Hot Chicken in Nashville

Biscuit Love in Nashville, TN

Hot chicken is a Nashville speciality, and you’ll find a variety of this crispy, spicy fried chicken in a variety of restaurants throughout the city.

Written by Julia Sayers

If there’s one thing that defines Nashville’s food culture it’s hot chicken. This isn’t your typical spicy fried chicken or buffalo-sauce doused wings; this crispy fried chicken features a special spicy paste brushed on the chicken either before or after frying. The paste traditionally consists of only two ingredients—lard and ground red pepper—but many restaurants doctor up their spice paste by adding sugar, garlic, or extra hot sauce.

The exact origins of hot chicken and when it came about are a little fuzzy, but it’s believed hot chicken dates back to the 1930s. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is credited as the original creator of hot chicken, and the restaurant is still a staple in Nashville today. Legend has it that Thornton Prince, the original owner of Prince’s, had quite the reputation as a ladies’ man, so one morning after a late night on the town, his girlfriend decided to make him a fried chicken breakfast with extra ground red pepper as revenge. Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for Nashvillians, he loved it, and hot chicken was born.

Today, you’ll find a number of restaurants serving up their own version of hot chicken. It’s a prominent feature on many menus, and it’s interesting to see and taste the ways certain chefs have interpreted the dish. Here are three of our favorite varieties.

Traditional

hot chicken from Hattie B's in Nashville, TN

Along with Prince’s, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken has been one of the pioneers of the rapidly expanding hot chicken scene in Nashville. When owner Nick Bishop Sr. came to Nashville in the ‘90s, he found there wasn’t much presence of hot chicken other than at Prince’s. After opening Bishop’s Meat & Three in Franklin, Tennessee, Nick developed a recipe for hot chicken with the help of his son, Nick Jr., and John Lasater, now his son-in-law (pictured at left). They debuted it on the menu at Bishop’s first, and it was received so well they opened Hattie B’s in midtown Nashville in 2012.

The focus at Hattie B’s is, of course, hot chicken. Nick Sr. says that the trick to their chicken was first and foremost coming up with an incredible fried chicken. They then worked with their special blend of spices and seasonings to offer varying levels of heat on the chicken. You can choose from five heat levels: mild, medium, hot, Damn Hot, and Shut The Cluck Up. Anything past medium is for the brave, but all levels of heat have great depth of flavor and are true, traditional hot chicken served on top of slices of white bread. And don’t miss the sides; Pimiento Mac and Cheese, Southern Greens, Black-Eyed Pea Salad, and Red Skin Potato Salad all help to give a break between spicy bites of chicken. 5209 Charlotte Ave. or 112 19th Ave. S.

On a Biscuit

hot chicken from Biscuit Love in Nashville, TN

Biscuit Love, a breakfast and brunch restaurant, originally roamed the streets of Nashville as a food truck. When founders and owners Karl and Sarah Worley were trying to decide what food they wanted to offer, Karl suggested hot chicken. Sarah wasn’t sure if that would be a broad enough offering, so Karl asked her what her favorite thing was that he cooked. When she replied that she loved the biscuits he makes, they knew they had their focus.

Today, at their brick-and-mortar restaurant, they offer homemade buttermilk biscuits topped with a variety of options—such as fried chicken thighs and sausage gravy on the East Nasty and chocolate gravy, peanut butter, and caramelized banana jam on the Gertie—as well as other breakfast and lunch items. And because of Karl’s love of hot chicken, they serve The Princess: a biscuit sandwich with hot chicken, pickles, mustard, and honey, which is now their most popular biscuit. But we’re glad Biscuit Love decided to expand their offerings because the combination of the honey and mustard on the spicy hot chicken couldn’t be more perfect, and what’s better than hot chicken on a Southern-made biscuit? 316 11th Avenue S.

Exotic

hot chicken from Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville, TN

Chauhan Ale & Masala House blends Indian food and Southern cuisine seamlessly in a menu that is an exotic and flavorful addition to Nashville’s food scene. The restaurant is owned and operated by Maneet Chauhan; you might recognize her from the Food Network as a judge on Chopped and a competitor on Iron Chef. Maneet grew up in India and worked in some of India’s finest hotels before relocating to the U.S. to attend the Culinary Institute of America. She chose Nashville for her namesake restaurant after visiting and falling in love with the city and the people of Nashville.

The menu incorporates traditional Indian dishes and blends them with those typical of Nashville, so of course hot chicken was a necessary menu addition. Chauhan offers Hot Chicken Pakoras (pakoras are fried snacks), which are boneless pieces of chicken dredged in a house-blend spice mix, fried to a golden crisp, and served with ghost pepper sauce. The chicken alone gives a good kick of heat, and for those daring enough, the ghost pepper sauce elevates that heat level even more. You can also try Maneet’s take on hot chicken with the Chicken Pakora Po Boy topped with red cabbage slaw and mint chutney. The hot chicken at Chauhan is definitely a unique take on things, but it shows the diversity of Nashville’s food scene and the dedication to food the city is known for. 123 12th Avenue N.

Photos courtesy of Hattie B’s, Biscuit Love, and Chauhan Ala & Masala House

This content was originally published in the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Cooking with Paula Deen magazine. © 2015 Hoffman Media