Every year on July 4th for the past 10 years Nashville has held a Hot Chicken Festival. Bill Purcell, Nashville’s mayor at the time, started the festival in 2007 in order to pay homage to one of his favorite local dishes. He created the event as a way to help market this unique food and to help establish Nashville as the place of origin.
For those of you outside of Music City, the legend of Nashville Hot Chicken started with Prince’s. The story begins with an unfaithful man and a woman’s quest for revenge when the cheating rascal returned. Instead of cooking his favorite fried chicken, she doused the bird in some very serious quantities of cayenne pepper and waited for the fireworks of her retribution to take hold. The problem was that Thornton Prince loved this new chicken recipe and after sharing it with a few friends he decided to open a restaurant. You can read a more detailed description about the history of hot chicken here. There's also a Time article on Nashville hot chicken as well as a piece on the Nashville Public Radio's website.
While Prince’s was the first hot chicken shack to appear, there are now hot chicken restaurants all over Nashville. The dish has grown in popularity since the inception of the hot chicken festival and even upscale restaurants now have hot chicken appetizers or dishes on the menu. I've even had hot chicken tacos (click this link and scroll down the menu).
If you attend the Hot Chicken festival, be aware that the lines are often long, so it’s not as easy as one would think to sample all the different restaurants side-by-side (a dream of mine that has yet to become a reality). However, it’s not unusual for the lines inside the actual restaurants to be long, also. So don't let the wait dissuade you. It's worth it.
Advice for attending Nashville's Hot Chicken festival:
1. Take a cab, Lyft, or Uber. Traffic and parking are both congested near East Park during the festival.
2. Bring at least some cash - not all vendors accept cards (note: if you visit Prince's actual restaurant, they don't accept cards there, either.)
3. The weather and the chicken are both too hot for pets. Leave them at home in the AC with the TV tuned to their favorite station or send them to a spa.
4. Hot chicken comes in various degrees of hotness, but one vendors "XX Hot" may be another vendor's "Medium." Assume that even medium will have some heat and that the most extreme level of heat is "native Thai" or beyond.
5. Related to the above, I like to sample different levels of heat from the same vendor because the flavor of the chicken changes with the heat.
6. Get a dipping sauce - it not only adds flavor, but it can assist in cooling your taste buds, if needed.
7. There is no wrong way to eat hot chicken. You can alternate with bites of bread and pickle, you can make a sandwich, or you can just eat the chicken. Experiment and find what you like.
8. Check out the Hot Chicken Festival website for more information.
Below are a few pictures of my pet gargoyle attending the festival. Yes,
he loves hot chicken, too. After all, he is "Nashville’s Finest Gargoyle"
- why wouldn’t he love Nashville’s finest food?