Why is Nashville Hot Chicken the Hottest Food Trend — and Who Makes It Best?

Editor
Hot chicken is beginning to catch on like wildfire
Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

Photo Modified: Flickr/ Sean RussellCCBY-SA 4.0

Does Prince's serve the best hot chicken in Nashville?

This year has seen its share of food trends, dishes that are popping up on restaurant menus seemingly out of nowhere: from spicy salami spread ‘nduja to poke to rainbow everything. But few dishes have captured the national imagination in the past year more than Nashville-style hot chicken, fried chicken that’s taken a bath in a fiery chile sauce. Heck, even KFC’s jumped on the bandwagon. While we have a feeling we haven’t yet seen the full extent of the hot chicken diaspora, restaurants throughout the country are beginning to serve the dish, and we tracked down the 10 that are doing it best. And surprise: They’re not all in Nashville.

Why is Nashville Hot Chicken the Hottest Food Trend — and Who Makes It Best? (Slideshow)

Making perfect hot chicken is a lot more challenging than it appears. First, the chicken needs to be properly fried and cooked to order; if the fried chicken can’t hold its own without the sauce, it doesn’t pass the test. Second, the sauce needs to be hot but flavorful. It’s made by adding a cayenne- and paprika-heavy spice rib to oil, and the fried chicken gets dunked into it as soon as it comes out of the fryer. (Hey, we never said it was healthy.) Third, the hot chicken needs to be hot. This stuff isn’t for the faint of heart. Most places offer a few levels of heat, but even “mild” is generally pretty spicy. Once it reached the upper levels, the heat should be face-melting.

So why exactly is Nashville hot chicken having its moment now of all times? It’s hard to pin down an exact reason, but we have a few ideas. One, it’s one of the most beloved regional specialties in America, and if it’s beloved in Nashville then there’s no reason it wouldn’t become beloved everywhere as it gains more recognition. Two, many chefs have challenged themselves in recent years to perfect fried chicken, and perfecting this version of it takes the challenge one step further. Three, it’s indulgent. Four, it’s on the “extreme” side — a perfect dish for those who like spicy foods. And five, it’s delicious!

Read on to learn about the best hot chicken spots not only in Nashville but across the country as well. Even if there are no hot chicken joints in your neck of the woods, just wait: This trend shows no sign of slowing down. Though only a handful of places outside of Nashville serve hot chicken that can compete with the big guys in Music City, we have a feeling that within a few years you’ll be able to find perfect renditions from coast to coast. 

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