How to Clone KFC's Nashville Hot Chicken

What began as a regional specialty has turned into a national trend that looks like it's here to stay: Nasvhille hot chicken has caught on like wildfire, with hot chicken restaurants popping up across the country—not to mention the 8 hot chicken restaurants that you can find in Nashville alone! The history of this Deep South dish is fascinating, and you can read more about it here.

The goods from Prince's Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, Tennessee. Image by Joe Buglewicz/The Bitter Southerner

Turns out the fiery bird is also addictive, and the news has not fallen on deaf ears, especially with the executives at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The fast-food giant started selling their version in January 2016, garnering mixed reviews.

Critics complained that KFC's version wasn't hot enough, so I decided to try it for myself; you see, hot chicken is a special treat for me, and truth be told, I love my fried chicken binges. The KFC version piqued my curiosity in more ways than one. Sure, I wanted to eat it, but I also wanted to cook it. I couldn't help myself!

After trying the KFC version of hot chicken, I have to say I agree with their critics. At KFC, the heat is a supporting actor. On first bite, there's a sweet flavor before the savory heat kicks in. With traditional Nashville hot chicken, the heat is the star of the show.

While it doesn't taste like the traditional version, KFC's Nashville hot chicken does pull off a sweet and hot flavor profile that works nicely with their savory fried chicken recipe.

You can choose what kind of chicken cut you prefer for your order at KFC; I tried the chicken tenders because I was eating alone, and it was the most economical option. In the end, I also chose to use tenders in my copycat recipe because I thought it would be fun to recreate these for family and friends; and I like to serve boneless chicken when entertaining.

All About the Accoutrements

While KFC served thin dill pickle chips with their version, I opted for a thicker cut. Whatever you choose, just remember that the pickle accompaniment is a must! The punch of sour works well with the sweet, hot, and crispy flavor of the chicken.

If you want to pay homage to the traditional Nashville Hot Chicken recipe, you should also serve the recipe below with Wonder Bread.

Without further ado, here is my delicious version of KFC's Nashville Hot Chicken—guaranteed to be just as good... and probably better!

KFC's Nashville Hot Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into tenders
  • 1 Tbsp. freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt

Brine Mixture:

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp. hot sauce (I like Sriracha)

Buttermilk Breading Mixture:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp. hot sauce

Seasoned Flour:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. celery salt
  • ½ tsp. dried sage
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. dried basil
  • ½ tsp. dried marjoram
  • ½ tsp. onion flakes

Nashville Hot Chicken Sauce:

  • 3 Tbsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. garlic salt
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (used for frying)

Directions

  1. Sprinkle the tenders with salt and pepper.
  2. Whisk buttermilk with hot sauce in a large bowl, then place the tenders in the bowl.
  3. Cover and chill for two or more hours (or overnight).
  4. Whisk eggs, buttermilk, and hot sauce for buttermilk breading mixture in a large bowl.
  5. Whisk all of the ingredients for the seasoned flour together in another large bowl.
  1. Fit a deep pan with a lid, or a Dutch oven with a thermometer, and pour enough vegetable oil to measure 2 inches inside the pan.
  2. Heat the oil over medium-high until the thermometer registers 325°F.
  3. Remove the bowl of marinating tenders from the fridge, then take the tenders out of the bowl and pat them dry.
  4. Working with 1 tender at a time, dredge in flour mixture, shake off excess, then dip in buttermilk mixture. Allow any excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge the tender again in flour mixture and place on a baking pan.
  5. Place 3 to 4 tenders in the hot oil, one at a time.
  6. Fry tenders, turning occasionally, until coating is golden brown and crisp, about 3 to 5 minutes. If you want, you can check the tender doneness by inserting a meat or instant thermometer into the tender; it should register 165°F.
  7. Continue to fry your tenders in batches of 3 or 4, allowing the oil to return to 325°F between batches.
  8. Place finished tenders on a tray lined with paper towels.
  9. On the side, whisk cayenne, brown sugar, garlic salt, and paprika in a medium bowl; then whisk in ½ cup frying oil.
  10. Arrange the finished tenders on a serving platter and drizzle with the spicy oil.
  11. Serve with dill pickle chips and white bread (or biscuits).

KFC's Nashville hot chicken puts a sweet twist on a regional specialty that's exploded in popularity. While the original version is much hotter, KFC makes a case for fried chicken with a sweet and hot flavor profile. Their version is easy to recreate at home and works well as a spicy appetizer for casual get-togethers, where your guests don't mind a treat that's finger-licking good.

More Crowd-Favorite Clone Recipes:

Photos by JH Daniel/Food Hacks (unless otherwise stated)

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