Hot Chicken–Where to Find It and How to Eat It

Hot Chicken

Where to Find It and How to Eat It

Even upscale restaurants are cashing in on our Nashville hot chicken tradition.

The deep roots of hot chicken, however, are tied to the overindulgent drinker, the night-shift worker and those rolling out of jazz clubs in the wee hours. Legend has it that it was originated by a vengeful wife who heavily peppered her husband’s chicken to punish him for his carousing. To her chagrin, he loved it and asked her to make it again.

Historically you’d order a chicken breast or thigh/leg quarter that came on a slice of white bread with pickle chips and maybe some fries on the side. However, hot chicken comes in many forms these days.

Here’s what you do When Not Everyone Wants Hot Chicken

Downtown

Hattie B’s

Probably the best publicized and most popular (though not my favorite) purveyor. Locations downtown in the Fifth and Broad complex, Midtown, Melrose and Sylvan Park area. The latter two will be less crowded. Their mac’n’cheese has a great kick and the banana pudding is pretty amazing too.

Locals Tip

Avoid the line by ordering online to-go. You can even download their app.

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

It’s the oldest of the bunch, most legendary and heir to the hot chicken mythology. Locations in Assembly Food Hall in the Fifth and Broad complex and in south Nashville (5814 Nolensville Pike #110, Nashville, TN 37211).

Locals Tip

If you’re going to Assembly Food Hall, the line is almost always much shorter at Prince’s than at Hattie B’s. Case in point: I recently counted 45 people lined up outside the door at Hattie B’s vs. 2 people in line at Prince’s. Budget your time wisely, people.

Within 3 Miles of Downtown

Lilly’s Hot Chicken

Nashville Farmers Market Haven’t had a chance to check it out but I love Farmers Market. Right next door are the Tennessee State Museum AND the Bicentennial Mall State Park. Just beyond the park is the home of the Nashville Sounds, our baseball team.

Big Shakes

North Gulch. Located at 421 11th Avenue, N., Big Shakes deservedly grew from a tiny cafe in Franklin to multiple locations. It’s one of my favorites because their chicken is both hot and flavorful. I like their catfish too. So-so on their cornbread. Thrillseekers may want to order their ghost fries.

Party Fowl

The Gulch A few blocks south of Music City Center, Party Fowl is a little trendier than my traditional taste buds favor. More likely to find tourists than hot chicken aficionados here. Unlike most joints, they’ve got a full bar and run happy hour specials during the week.

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish

East Nashville In business since the ’90s, it’s very old school with a tiny cinder-block joint typical of traditional hot chicken shacks. Some love it but I wasn’t inspired. I do love that they describe their spiciest version as “call-on-the-Lord” hot.

Helen’s

Jefferson StreetMidtown, and Madison Didn’t love or hate it. And it took a dang long time for a near-empty restaurant. Hopefully your experience will be better.

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

Nashville AirportGEODIS Park They haven’t announced the exact location but it’s coming soon to Jefferson Street.

Red’s Hot Chicken

West End/Centennial Park This tiny spot gets giant praise, particularly for their hot chicken tenders on pimento mac’n’cheese and their unique crunchwrap–chicken, mac and crispy bacon folded into a grilled tortilla (pictured). For what it’s worth, some traditionalists disqualify Red’s because it doesn’t offer a bone-in, skin-on option. I say their very crispy texture and balanced flavor overcome that legalism.

Eat on their six-stool porch, shuffle it over to the Springwater bar next door (assuming you order beverages) or take your order across the street to Centennial Park. (They’ve tweaked their name; it was formerly Red’s 615 Kitchen.) Note their limited hours: Wed-Thurs 11am-3pm, Fri and Sun 11am-4pm, Sat 11-6pm.

Red's 615 Hot Chicken crunchwrap

Beyond 3 Miles

Pepperfire

The Nations Almost hidden behind another building, it’s worth seeking out. I really like the flavor and moistness of their chicken. If you’re really hungry, order the incomparable Tender Royale, a mash-up of hot chicken and a grilled cheese sandwich. Alert your cardiologist. Carry-out only.

400 Degrees

Nashville Airport and Bordeaux The 200° version made my lips numb so beware when owner Aqui Hines cranks things up to her 400° level which I regard as gastronomic suicide. Was voted #1 by the Fraternal Order of Hot Chicken. Limited hours in Bordeaux: Tues-Fri 11am-3pm, Sat noon-4pm.

Big Shake’s Chicken

Franklin If you’re in the Brentwood/Williamson County area, this is your hot spot for hot chicken. It’s got nice flavor–not just heat. The fish is as good as the chicken. Also in Franklin is Bishop’s Meat-and-Three which gave birth to Hattie B’s.

Moore’s Famous Fried Chicken

Hendersonville Recently picked the top chick in the area by tasters from the local newspaper, the menu also includes brisket and ribs for those who prefer food that’s smoked instead of smokin’. (Suspended website so seek it out on your own.)

Slow Burn Chicken

Food truck Closed their Hendersonville brick-and-mortar but you can track down their truck via Facebook. In addition to hot chicken and hot fish, they may also be serving shrimp, burrito bowls, wraps, and loaded baked potatoes.

Hurt’s Hot Chicken

Food truck You’ll have to track it down but lots of people think it’s worth the trouble. High marks for the breading and their Boss Sauce. With a limited kitchen, fries are their own side but they also fry catfish and shrimp. To my knowledge, they serve Nashville’s only hot chicken gyro.

BJ Hot Chicken

Murfreesboro Road If you’re near Lane Motor Museum just east of town and you want to try hot chicken, here’s your quick fix. Hit the strip mall at 818 Murfreesboro Pike for their famed chicken sandwich, go basic with tenders and a side, or get uppity with tiramisu for dessert.

→What if you want hot chicken and your friends don’t? Two simple solutions HERE.←

Hot Tips for Eating Hot Chicken

Camouflage your rookie status by employing these tactics. We laugh at people who cry out “Ohh, that’s hot!” Umm, that’s why it’s called hot chicken.

Ordering

  • Know your limits. Hot chicken ranges from mildly spicy to a bird that’s nearly radioactive. For your maiden voyage, go in the medium range.
  • Get over the unnatural color. Paprika and granulated peppers have that effect on poultry.
  • If you want a reprieve from the spice, try neutralizing sides such as mayo-based cole slaw, potato salad, mac’n’cheese or even unseasoned fries.
  • Choose your drink wisely. Water and sodas will not relieve the heat. Milk is a better option. Yes, beer works but it won’t put out the fire like milk.

Cooking and delivery

  • Be patient. It takes 15-30 minutes to receive your order because most purveyors fry upon demand. Purists prefer the old-school method using a cast-iron skillet but these days many restaurants go with the shorter cook-time of a deep fryer.
  • White bread. A slice is placed under your chicken to soak up the grease and additional seasoning. Don’t embarrass yourself by asking for wheat bread or a roll.

Rescue and recovery

  • If you need an escape hatch, some restaurants offer a variety of salad dressings ala carte. Ranch or bleu cheese are cool complements.
  • Banana pudding is probably the dessert front-runner but a slice of pie makes a nice balm to the napalm.