Nashville Hot Chicken

This fried chicken sandwich is spicy, hot, and just a little bit sweet.

Nashville hot chicken sandwich with pickles and served on a plate.
Irvin Lin

Hot take: The first bite of a Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich should send your tastes buds screaming, walking the thin line between pleasure and pain.

It should be savory, salty, spicy, and hot but not so hot that you absolutely can’t taste the other spices and the juicy deep-fried meat. And yes, it should be served with pickle chips on a white bun or bread.

If you want to make your chicken less spicy (we all have our personal limits on what we consider hot and spicy) that’s totally fine, but try not to get too fancy pants with this chicken sandwich. The beauty of Nashville Hot Chicken is in its simplicity. There’s no need for a brioche or sourdough bun or to add tomatoes or (gasp!) avocado. This is not the time to gild the lily! The focus here is the chicken itself.

What is Nashville Hot Chicken?

Nashville Hot Chicken is a deep-fried chicken, slathered in a spicy hot paste and served on white bread with pickles on top. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, a nearly 100 year old restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, is often cited as the originator of the recipe.

Legend has it that Thorton Prince, the restaurant’s namesake, spent too much time out partying and his girlfriend wasn’t too thrilled with his antics. So, she used his favorite dish, fried chicken, to teach him a lesson about those late nights and slathered it with a spicy hot paste and extra spices! Instead of crying out in pain, Prince loved it so much he asked for seconds and the signature Nashville dish was born.

Nowadays you can find Nashville hot chicken throughout the city of Nashville and all around the country. One of the most popular Nashville fried chicken chains, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, has expanded outside their original Nashville locations, opening shops in Alabama, Georgia, and Las Vegas.

Nashville hot chicken sandwich with pickles and served on a plate.
Irvin Lin

How Do You Make Nashville Hot Chicken?

Traditional hot chicken is made from whole chicken parts, marinated in a buttermilk and hot sauce brine, coated in a flour mixture, deep fried, and then slathered in a spicy red-hot paste. If you’re in the market for a new deep fryer, here is a list of the top deep fryers this year.

I’ve gone ahead and made my hot chicken sandwich with boneless chicken thighs and chicken breasts. This makes eating it easier as a sandwich, and reduces the cooking time. If you’re using chicken breasts, I highly recommend cutting them into three pieces. Cut the chicken crosswise in half, then take the thicker top half of the chicken and cut it lengthwise, splitting the thickest part. This allows the chicken to cook faster and more evenly.

Follow this breading process for extra juicy, crispy hot chicken!

  • Combine buttermilk, hot sauce, eggs, and salt in a large shallow dish.
  • Combine flour, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper in another large shallow dish.
  • Dip the chicken in the dry flour mixture to coat all sides.
  • Then dip and flip the chicken in the buttermilk mixture.
  • Dip the chicken back in the dry flour, creating a double coating. This will fry up slightly thicker and stay crisp when you brush the spicy sauce over it.
  • Set aside on a large baking pan while you repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

Heat a large deep sided skillet or Dutch oven with about 2-inches of oil. I like to use cast iron because it’s retains heat better, but you can use whatever large deep sided skillet that is at least 3 inches deep.

Once the oil has reached 350°F, fry the chicken pieces in batches, making sure to not overcrowd the pan, for 6 to 8 minutes, total flipping over once, until the chicken is golden brown, and the internal temperature reaches 165°F for thighs and 160°F for breasts.

Once the chicken is done, let the oil cool a bit, then measure out 1/2 cup of the cooking oil and transfer it to a glass bowl. Add 1/4 cup of cold butter to the oil and stir until the butter melts. If the butter isn’t melting, heat it up in the microwave or on the stove. Add the spices to the fat and stir until a paste forms.

Place the chicken on the bottom bun, brush the chicken with the spice paste, and then top with pickles and bun top.

Nashville-style hot chicken served on a parchment lined tray.
Irvin Lin

Adjusting the Heat

Though there is hot sauce in the buttermilk brine, and a touch of cayenne pepper in the flour mixture, the main heat comes from the spicy paste you make with the cooking oil.

If you are sensitive to heat, you can adjust the cayenne down to 2 tablespoons, a pleasantly spicy, but not mouth on fire, heat. If you like your spicy food to burn really good, increase the cayenne pepper anywhere from 4 to 6 tablespoons for that “hurts so good” sensation!

Do keep in mind that this is Nashville HOT chicken. If you’re looking for some not spicy fried chicken, consider making our classic Buttermilk Fried Chicken or our our Sweet Tea Fried Chicken.

Tips for Frying Chicken At Home

Frying can be intimidating, but here are a few tips on how to safely and easily do it.

  • Use the proper skillet or pan. I prefer to use a heavy cast iron skillet. The cast iron will retain heat as you fry multiple batches of chicken. You can use any large heavy skillet or Dutch oven you have on hand. Just make sure to use a pan that is at least 3 inches tall because hot oil might slosh or bubble over lower sided pans.
  • Let the chicken sit for a little bit after you coat it. The rest time for the coating also helps the crust adhere to the chicken.
  • When deep frying, slide the chicken into the hot oil. Never drop the chicken into the hot oil from a distance. Use tongs and hold onto the chicken until half of it is immersed in the hot oil, then let go. This way the chicken will slide into the oil effortlessly. If you drop the chicken from a distance, the oil will splatter up and potentially hit and burn you!
  • Use an instant read thermometer or deep frying/candy thermometer. You want your oil to be at a steady 350°F. Any hotter and the chicken will burn on the outside before it cooks all the way to the inside. Any lower and the chicken will absorb oil and taste greasy and heavy. If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a 1-inch cube of bread in the oil. If it browns in about 45 seconds, it’s at the right temperature.
  • Don’t crowd the pan. Fry the chicken in batches, making sure there is room for the chicken to float around. If you try to cook too many pieces of chicken at once, you’ll end up dropping the temperature of the oil too fast and the chicken will come out greasy and heavy.
  • Once a batch of chicken is done, check the temperature of the oil again. Make sure it’s at 350°F or let it come back to that temperature before frying the next batch.
Nashville-style hot chicken served on a parchment lined tray along with tater tots.
Irvin Lin

What to Serve with Nashville Hot Chicken

A Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich is a perfect meal on its own, but you can serve it with a side of potato chips, tater tots or French fries. Other classic accompanying dishes could be a side of coleslaw, potato salad, cornbread or mac and cheese.

Nashville Hot Chicken

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 24 mins
Total Time 44 mins
Servings 10 servings
Yield 10 sandwiches

You can use chicken breasts for this recipe, but you should cut the chicken into 3 pieces. First lay the chicken breast horizontally, in a landscape position and then cut the chicken in half, perpendicular to you. Set aside the thinner side that tapers. Take the thicker pieces, and cut those in half lengthwise, creating two thinner pieces. Repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken, creating 9 pieces total.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (560 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • For the wet mixture
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce, like Tabasco or Frank’s
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • For the fried chicken
  • 10 boneless, skinless large chicken thighs (or 3 chicken breasts, see note above)
  • Oil for frying, like peanut or rice bran oil
  • For the spicy paste
  • 1/2 cup used frying oil
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 to 6 tablespoons cayenne pepper, depending on your heat preference
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on your sweetness preference
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder blend
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • To serve
  • 10 burger buns
  • Dill pickle slices, or bread and butter if you prefer

Method

  1. Make the dredging station and prepare baking sheet:

    You will need two large shallow dishes. One for the dry ingredients and one for the wet ingredients.

    In the first shallow dish, use a whisk to combine the flour, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt and pepper.

    In the second shallow dish, whisk together the buttermilk, hot sauce, eggs, and salt. Place a piece of parchment paper or wax paper on a large baking sheet.

    Arrange them on your counter dry, wet, baking sheet.

    A glass casserole dish with a flour mixture and a round glass bowl with a wet mixture to make Nashville-style hot fried chicken.
    Irvin Lin
  2. Dredge and dip the chicken:

    Dredge a piece of chicken in the dry flour mixture, making sure to flip the chicken to coat both sides.

    Dip the chicken in the wet buttermilk mixture, making sure to coat both sides. Letting the excess drain off. Dip the chicken back into the flour mixture again, coating both sides. Move to the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the chicken.

    Let the chicken rest while you heat the oil in the next step. This will help the coating adhere to the chicken.

    Chicken thighs being coated in flour mixture for a Nashville-style hot fried chicken.
    Irvin Lin
    Floured chicken thigh set in the wet mixture for a Nashville-style hot fried chicken.
    Irvin Lin
    Breading a chicken thigh to make Nashville-style hot fried chicken.
    Irvin Lin
    Breaded chicken on a baking tray to make Nashville-style hot chicken.
    Irvin Lin
  3. Heat the oil to 350°F:

    Pour enough oil into a large deep skillet or Dutch oven (at least 3-inches tall) so the oil depth is at least 2-inches deep.

    Heat the oil on high until it reaches 350°F. If you don’t have an instant read thermometer or deep frying/candy thermometer, drop a 1-inch cube of bread in the oil. If it goes golden brown in about 45 seconds, you’re at the right temperature.

    An instant read thermometer showing the temperature of frying oil for Nashville-style hot chicken.
    Irvin Lin
  4. Fry the chicken:

    Once the oil is hot enough, gently slide two or three pieces of the chicken into the pan using tongs. Use your tongs to place half the chicken in the oil, then release it so it slides the rest of the way in. If you drop the chicken in the skillet, it’s more likely to splatter the oil and potentially burn you.

    Fry the chicken for about 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat lower or higher to maintain 350°F. Be sure to flip the chicken halfway through the cooking time to ensure even cooking. The chicken will be done when it is golden brown, and the internal temperature of the chicken is 165°F (160°F for white meat).

    Once done, move the fry pieces to a wire rack placed on a baking sheet or a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with the rest of the chicken, frying in batches.

    Frying the chicken to make Nashville-style hot chicken.
    Irvin Lin
    Best Nashville hot chicken set on a cooling rack.
    Irvin Lin
  5. Let oil cool:

    When all the chicken is finished, let the oil cool down for 5 to 10 minutes. You will need some of it to make the spicy paste.

  6. Make the spicy paste:

    Place the butter in medium sized microwave-safe glass bowl. Carefully ladle and measure out 1/2 cup of the hot oil and pour it over the butter. Stir to help the butter melt. If the butter hasn’t melted, cover the bowl and microwave the mixture in 10 second increments until the butter is melted.

    Add the cayenne pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, and pepper to the bowl, then stir to form a paste. The paste will be vary in texture, depending on how much cayenne and brown sugar you use, with more spice and sugar creating a thicker paste.

    You want the paste to be similar to thin BBQ sauce, something you can easily brush on but is still thick enough to cling to the chicken. I used 4 tablespoons of cayenne and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. You can adjust the thickness by adding more oil if you need.

    Mixing spicy paste for a Nashville hot chicken sandwich.
    Irvin Lin
  7. Assemble and serve the sandwich:

    Place one piece of chicken on the bottom of a burger bun. Brush the chicken with the spicy paste, making sure to coat the entire piece of chicken. Garnish with some pickles and then top with the bun. Serve immediately.

    Adding spicy sauce to Nashville-style hot chicken.
    Irvin Lin
    Nashville hot chicken sandwich with pickles and served on a plate.
    Irvin Lin