Nashville Hot Chicken: Best Spots to Eat the Spicy Southern Meal in Music City

by TK Sanders
nashville-hot-chicken-history-behind-meal
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Nashville certainly didn’t create the bucket of fried chicken, but somewhere along the way, amidst staggering growth in both tourism and new residency, the crispy crunching, fire-breathing Southern staple known as Nashville Hot Chicken became synonymous with Music City.

A state known for its country music licks as thick and sweet as syrup, and its strong Southern roots as bold and earthy as the whiskey that bears its name, Tennessee needed a kick of heat, and found it in a simple soul food classic that has since become iconic.

The process couldn’t be easier: season the chicken’s dredge with a dash (or two, if you like it “damn hot”) of cayenne pepper and paprika, coat the bird evenly, then drop it into the oil. To get that beautiful hint of fiery red color, be sure to add some more cayenne straight to the oil, and maybe some more as it cools. In other words, nobody is handing out any Michelin stars for a plate of hot chicken; and yet this savory relic of a time long-past — when meat was a delicacy and recipes did not always have the luxury of complexity — redefined an entire city’s culinary status virtually overnight.

Nashville hot chicken spots worth waiting in line for:

  • For a taste of history, the O.G. hot chicken: Prince’s
  • For something spicy and sweet: Pepperfire Hot Chicken
  • For hot chicken versions of your favorite meals: Grandaddy’s
  • For the best food truck find (and a race before it sells out!) : Red’s 615
  • For dive bar food at a whole new level: Dino’s
  • For a slightly-out-of-town winner (+ incredible fried fish) : Big Shakes

Nashville hot chicken is as much about the experience as the taste

So then where is the disconnect? How does a family’s after-church Sunday meal become the focal point of a burgeoning metropolis’ entire food scene? The answer is as simple as the meal itself. Go ask a budding country music superstar what it takes to break through to the big show. Go ask a flock of partying tourists on Broadway what they love so much about Music City. The answer is always the same: it’s all about attitude, baby. The cayenne. The spice of life. Nashville hot chicken isn’t just a meal; it’s a bite of excitement that makes you feel alive.

As for the best bite of fried chicken in town? There are the ones that hit everyone’s social media feeds and the over-hyped tourist joints, of course. But we are here to give the lowdown on the 5 that are truly worthy of the wait in line… and what to ask for when it’s your turn to order.

Pepperfire Hot Chicken

Best thing to order: Apple Jack
Website
Location: 5104 Centennial Blvd, Nashville, TN 37209
Follow Pepperfire on socials: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Known as one of the hottest joints Nashville has to offer, Pepperfire offers a more refined take on hot chicken without abandoning the simplicity of the flavor. They are famous for the Tender Royale (deep-fried pepper jack grilled cheese topped with 3 chicken tenders) and the Apple Jack (a Tender Royale garnished with sweet baked apples). While it sounds intimidating, the Apple Jack is an ideal mix of textures in each spicy-sweet bite.

Granddaddy’s Famous Hot Chicken

Best thing to order: Hot Chicken Loaded Potato
Website
Location: 5546 Clarksville Pike Joelton, TN 37080
Follow Grandaddy’s on socials: Facebook | Instagram

Nashville is growing rapidly, but it’s still small compared to the major food scenes across the country. Thanks to budding dive joints like Granddaddy’s in Joelton (20 minutes northwest of town), though, it’s easier to live further from downtown and still get top-notch cuisine. Pop into this local legend for their hot chicken loaded potato, hot chicken spring rolls, and special deep-fried hotdogs.

Red’s 615 Kitchen

Best thing to order: Hot Chicken Mac and Cheese Crunchwrap
Website
Location: 5546 Clarksville Pike Joelton, TN 37080
Follow Red’s on socials: Facebook | Instagram

Want something messy and delicious? Check out Red’s massive Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich. Owner Eric “Red” White bathes his chicken in a 36-hour buttermilk and hot sauce brine, slathers the finished product with a lard seasoning and tops the masterpiece with a Comeback sauce. Some other iterations of the same meal come with mac and cheese or pimento cheese slathered on top, too. The Hot Chicken Crunch wrap is absolutely phenomenal: a handheld meal stuffed with fried chicken and mac-n-cheese.

Dino’s

Best thing to order: Joe’s Hot Chicken
Website
Location: 411 Gallatin Ave. Nashville, TN 37206
Follow Dino’s on socials: Instagram

If you’ve knocked down a few Jack Daniels and need a late-night snack to stack on top, try venturing out to Nashville’s hip eastern side of town. The city’s self-proclaimed “oldest dive bar,” Dino’s leans into its cavalier attitude: busted brick veneer, cigarette butts, sticky floors (and stickier fingers) abound as patrons loudly put away plates of chicken long after other places close.

Prince’s Hot Chicken

Best thing to order: 4 medium (trust us, they are still HOT!) tenders, fries on the side
Website
Location(s): 5814 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, TN 37211 and 5055 Broadway Place, Stall# 2268, Nashville, TN 37203
Follow Prince’s on socials: Facebook | Instagram

Once an undiscovered gem of Nashville, Prince’s hot chicken has racked up lots of press and plenty of praise since hot chicken became a phenomenon. Opened by James Thornton Prince in 1945, the now-famed restaurant even collected a few national press clippings over the years. Once you take a bite, however, you’ll understand why Prince’s is on the tip of everyone’e tongue. The restaurant is credited with popularizing the dish. And for many loyal customers, they still fry it up best in the entire country.

So, where the hell is Hattie B’s, you ask? Yes, we’ve had it. Yes, it’s decent. The Nashville-based chain now has locations in Birmingham, Memphis, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Dallas. But it’s the tourist pick, and Outsiders aren’t quick to hop on the hype. We’re here to tell you about the Nashville spots that may not be as flashy as the ones covering your Instagram feed. The ones on the Outside of mainstream… but ones we can assure you are tried, true, local favorites.

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