pallet and heat preference. Do you like jalapeños or buffalo wings? You will enjoy hot chicken. Do you pass on black pepper? Maybe just go with some deviled eggs with paprika.


Officially, hot chicken in the last decade has now been recognized as a style of chicken. Even the James Beard Foundation honored Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack for their chicken in 2013 as an American Classic.


So what is hot chicken? Think fried chicken marinated in cayenne and spices first. Then served up with paste of spices smothered on top along with a few pieces of white bread and dill pickles. That’s it! Absolutely delicious.


History of Hot Chicken

Map with Nashville in magnifying glass

Have you heard the old adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?” This always reminds me of the hot chicken legend.


Hot chicken was created here first in Nashville, but it was initially meant as a revenge breakfast. Nashville musician and storyteller Thornton Prince stayed out too late before coming home to his girlfriend. She had enough of his philandering ways and decided to seek a little revenge with an early morning breakfast of fried chicken.


Except, she finished off the chicken with every pepper spice she had in her pantry to teach Prince a lesson not to cheat on her.


Well, instead of revenge, Prince found inspiration. He loved the chicken so much that he created his own recipe and opened up Prince’s BBQ Chicken Shack. Prince's is still in business today and serving hot chicken.


What happened to the girlfriend? No one knows. Prince was always sweet on the ladies. In fact, he was married five times.


You can still get a taste of the original hot chicken at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville at two locations. I recommend a taste of the original!


How Is Hot Chicken Made?


five pepper spices
Pepper Spices

Unlike buffalo chicken, hot chicken is not a sauce even though it can have that agent orange appearance. It is a dry rub and not a wet sauce.


Th chicken quarter is dry rubbed with a chef’s own spice blend which usually contains cayenne, black pepper, paprika, mustard powder, garlic powder, cumin, sugar and/or salt.


Chefs around Nashville keep this spice blend a secret.


After the dry rub, the chicken is brined in buttermilk to infuse those flavors. This is what ultimately creates the “slow burn” you experience when eating hot chicken.


Then you will dredge, flour and fry it up. After pan frying, add the special blend to some hot grease and mop on the extra heat. Serve always with white bread and a dill pickle.


If you see “hot” on a menu around Nashville, it will be served hot chicken style. Unlike buffalo chicken, hot chicken is not a sauce even though it can have that agent orange appearance.


Hot Chicken Tenders with White Bread and Dill Pickles
Hot Chicken Tenders with White Bread and Dill Pickles

More Than Just Hot Chicken


Nashville has taken “hot” and ran with it. Often hot is on the menu for more than just fried chicken. In Nashville, you can find hot chicken poutine, hot sushi, hot fish, hot chicken schnitzel, hot chicken apple fritter and even ramen with hot chicken!


Music City Hot Chicken Festival


Want to taste the best of Nashville’s hot chicken all in one day? Then come to the annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival traditionally held on the 4th of July every year.


Former Mayor Bill Purcell founded the Hot Chicken Festival to benefit Shelby Park in 2006. He was thinking of a way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the city and his favorite food, hot chicken, came to mind.


The event is free and family friendly. The festival starts with a Hot Chicken Parade and a chance to catch some beads. Of course there are 10-15 hot chicken booths, beer, vendors, and live music.


Best Hot Chicken Spots in Nashville


Looking for original hot chicken? Since it is a Nashville staple, there are plenty to choose from around town. Here are some of my favorites:


  • 400 Degrees Hot Chicken - Owner Aqui Hines deep fries her chicken instead of the traditional pan fry. Super tasty!

  • Big Shakes Nashville Hot Chicken & Fish - Family owned hot chicken in Franklin and Columbia.

  • Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish - One of the hottest hot chicken plates in town, but I would recommend the hot fish.

  • Hot Hattie B’s Chicken - Only about a decade old, this restaurant has expanded nationwide with hot chicken from humble beginnings of a meat and three. You can even find Hattie Bs in Las Vegas along with all the other tourists. Go to Bishop’s, the original restaurant, where they serve hot chicken every day cafeteria style.

  • Hurt’s Hot Chicken - Incredible, but it’s a food truck so you gotta track it down. Check out their facebook page up to date location and delivery.

  • Noble's Kitchen & Beer Hall - East Nashville sports bar with an incredible hot chicken sandwich.

  • Party Fowl - Hot chicken with a side of bachelorettes drinking boozy slushies. Proceed with caution in regards to atmosphere.

  • Prince's Hot Chicken Shack - The original and legendary hot chicken. A must do in Nashville.

  • Red’s 615 Kitchen - Classically trained chef and native of Nashville's restaurant. Fantastic flavor and their comeback goes great with hot chicken.

  • Slow Burn - A hidden gem in Hendersonville. Try the hot chicken egg rolls.

  • Subculture Urban Cuisine and Cafe - Where you can have a hot chicken burrito for breakfast or hot chicken tacos. Nothing like hot chicken for breakfast!



Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich
Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich

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Do you think hot chicken is spicy?

  • Yes

  • No

  • I plan to get some when in Nashville!



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