Nashville Hot Chicken: What It Is and How to Make It at Home

Nashville hot chicken has exploded in popularity in the last few years. Learn how to make this dish yourself—even if you don't call Tennessee home.

Hot chicken may be new to you, but the people of Nashville, Tennessee, have been hooked for decades. This fiery chicken is coated with a special (often top-secret!) blend of spices, deep-fried and served up over white bread and garnished with pickles.

While Nashville is still home to the original hot chicken, variations on the dish have been popping up on menus across the country—and in home kitchens, too. Learn exactly what this dish is and how you can re-create it yourself.

What Is Nashville Hot Chicken?

As you’d expect, Nashville hot chicken is fried chicken with a major kick. The chicken gets a hefty dose of spice thanks to hot sauce and cayenne in the coating as well as a spicy sauce drizzled over the top. This version of fried chicken is served up with white bread and pickles to help balance out the heat.

The dish is said to have originated at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, though many restaurants in the city (and beyond) have adopted their own takes on the recipe. Some hot chicken joints sell milder versions of this dish, as well as blazing-hot versions to suit culinary daredevils.

How to Make Nashville Hot Chicken

If you’re familiar with making fried chicken at home, making hot chicken should be a cinch. Here’s what you’ll need to make our favorite Nashville hot chicken recipe at home. Our go-to recipe calls for an air fryer, but if you don’t have one at home, don’t fret! We’ll show you how to make it the traditional way, too.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dill pickle slices

Step 1: Mix up the marinade

To start, grab a shallow dish and combine a tablespoon of pickle juice, a tablespoon of your favorite hot sauce (this is our Test Kitchen’s favorite) and a half teaspoon of salt. Place the chicken in the pan and turn to coat. Cover the pan up and chill in the fridge for an hour or more.

When you’re ready to start working on the rest, remove from the fridge, drain and discard any marinade.

Step 2: Make the coating

Grab another dish and whisk together flour, salt and pepper. This is your dry mixture to create the crispy coating.

In another shallow dish, combine the buttermilk, egg, pickle juice and hot sauce.

Take your marinated chicken and dip into the dry mix, making sure you coat both sides. Then dip into the wet mix and back into the flour. This double-dipping of dry coating will help give your chicken that crispy texture we all love in fried chicken.

Step 3: Fry it up

If you’re using your air fryer, arrange the chicken in a single layer on a greased tray inside the fryer basket. Give the chicken a quick spritz of cooking spray—this helps it get perfectly golden brown. Pop in a 375ºF air fryer and cook 5 to 6 minutes, then turn and cook an additional 5 minutes.

If you’d prefer to fry the chicken the traditional way, fry in a Dutch oven filled with about a half-inch of oil. When the oil reaches 350ºF, add a few pieces of chicken (don’t overcrowd the pot) and cook uncovered for 7 to 8 minutes. Turn and cook until both sides are golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 165ºF. Remove from the frying oil and let it rest on a bed of paper towels.

Step 4: Create the Nashville hot finish

While your chicken is frying, whisk together olive oil, cayenne, brown sugar, paprika, chili powder and garlic powder. When the chicken is done cooking, pour this sauce over the top and toss to coat. If you want your Nashville hot chicken hotter, add more cayenne and hot sauce to this mix. If you want to go a bit milder, you can cut back on the cayenne. You can always add more spice later.

Serve up the chicken over white bread to soak up all the extra sauce, plus a hefty side of pickles. Cold, briny pickles are a great complement to the heat.

Where to Find Nashville Hot Chicken (Even if You’re Not in Tennessee)

Not planning to be in Nashville anytime soon? Lucky for you, chicken shacks are popping up around the country. If you’re traveling to New York City, Peaches Hot House in Brooklyn is well-known for its chicken. In Chicago, hit up one of the locations of the Budlong Hot Chicken, or Howlin’ Ray’s in Los Angeles. Those in Birmingham, Alabama, can visit Hattie B’s satellite location (the original is in Nashville). And, for what it’s worth, KFC has it on their menu, too.

Julia K. Porter contributed to this article.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.