It doesn’t take long for first-time visitors to Nashville to hear about Hot Chicken.This city is famous for it.
It all started a long time ago with a man named Thornton Prince. Prince was something of a party guy who loved to stay out late. Apparently he stayed out so late one night it was the final straw for his steady girlfriend. She was angry and wanted to find a way to pay him back.
The next morning Prince awoke to the wonderful smell of fried chicken. What he didn’t know, however, was his girlfriend had spent some time doctoring it up with hot pepper and spices. This was punishment chicken.
She couldn’t wait for him to bite down into it. It turns out she didn’t get the reaction she wanted. Prince loved it! He spent some time perfecting the recipe and in 1945 opened what would eventually become “Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.” Today there are two, both run by his great niece. One is located on Ewing Drive off Dickerson Pike, and the other is on Nolensville Pike.
When it comes to hot chicken, Prince’s is the original, but others now make it, as well. The list includes Hattie B’s, Bolton’s, Pepperfire, Party Fowl, and others.
Hot chicken is a Nashville thing, so you MUST try it. Just keep in mind you'll have to stand in line, especially if you’re going to Prince’s or Hattie B’s.
It’s truly unlike anything you’ve tried before. It’s cooked so the hot spices are good and strong in the chicken, the skin, and even in the pickles that go with it.
Authentic hot chicken is placed on bread slices (which soaks up some of the juice) and topped with pickles.
There are different levels of “heat” in hot chicken. The first level is mild, then medium, then hot, then up from there. If you go to Prince’s the hottest levels are X hot and XXX hot.
Hattie B’s has spent some time on marketing, so while it also has mild, medium, and hot, the two hottest flavors there are “damn hot” and “shut the cluck up.” (Look for bags that say “shut the cluck up” for carry out orders.)
If you’re trying hot chicken for the first time, go low. That heat is serious business. And don’t be quick to assume it’s not too hot for you. When you take that first bite, you usually have to wait a few minutes to feel the full effect. I usually go with mild and that’s hot enough for me.
There’s more to eating hot chicken than just the chicken. Part of what makes it so good are the side items that go along with it. Depending on where you go, sides can include potato salad, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, baked beans, southern greens, black-eyed pea salad, French fries, and more. (I’ll admit I’m extremely fond of Hattie B’s redskin potato salad.).
It’s a true southern dining experience.
Hot chicken is such a big deal there’s an annual festival to go along with it. The Music City Hot Chicken Festival is held every July. Since the chicken is “hot,” they start the festival with a fire truck parade. The festival itself has a number of hot chicken restaurants offering samples of their version of hot chicken for festival-goers to try.
In recent years the popularity of hot chicken has led to a number of restaurants adding “Nashville-inspired” hot chicken items to their menus, but only a few places have "authentic" hot chicken.
So if it’s your first time to Nashville make sure you try it. And if you’ve had it before you don’t need me to tell you it’s SOOOOO good!