Nashville Chicken is Hot Hot HOT! (Literally)

Step aside, Philly Cheesesteak, there’s a new regional dish in town. Nashville Hot Chicken, a Nashville staple in late-night diners, is now THE dish to try. Those outside of Nashville have probably heard of this spicy wonder thanks to KFC’s new ads featuring this delightful dish.

In case you’ve been living under a culinary rock, Nashville Hot Chicken is a type of fried chicken (either a breast, a thigh, or wing) that’s been marinated in a water-based blend of seasoning, floured, fried (buttermilk, typically), and finally sauced using a paste that has been spiced with cayenne pepper. It’s served atop slices of white bread with pickle chips. What separates this from, say, Buffalo wings, is the presentation and the spicy paste.

The spicy paste is made up of two key ingredients: lard and cayenne pepper. The two are mixed together, three parts pepper, one part lard, and heated until they form a thick sauce. The paste is then applied to the fried chicken the same way you’d apply buttermilk batter. The heat level can be varied by applying more or less of the paste.

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The story of how Hot Chicken came to be a Nashville staple is kinda funny. Its creation may have gone back as far as the 1930s, but it’s generally believed to have been originated at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.

The dish’s creator, Thornton Prince III, was a bit of a womanizer. After one late night, his girlfriend had cooked him a fried chicken breakfast with an abundance of pepper as revenge. Instead of being punished by spice, Prince fell in love with the dish, created his own recipe, and opened the BBQ Chicken Shack café with his brothers.

Hot Chicken evolved over the years until the spice paste as we know it today was developed. As of last year, there are an estimated two dozen restaurants in the Nashville area that serve Hot Chicken, either as the focus or as part of the larger menu. As locals fell in love with this spicy wonder, it grew in popularity, expanded into other cities that put their own spin on the dish, and eventually landed on KFC’s menu.

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Now that the world is being introduced to Nashville’s favorite meal via KFC, what do Nashvillians think of it? On the one hand, you’re proud of this local cuisine and you want everyone in the world to try it. On the other hand, a giant restaurant chain taking this local cuisine and mass producing it takes away its specialty, and you’d rather they just stay away.

KFC isn’t just selling some delicious chicken, it’s selling Nashville pride. Sure, it’s KFC, they’re not in the business of making bad chicken (depending on who you ask), but if it’s not from Nashville, it’s just not the same. Like the Philly Cheesesteak or Chicago Deep-Dish pizza, Nashville Hot Chicken is best served in Nashville.

…unless you’re that guy…

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