Nashville-Style Sweet and Spicy Chicken


My dogs have completely lost their patience with me, and I don't blame them. They are spoiled dogs, so please don't call up the ASPCA just yet. They are adored, worshiped, snuggled, coddled, over-fed and generally loved to death. But I often go through phases where I crave food with quite a bit of heat and when that happens, the "sneakies" the puplets get during dinner time become few and far between.

To top it off, I pretty much tortured the heck out of them. The house smelled of frying chicken and when I sat down to munch, there was no chicken for the pups. They eye-balled me glaringly ... all while they snarfed up the bits of rotisserie chicken I'd thoughtfully placed in their food bowls because, hey - at the end of the day I'm a nice person.

I first discovered this fantastically hot chicken, appropriately enough, in Nashville last year. The folks there take credit for slathering a crispy-fried bird (usually marinated in something spicy) with as much cayenne pepper as you can stand. I'd read about the emergence of the iconic southern specialty and chose Hatie B's to introduce myself to the flaming madness. I was not disappointed. They'll go as easy or as hard on you as you can handle with spice levels starting out at Southern (no heat) all the way up to Shut the Cluck Up! which I believe comes with a burn disclaimer notice ...

I think I went with the middle-of-the-road medium and before long I had tears of joy (that's what I told everyone they were) streaming down my face. I don't often enjoy fried chicken often. It's one of those things that's so great tasting but not necessarily great for the hips. When I came upon this recipe in last month's Bon Apétit which bases it's ingredient list off of Hattie B's, I knew it was time to bring home a bird and fry it up in the pan.

I'd always had a feeling the chicken was marinated with some heat, but in  this recipe, it's simply recommended you salt and pepper the chicken and let it hang out in the fridge for several hours, but I left mine overnight. The salt starts that magical transformation of making a chicken super juicy on the inside. When you're ready to fry, it's the heat added to the coating that gives the bird it's first initial introduction to hot-town, but what really takes it to another level is the spicy-sweet heat you apply when the chicken comes out of the fryer.

The original recipe serves 8 and since I'm a singleton and had four skin-on, bone-in thighs, I halved the recipe for the blog. And honestly, there was plenty of dredging mixture left, so I'd say this will work for up to 8 pieces of chicken, say four thighs and two breasts perhaps. This dish really made me feel naughty - fried chicken that had a sweetly-spicy additional coating? I restrained myself to one piece per serving, but I'll be honest it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

I like this chicken served in the traditional Nashville way - on the bone with some soft white bread (oh the humanity - don't shame me gluten-free friends!) and sliced dill pickle. Pop a crisp bottle of beer and you're in business, though a tall glass of cold-milk on the side to keep the flames at bay don't hurt none either.

Sweet & Spicy Chicken

Adapted from Bon Apétit

Serves 4


1 3-4lb chicken cut up into pieces

-or- four skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and two breasts

1/2 T. freshly cracked black pepper

1 T. plus 2 t. kosher salt

2 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk or whole milk

Several dashes of hot sauce (your favorite)

2 cups all-purpose flour

Vegetable oil (for frying; about 5 cups)

3 T. cayenne pepper (yowsah!)

1 T. dark brown sugar

1/2 t. chili powder

1/2 t. garlic powder

1/2 t. paprika

White bread and sliced pickles (for serving)

Toss the chicken with the black pepper and 1 Tbsp. salt in a large bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. I left mine in the fridge overnight and was blessed with super juicy chicken.

Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and hot sauce in a large bowl. Whisk flour and remaining 2 tsp. salt in another large bowl.

Fit a Dutch oven with a deep-fry thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2”. Alternatively, if you've got a nice deep fryer, set it to 325° and fry away! If using the Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 325°. Pat the chicken dry. Working with 1 piece at a time, dredge it in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, then dip into the buttermilk mixture, letting the excess drip back into bowl. Dredge once more in the flour mixture and place on a baking sheet.

Working in batches and making sure the oil returns to 325° between batches, fry the chicken, turning occasionally, until the skin is deep golden brown and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of pieces registers 160° for white meat and 165° for dark, 15–18 minutes. Transfer to a clean wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Let the oil cool slightly.

Now here is where it gets insane: whisk cayenne, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder, and paprika in a medium bowl; carefully whisk in 1/2 cup frying oil. Brush fried chicken with spicy oil. Serve with bread and pickles.