In January 2016, the tastemakers at Kentucky Fried Chicken put their spin on a Tennessee Classic and began selling it as “Nashville Hot Chicken” and another offering called “Nashville Hot Tenders” in its U.S. restaurants after a trial run in the Pittsburgh area. Press releases from the chain stated that it was “the most successful product testing in the company’s recent history”. According to the advertising, KFC promises a a spicy bird with a savory burn.The company even espouses that the “Colonel’s” latest creation was inspired by one of Nashville’s most famous dishes. The ads also say that their version of Nashville Hot Chicken is spicy, smoky, crispy chicken that’s bold and full of flavor.
So with all the hype about KFC’s Nashville Hot Chicken, I was curious to give it a go.
Welp, having grown up down in the Deep South, I have had the opportunity to experience the REAL Hot Fried Chicken, from the original hole-in the wall-joint known as Prince’s Hot Chicken on the north side of Nashville, Tennessee. Hot Fried Chicken might have had a scandalous start some 70 odd years ago, but everyone in Nashville still seems to crave its fiery flavor.
Legend has it that Thornton Prince, III was the inspiration for hot fried chicken,which was by accident. Thornton was purportedly a womanizer, and after a particularly late night out, his girlfriend at the time cooked him a fried chicken breakfast with extra pepper as revenge. Instead seeking absolution from his irate girlfriend, Thornton decided he liked it so much that, by the mid-1930s, he and his brothers had created their own recipe and opened the BBQ Chicken Shack Café, serving up the specialty of hot fried chicken. Only one spice level was offered back then, but today, you can order Prince’s Hot Fried Chicken as plain, mild, medium, or extra hot.
So it’s no surprise that Hattie B’s, a bold newcomer to Nashville’s growing hot chicken landscape, has been an enormous success since opening their first location in 2012. In just a few years, Hattie B’s has become every bit the go-to for a hot chicken christening as Prince’s or fellow old-school joint Bolton’s. True Heat fiends whisper among themselves and those foodies “in the know” that Hattie B’s’ hottest preparation, “Shut the Cluck Up,” is a more-than-worthy challenger to Prince’s extra-hot. With that said, Hattie B’s is aiming straight for the taste buds of the masses.
What ironically started out as breakfast revenge is now considered to be a staple food for late-night diners, especially in Nashville. On weekends, most restaurants dedicated to the fare of hot chicken are open very late, some past 4 am.
As of 2015, there are an estimated two dozen restaurants in the Nashville area that serve hot chicken, either as the focus or as part of a larger menu.
Reflecting the growing popularity of the dish, several cities in the United States host restaurants that serve hot chicken or a variation thereof, including Atlanta, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Birmingham, and Ann Arbor. Even a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, serves Nashville-style hot chicken.
The original Prince’s Hot Chicken is so hot, you will not be able to finish it. It think it has a Scoville Scale Rating that goes beyond the Komodo Dragon Chili Pepper and the Carolina Reaper Pepper, both being Hotter Than Hades.
Welp, KFC’s version is adequate. I had the two piece thigh and drumstick meal that came with two pickles, a side of cole slaw and KFC’s signature biscuit. The meal does not include a beverage, but the total entree came to $5.49 plus tax, without a drink. To be perfectly honest, KFC’s version of Nashville Hot Chicken will not have you wiping you nose on a slice of white bread or reaching for something to cool your tongue.KFC’s blend of cayenne pepper and smoked paprika were just a little too bland and one note for me. There was a little heat, and the chicken is spicy, but I have had hotter spiced chicken, from my Grandmother’s Creole kitchen, for sure. The hot pepper sauce that coated the chicken was too salty followed by the taste of burnt sugar as an after taste, and there with an over abundance of grease.
As with any regional favorite that has become a trend, good food it is often duplicated, but never fully replicated. So for me, KFC’s version of Nashville Hot Chicken was “okay” with an average grade of C+.