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Prince's Hot Chicken | © Sean Russell / Flickr
Prince's Hot Chicken | © Sean Russell / Flickr
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A Brief History of Hot Chicken, Nashville's Spicy Specialty

Picture of Leena Kollar
Updated: 31 January 2017
If you’re looking for spicy chicken, you’ll definitely find it in Nashville. But the history of how it came to be a Nashville food staple might surprise you. Read on to learn how hot chicken made its way into the city’s food community.

Back in the 1930s, a womanizer named Thornton Prince was served a heaping dose of fried chicken loaded with hot pepper by his lady as punishment. Supposedly, he went out on a Saturday night, leaving hints of his wandering eye for his woman to find, and on Sunday, she made the spicy chicken dish hoping he would react in pain. Instead, her plan backfired. Mr. Prince actually liked the chicken so much that he requested more and decided to open a chicken shack, which is known today as Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.

Do you know who the man on the window is?

A photo posted by Princes Hot Chicken Shack 🐓🔥 (@princeshotchicken) on

After nearly 100 years since Prince’s vengeful lover tried to punish him, his great-niece, André Prince Jeffries, is still making and serving his hot chicken. The recipe that Prince’s uses for its signature chicken is one that Prince himself took some time to get just right, after trying to replicate what his lady friend served him back on that fateful day. It’s basically Southern fried chicken lacquered with a spice paste, often made with cayenne pepper, garlic powder, or paprika. People flock to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack so much that it stays open until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

spicy chicken / (c) Sean Russell / Flickr
Prince’s Hot Chicken | © Sean Russell / Flickr

Since Prince’s Hot Chicken made its way into Nashville, many other restaurants have followed in its spicy chicken ways. The food is now a popular menu item at places across the city. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken serves chicken with different heat levels (Southern, mild, hot, or damn hot) and offers a variety of classic Southern side dishes. There’s also Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish, which has a restaurant location and a mobile food truck.

Noting the way that Nashvillians had taken to the spicy chicken offerings, former Nashville mayor Bill Purcell started the Music City Hot Chicken Festival in 2007. Now in its 10th year, the free event is open to the public, held on July 4th every year. There’s an amateur cooking competition, as well as a fire truck parade, where the first 500 people in line get free hot chicken samples. Local hot chicken restaurants and food vendors also participate in the annual event.