HotChickenChallenge

Nashville Hot Chicken Challenge Results

Just in time for the Independence Day and the Music City Hot Chicken Festival, the results of our Hot Chicken Challenge are in. We went to six of the most famous chicken joints in Nashville to determine who has Nashville’s best hot chicken, and our results are below! You can see the full photo gallery here, and check out our methodology here. Let us know who your favorite is in the comments, and be sure to check out the Music City Hot Chicken Festival on July 4, from 11am-2pm in East Nashville’s East Park where you can sample chicken from most of the restaurants below. Admission is free.


Sixth Place: 400 Degrees

400 Degrees on Urbanspoon

Breast Quarter, 200 Degrees

Breast Quarter, 200 Degrees

400 Degrees and owner Aqui Simpson were recently featured on the Cooking Channel’s Road Trip with G. Garvin, but their variation of hot chicken was the least favorite of all three judges on this panel. Located on Peabody street inside a downtown food court, 400 Degrees has ample seating, a comfortable atmosphere, and a friendly staff. Dark meat, white meat, and tenders are available from zero to 400 degrees (no heat, mild, medium, hot) with a variety of sides. Drink selection is limited, but other options are available within the food court. The chicken was tender and juicy, and the 200 degrees wasn’t unbearably hot. The main complaint was that the coating was just way too powdery, no doubt the result of this chicken being finished with a dusting of spices (after it has been covered in the oil based sauce).

Fifth Place: Pepperfire

Pepperfire Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

Breast Quarter, Medium

Breast Quarter, Medium

Pepperfire is located on Gallatin road and easily features the most adventurous menu of this group, including waffles, baked apples, and a grilled (fried) cheese sandwich. They even offer online ordering. But for the challenge we stuck to traditional orders. Pepperfire’s chicken had the lightest breading of all the contestants, creating a slightly different texture and taste. One judge called it greasy, another said it was both oily and powdery at the same time. But all three enjoyed the flavor. The heat wasn’t overbearing. The chicken portions seemed smaller than most of the others, and Pepperfire seemed to realize that, throwing in a free tender with our quarter dark, likely due to the small size of the leg. None of the judges were especially impressed with the sides (fries, okra, potato salad, baked beans) which seemed like they could easily have been store bought. While it wasn’t anyone’s favorite, all the judges enjoyed it. Though not traditional, the Tender Royale is highly recommended if you find yourself in the neighborhood.

Fourth Place: Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish

Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish on Urbanspoon

Tenders, Medium

Tenders, Medium

Bolton’s has two locations, and for this challenge we skipped the original location on Main Street in East Nashville and tried their newer shop on 8th avenue. Our three judges had the most varied experience and opinions of the competition when it came to Bolton’s. One judge loved the combination of flavor, heat and sides. Another judge got medium heat and had smoke rising from his ears and sweat dripping from his brow, overcome from the heat. The third judge felt his tenders were soggy in some places and crispy in others. The seating is limited and only bottled drinks are available (get two, you’ll need them), but the service was faster than expected, especially for the lunch rush. Skip the mac and cheese. Pro tip: don’t touch your eyes. Don’t even think about touching your eyes.

Third Place: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack on Urbanspoon

Leg Quarter, Hot

Leg Quarter, Hot

Prince’s is the oldest and the original hot chicken restaurant in Nashville, and the gold standard by which many people judge their hot chicken. But we say that being the first, or the oldest doesn’t necessarily make you the best. Prince’s has a reputation for excruciating long wait times. As a result we tried to call ahead multiple times, but no one would answer the phone to take our order. Fortunately, once we arrived and ordered we only had to wait about 30 minutes for our food, and our whole meal took only an hour (not counting transit), quicker than expected, though not speedy by anyone’s standard. Once the food came out, we were pleased. They don’t offer tenders so we had two breast quarters and one leg quarter. The chicken had nice flavor, with a lot of black pepper. It was different from all of the other places in terms of taste. The chicken was fairly tender, but not quite as moist as some of the competitors, and the spice was definitely hot but not overpowering or too hot to enjoy. The texture was fantastic, neither too wet nor too powdery. The prices were also very reasonable, but make sure to bring cash. The only thing that accepts credit cards is the soft drink vending machine. It’s easy to tell why Prince’s has such a strong following.

Second Place: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

Hattie B's Hot Chicken on Urbanspoon

Jumbo Tenders, Hot

Jumbo Tenders, Hot

Hattie B’s is relatively new to the hot chicken scene and is unique in that it offers a slightly more upscale setting (most of the seating is still at picnic tables on a covered porch) in the heart of mid-town, very near Vanderbilt University. Hattie B’s is also the only restaurant on the challenge to offer draft beer, and they feature several local brews. They also offer online ordering, but even without ordering ahead of time, they were the quickest turnaround of the six.

Hattie B’s chicken was the biggest and juiciest of the competition, fantastic quality meat. Their medium and hot are not quite as strong as Bolton’s or Prince’s but they also offer “Damn Hot” and “Shut The Cluck Up” for adventurous diners (yes, we tried both and wouldn’t advise either for beginners). The spice is a nice mix texture-wise, not too powdery and not too runny, though the heat is primarily concentrated in the skin. In addition to the best drink selection, Hattie B’s also offers the best sides and desserts with great slaw and fantastic peach cobbler. Hattie B’s may not look or feel like a traditional hot chicken joint, but their chicken is the real deal.


First Place: Hot Stuff Spicy Chicken & Fish

Hot Stuff Spicy Chicken & Fish on Urbanspoon

Leg Quarter, Medium

Leg Quarter, Medium

The Hot Chicken Challenge Champion, Hot Stuff was definitely the dark horse of this competition. Hot Stuff wasn’t even on our radar coming into the challenge, but thanks to a reader (hotchknhead) we were able to add them to the schedule. And boy are we glad that we did. Though they were eventually crowned champions, Hot Stuff got off to a rocky start. They have had two locations, one on Stewart’s Ferry Pike and one on Bell Road. We tried to visit the Stewart’s Ferry Pike location on a Saturday afternoon, only to find a hand written sign on the door saying that they were temporarily closed. Disappointed but not discouraged, we planned to try again the next week. Online ordering was unavailable for the Stewart’s Ferry location, and no one answered the phone… we called the Bell Road location and were informed that Stewart’s Ferry was closed for repairs. Not to be deterred, we placed our order and set out for Bell Road.

When we arrived, our chicken was hot, ready and waiting. The shop, located in a new-ish shopping center was small, but bright and inviting. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they offered not only fountain drinks but also fruit tea and a few bottled beers. But this isn’t a beverage challenge, WHAT ABOUT THE HOT CHICKEN?

The chicken at Hot Stuff was excellent. The heat was good, but not too hot and not overpowering. The flavor was fantastic, the skin was crisp without being overly battered or powdery. The chicken portions were big, and the meat was juicy, moist, and flavorful. Simply put, it was really good! The sides were average, with thinner, crinkle-cut fries and typical, solidly executed slaw. We all left Hot Stuff full and happy, they had exceeded our expectations, and the chicken was delicious. We are happy to crown them Champions of the Hot Chicken Challenge!  *(Note: based on their website, it appears that the Stewart’s Ferry location is now permanently closed)