5 Must-Try Hot Chicken Joints in Nashville

5 Must-Try Hot Chicken Joints in Nashville

It's a Nashville tradition, hot chicken. And here's where to get it.

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Nashville hot chicken has become such a global phenomenon that not only are mainstream chains like KFC and O'Charley's adding it to their menus, but hot chicken-centric restaurants are starting to open in other cities around the world. And you can hardly come to the origin of Nashville hot chicken without trying the cream of the crop.

In honor of the 10th annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival on July 4 (side note: it's free!), five top food industry professionals weighed in on a few of their can't-miss spots in town.

PRINCE'S HOT CHICKEN SHACK | Jennifer Justus, food writer and author of Nashville Eats

"Nashville-style hot chicken certainly has blown up locally and beyond over the past few years, but I have four words for anyone who might call it a fad or a trend: Prince's Hot Chicken Shack. This is the mothership of all Nashville hot chicken restaurants, and it dates back to the 1930s. Along with offering expertly fried hot chicken, it has provided a table for all different types of folks to come together and experience that beautiful dance between pleasure and pain."

PEPPERFIRE HOT CHICKEN | Phillip Fryman, food photographer, stylist and blogger at Southern FATTY

(Photo Credit: Pepperfire)

"You can't avoid it—if you are coming to, or are already in Nashville, you are almost obligated to hit up every hot chicken joint in town to claim dibs on your favorite. It's one of the first questions that visiting folks email to ask me about. So, what's my favorite chicken shack? It's sort of like asking what's someone's favorite band, dessert or cocktail. While I can't say that I am absolutely devoted to one spot—because let's be honest, they are all good—Pepperfire is a place that I certainly find myself at more than I care to admit.

"Self-proclaimed ‘hot-chicken evangelist' Isaac Beard opened the joint in 2010, and Pepperfire is certainly the first of the newer hot chicken spots in town to follow iconic Prince's. For that, I give them tons of credit for the popularity that exists as part of the City's flaming fame today. The signature chicken, in seven heat levels from ‘Southernfied' to ‘XX hot,' does not play around. It's consistent in the heat levels, and you certainly won't leave hungry or with any feeling left in your mouth. Classic crinkle cut fries and collard greens are my choice of sides. Fried okra if you're feelin' fancy. Local's tip: They serve at the new Ascend Amphitheater during events. It's more mild than in-house at the restaurant, but still pretty tasty."

HATTIE B'S | Trey Cioccia, Chef/Owner of The Farm House

(Photo Credit: Phillip Fryman)

"Hot chicken is nothing new for me as a Nashville native. I've had it all but for me, Hattie B's is my go-to. I love that the crisp skin is hot and drenched in that hot spice and full of flavor, but the chicken itself is so tender and moist—not to mention the different cuts of bone-in chicken you can get. And you will always need one of their pickles and a side of that pimento mac and cheese. If you're real hungry, the banana pudding is a must!"

BOLTON'S SPICY CHICKEN & FISH | Jesse Goldstein, The Food Sheriff and partner at Fresh Branding

"I've been on the volunteer committee of the annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival since the first year in 2006 and have watched as Nashville Hot Chicken has grown from just a few hot chicken vendors in the first year to a waiting list a mile long of hot chicken restaurants from around the country looking to join the event. For me, Bolton's is always a must-try stop for Nashville Hot Chicken. Not only are they one of the originals, but their style is dramatically different from many others, opting for a dry spice blend instead of the oil-based spices used in most others. And for those seeking something different than fiery fowl, Bolton's offers equally delicious Hot Fish options with catfish, whiting, tilapia or grouper. My recommendation? A Hot Grouper Sandwich."

400 DEGREES | Vivek Surti, founder of VEA Supper Club and director of public relations at Nashville Wine Auction

(Photo Credit: 400 Degrees, Bob Wheaton)

"Before Nashville Style Hot Chicken was ubiquitous on menus across town, there were only a few spots in town to find the fiery fowl. While Prince's Hot Chicken Shack and newcomer, Hattie B's, are the most famous, 400 degrees is a place many out-of-towners don't come across. Owner Aqui Hines loved hot chicken so much that she used to eat at Prince's every day before she started making her own. 400 Degrees isn't shy about bringing the heat. While customers can choose their own heat level, anywhere from 0 degrees (plain) to 400 degrees (really freakin' hot), if you're coming to Nashville for hot chicken, live a little and get it HOT. And while you're there, 400 degrees also makes one item you won't find at any other hot chicken spot: a hot pork chop."