Cast Iron

Nashville-Style Hot Chicken Sandwich

March 19, 2018
9 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
Author Notes

As the story goes, 80-something years ago, Thornton Prince wasn’t exactly the best husband. To teach him a lesson—and show him just how good he had it—his wife made him fried chicken doused in hot pepper, so spicy it burned. One thing led to another and it became a household—and neighborhood and Nashville—favorite, and soon, a business was born. Now, the Prince family is famous not only for having created this iconic dish, but for running one of the city’s most respected establishments: Prince’s.

Beyond its motherland, you can get hot chicken just about anywhere these days. In 2016, Nation’s Restaurant News explained the national boom by KFC’s hopping on the bandwagon, which helped spread the dish’s addictiveness far and wide. Like Thornton, once you try it, you’ll keep coming back for more (and more).

Here’s how it’s done. Bread bone-in chicken parts: Classically, they’re soaked in buttermilk, then tumbled around in flour—both probably spiced—to yield a sturdy, craggy crust. While other Southern fried chicken stops there, Nashville keeps going. While the chicken cooks, you combine a blend of spices—cayenne is key, plus brown sugar, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Add a pour of hot fry oil—or lard or bacon grease (what, you don’t always have bacon grease on hand?)—and this becomes a makeshift chile oil. When the chicken is done, it goes for a dip, then makes you weep with joy (and capsaicin).

When I went to Nashville with a bunch of friends, we went to Hattie B’s, the other hot hot chicken place in town. There, the chicken comes atop slices of squishy white bread, which soaks up the cayenne grease, plus a couple sweet, crunchy pickles for good measure. You can order the chicken in six heat levels: Southern (no heat); mild (touch of heat); medium (warming up); hot! (feel the heat); damn hot!! (fire starter); shut the cluck up!!! (burn notice). I ordered the second to last—when in Nashville, right?—and, in retrospect, I regret this.

Since I probably won’t be going back to Music City any time soon, I wanted to re-create this experience at home (you know, without the cayenne-crying). I started with Hattie B's recipe, available on the Food Network website. I slightly lowered the cayenne, amped up the accompanying spices, and turned the whole thing into a sandwich. The sesame bun, iceberg lettuce, bread-and-butter pickles—and all the mayo—help tame the burn. At least a little. —Emma Laperruque

Watch This Recipe
Nashville-Style Hot Chicken Sandwich
  • Makes 4 sandwiches
Ingredients
  • Fried chicken
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Sandwich
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Mayonnaise
  • 4 soft sesame seed buns
  • Bread-and-butter pickle chips
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Add a scant 1/2 inch of peanut oil to a cast-iron skillet. Set that over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, set up your dredging station: flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and a pinch of salt in a shallow bowl; buttermilk, hot sauce, egg, and a pinch of salt in another shallow bowl. Whisk each mixture with a fork until well combined.
  2. Bread the chicken thighs: First, season the chicken with salt. Now, dredge in the dry mixture, then dunk in the buttermilk, then back into the dry. Transfer to a plate to hang out while the oil reaches temperature—figure 360° F to 375° F. If you don’t have a thermometer, drop a piece of flour mixture into the pan. It should instantly sizzle but not burn.
  3. When the oil is hot, gingerly add the breaded chicken thighs. (If there isn’t enough space for all of them, do this in batches—overcrowding is not worth it!) Fry for about 4 1/2 minutes per side. Sprinkle with salt when done.
  4. While they’re frying, combine the cayenne, brown sugar, garlic powder, paprika, and black pepper in a heatproof bowl. When you’re done frying the chicken, add about 1/2 cup hot frying oil to the bowl with the spices and whisk until smooth. Dunk the fried chicken in the spiced oil. (If it gets too thick at any point, just thin out with a little more hot oil.)
  5. Build the sandwiches! Toss the lettuce with a little mayo and a pinch of salt. Slather a bottom bun half with mayo, then layer with pickles. Top with chicken, then lettuce. Slather a top bun half with more mayo, then close the sandwich. Repeat. Eat immediately.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Ashley Kennedy
    Ashley Kennedy
  • Amy Heu Wong
    Amy Heu Wong
  • karin
    karin
  • Hana Asbrink
    Hana Asbrink
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles on the fly, baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in October 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

17 Reviews

Ashley K. December 10, 2020
Since my husband isn’t traveling for work and really missed Hattie Bs, I decided to make these. I baked fresh brioche buns using the tongzhong method and had home made pickles ready. Have you ever bitten into something and immediately felt euphoria? This combination of salt, fat, spice, and sugar is perfect- don’t fuck around. Even my picky 13 year old, who doesn’t even like Chick-fil-A, loved it.

Thank you, Emma! This recipe is a keeper and will be loved and used many times!
 
Gage G. August 20, 2020
this was so GOOD it was just amazing how good this was, I made 9 sandwiches out of it to and in only an hour, followed exactly exept for the spices, made sure to make it extra spicy
 
Gage G. August 20, 2020
This was so GOOD it was just amazing how good this was, I made 9 sandwiches out of it to and in only an hour, followed exactly exept for the spices, made sure to make it extra spicy
 
tdj325 April 11, 2020
This recipe was AMAZING. We followed all of the directions to a T, except for the amount of cayenne. Added just a heaping two teaspoons and it was almost inedible it was so hot! I pride myself on eating some spicy foods, and I couldn’t finish my sandwich. Would definitely recommend going much, much lighter on the cayenne but everything else was incredible.
 
TerriCooks June 12, 2020
I’m so glad I saw your comment before I attempted this. I knew the amount of pepper called for in the recipe would be too hot for us, but your comment gives me a much better idea of how much to add for our tastes. Thank you.
 
Cococreate February 15, 2020
Fun Easy Delicious
 
Amy H. April 20, 2019
I’ve made this twice using chicken breast and it was very good. Hubby raves about it. Made some comeback sauce and jalapeño coleslaw. So tasty! Love it. Thanks for the recipe. Will use this only.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 22, 2019
Yay! Thanks, Amy. And heck yes, comeback sauce and jalapeño coleslaw! That sounds soooo good.
 
karin January 21, 2019
Best breading ever. I didn’t use all the cayenne since I wanted dinner, not a challenge, but absolutely a great recipe!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 21, 2019
Thanks, Karin!
 
knittingbaker May 3, 2018
Thanks for the fantastic recipe! It's such a crowd pleaser. I made broccoli slaw and chipotle hot sauce for sandwich fixings; they added the perfect amount of crunch and additional spice. I'll be making this again!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 3, 2018
Oo love a broc slaw!
 
Hana A. March 26, 2018
What a crowd-pleaser! So, so good, and you can personalize the heat level to everyone's preference in the last step (coating in spiced fry oil). Soft seeded bun with a generous slather of mayo is key! Don't let the frying aspect intimidate you: The shallow fry makes quick, clean work out of the whole ordeal. YUM. Thanks, Emma!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. May 3, 2018
Yay, Hana!
 
gandalf March 21, 2018
(1) What is the approximate weight of the 4 boneless chicken thighs?

(2) Can other boneless chicken parts be used? (I'm thinking specifically of chicken breasts.)
 
Author Comment
Emma L. March 21, 2018
Hi gandalf! The weights vary: Ideally, each thigh would be 3 to 4 ounces. And you can totally substitute boneless, skillet chicken breasts. I'd pound them slightly, so they're thinner and more manageable to cook, and adjust the cook time accordingly.
 
gandalf March 21, 2018
Thanks!