How Hot Chicken Really Happened
July 21, 2015 7:53 AM   Subscribe

"For almost 70 years, hot chicken was made and sold primarily in Nashville’s black neighborhoods. I started to suspect the story of hot chicken could tell me something powerful about race relations in Nashville, especially as the city tries to figure out what it will be in the future." Rachel L. Martin, "How Hot Chicken Really Happened," from The Bitter Southerner.
posted by MonkeyToes (40 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
What a great story, the way it uses hot chicken as a springboard for discussing race and urban planning in Nashville, and by extension the rest of the US. I can't believe I haven't heard of hot chicken before; I wonder if there is any place to get a decent batch of it outside of Nashville.
posted by TedW at 8:11 AM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ok. But, what is hot chicken? I mean, how is it specifically made? The article never actually says. Are they dipping fried chicken pieces in hot sauce? Is there spice in the coating of the chicken?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:12 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ok. But, what is hot chicken? I mean, how is it specifically made?

The Bird That Bites Back: How Nashville Hot Chicken is Made
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:14 AM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]




Is there spice in the coating of the chicken?

Yes, a crust of hot crushed/powdered pepper fixed to the skin with a mixture of flour, hot sauce, eggs, and buttermilk.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:16 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


God this sounds so good I hate being a vegetarian and having moral qualms about animal treatment why don't I have my own farm yet so that I can raise happy and healthy chickens and kill them quickly and mercifully and then fry them up covered in tasty crispy delicious spicy buttermilk batter,.?!
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


Great. Now, it's 9:45 and I'm starving.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been to Nashville many times mostly back in college, and I never heard of hot chicken until a few years ago when a popup in Atlanta started making it, then all of a sudden it was everywhere. Interesting phenomena in cultural appropriation. It seems similar to the explosion in Korean style BBQ after Roy Choi put it in a taco.
posted by dudemanlives at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hot chicken aside, this piece really is a fantastic summation of Nashville history, a lot of it that I didn't know. Also a great summation of the way the city has systematically zoned and re-zoned its African-American population out of the core downtown and East Nashville (both of which are where the black community has been historically based) for 100+ years. A story, unfortunately, that you can duplicate without many variations for a lot of cities, both in the South and the North -- and the West, for that matter.

Bill Purcell's quote about "Nashville not being sure about Nashville" is still the case. There's a massive inferiority complex behind all the hyperactive construction fever and all the bluster about this being the "It City," and a lot of it is tied up in the history of segregation and neighborhood "rezoning" or "restitution" or whatever the current au courant term is for shunting people of color out of neighborhoods they've lived in and made home for generations. White-owned Hattie B's and its "nicer area" Midtown joint gets spots on local TV morning shows all the time -- you don't ever see them asking Prince's to come on. I-40, the main interstate through the center of Nashville's core, still doesn't have but two exits for six miles through and past the core downtown area once you get past the Jefferson Street exit, a really bizarre situation for a city this size.

This article really highlighted a lot of things that I never knew about -- turned on a lot of light bulbs. Thanks.
posted by blucevalo at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


[Yo La Tengo] have been coming to Nashville for almost two decades. For the music, of course. And the chicken.

They sing its praises to anyone who will listen. They even named two songs in honor of their love for Prince's Hot Chicken Shack, which has been serving up searing hot chicken since sometime during the 1940s.


"Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)"
"Return to Hot Chicken"
posted by anazgnos at 9:34 AM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


for new yorkers, peaches hot house in bed-stuy makes fantastic hot chicken. i've never been to nashville so i can't attest to its authenticity but it is some good eats.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:04 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Waitwaitwait... so the author wimps out, orders her chicken mild, and then concludes that "I’m not sure I’ll ever be the hot-chicken devotee so many Nashvillians have become"?

Surely in order to get the religion you have to experience the religion.
posted by clawsoon at 10:52 AM on July 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


In case anyone with a hot chicken source decides they have an irresistable urge to send some some place, I will take one for the team. A little out of practice, so I guess I will take anything from medium on up, but not the death chicken please. Not for my first time, that is...
posted by Samizdata at 10:57 AM on July 21, 2015


Regarding the author's order of mild hot chicken: You might say that the author...

...

...chickened out.

[ba dum tish]
posted by clawsoon at 11:06 AM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Now I want to eat some chicken.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 11:20 AM on July 21, 2015


Waitwaitwait... so the author wimps out, orders her chicken mild, and then concludes that "I’m not sure I’ll ever be the hot-chicken devotee so many Nashvillians have become"?

leotrotsky's comment (on Popeye's chicken) from the KFC Cosplay thread a couple weeks back still applies:
"Just make sure you get the Spicy, otherwise you're just wasting everyone's time."
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:26 AM on July 21, 2015


I feel like DC's equivalent food of as-yet-undiscovered by America and much of DC's non-working class population would be Mumbo Sauce.
posted by Karaage at 11:34 AM on July 21, 2015


I can't believe I haven't heard of hot chicken before; I wonder if there is any place to get a decent batch of it outside of Nashville.

Yes. Homerism aside, arguably some of the best hot chicken around is from Gus's Fried Chicken here in Memphis. The world found out about them through Food Network a little while back so they're in the middle of a big expansion, so we'll see how well the quality holds up to franchising.

Checking your profile: there's one popping up in your town end of the summer, according to their website.
posted by absalom at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was a little annoyed at the author wimping out on the hot chicken reality too.

NB: Hattie B's is not hot chicken, judging by what my co-workers who are connoisseurs tell me. It may be some kind of chicken, but it ain't hot chicken.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2015


foods catch on...see above post...even "ethnic" or esp. ethnic foods. A few years ago who ever heard outside NY area of a bagel?

Now, for me, I can not eat shrimp without sauce; or lobster without butter; or a hotdog without mustard--yep..not catsup. But a very good piece of meat? Does not need sauce. So too, I see no reason to kill taste buds by pouring super hot sauce on chicken.

I recall years ago asking a friend why I heard so many from the
south rave about chicken fried steak. He said by cooking in that fashion you took a not so good piece of meat and made it palatable.

Call me damned yankee, but I need no hot sauce on a well done piece of chicken.
posted by Postroad at 11:52 AM on July 21, 2015


As a former Middle Tennesseean, my love of hot chicken knows no bounds. Prince's is grand and Hattie B's is all right. I spent many a lunch at Murfreesboro's Chicken Shack before they closed and there is nothing like hot chicken and cold beer to redeem a bad day.

I'm disappointed that Martin didn't go all the way, or they couldn't get someone to do the history, write the article, and eat the chicken, but overall it was a nice read.

BTW, St. Louis has finally gotten a hot chicken place and it doesn't suck. Which is great, cause I was getting tired of driving 5 hours when I got a craving.
posted by teleri025 at 11:53 AM on July 21, 2015


"as if Granny's picnic basket were somehow crossed with a young Mick Jagger."

Ummmmmmmmm. No.
posted by ian1977 at 11:53 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Okay that photo at the top of the article is almost making me wish I'd grown up in the South with that food around.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2015


> foods catch on...see above post...even "ethnic" or esp. ethnic foods. A few years ago who ever heard outside NY area of a bagel?

A few years ago meaning...like, 40some years ago when Lenders Bagels became a supermarket staple across the country?

Now, for me, I can not eat shrimp without sauce; or lobster without butter; or a hotdog without mustard--yep..not catsup. But a very good piece of meat? Does not need sauce. So too, I see no reason to kill taste buds by pouring super hot sauce on chicken.

You can remain a purist about the preparation of meat for your plate if you prefer, but let's not be so silly as to talk about what meat needs, nor denigrate the thrill of culinary variety. Sauces are a hallmark of all the great cuisines for good reason, and can enhance and highlight the flavor and texture of even the finest cuts of meat.
posted by desuetude at 1:46 PM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


This is a really good article that covers a good deal of ground about what's happening in Nashville. It's a very good example of what's happening in many cities that are fighting development because it's a relatively smaller scale (than say NYC or San Francisco) but still multi-faceted enough to avoid anything close to easy fixes.

And for the record, I lived just outside Nashville from age 11-22 and never once ate hot chicken and when I go back to visit that's all everyone thinks I want and I'm like "no, lets just go to Waffle House like always."
posted by dogwalker at 1:54 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: “Ok. But, what is hot chicken? I mean, how is it specifically made?”
“Nashville Hot Fried Chicken,” Cook's Country June/July 2010 [Non-Paywall Version]
posted by ob1quixote at 2:14 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


On a more serious note.
But the city developed a “pyramid” zoning code, which meant that land was zoned according to its perceived value. Property zoned for residential use was of higher value, and so it was protected from the incursion of commercial interests. Property zoned for commercial or industrial use could be used for single-family dwellings, but at any point, a developer could come into the middle of the neighborhood and start building anything he or she desired.

Most white neighborhoods were zoned as residential areas. African-American neighborhoods were zoned as commercial and industrial properties.



The public projects accelerated in the late ’60s. I-40 was built in 1968, and it cut through the heart of Jefferson Street. Because the city had zoned the region as commercial and industrial, black homeowners had few protections or ways to resist.
Jesus wept.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:46 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, I grew up *IN* Nashville, not in the suburbs, and when I was with my Dad we would pass Prince's on the way to his house if I remember correctly. We lived in East Nashville, which was then a thing for an insecure kid to be insecure about. My Mom lived fairly close to Vanderbilt.

I don't remember when I had Prince's, but I did at some point, and it was really good. It was completely off the radar of the other white kids (I feel I can speak for them, even though I knew some of the black kids too) at the magnet schools (read: Hume-Fogg and MLK, nerd schools) I went to, and it was most definitely a black thing.

I don't know how to feel about Nashville being all hot and everything all of a sudden. As a highfalutin' New York person now, it's weird to see what has happened in both cities in the last few years. Both have gotten less "authentic" and these days it feels like there are no secret places you can introduce someone to.

I guess it's that feeling that I miss in these Internet days. Silly of me. Anyway, fingers_of_fire, Peaches is pretty good.
posted by lackutrol at 3:57 PM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel like DC's equivalent food of as-yet-undiscovered by America and much of DC's non-working class population would be Mumbo Sauce.

Not to derail, and I don't even live in DC anymore, but as I understand it The Passenger just re-opened or is about to, and if you haven't had their chili half-smoke, I'm not sure you've had a proper chili half-smoke (all respect to Ben's and all!)
posted by Navelgazer at 4:00 PM on July 21, 2015


For those near Asheville NC, Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack is the place to go. I won't make any "best in the nation" claims, as it's the only place I've ever had hot chicken... but it's pretty awesome. I love going for the (hot) chicken and waffles.
posted by Roommate at 4:07 PM on July 21, 2015


Hasn't Jerk Chicken been around for a long time? How is this different?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:13 PM on July 21, 2015


Oddly enough, one of the best new restaurants in Columbus, Ohio is a place called Hot Chicken Takeover, which not only won this year's Best New Restaurant reader's poll in Columbus Alive!, it's also the kind of place that you feel good about patronizing, primarily because of the owner's policy of hiring those typically thought of as unhirable. They've been so successful that they've been able to purchase a food truck and now go into local neighborhoods, and after consistently selling out of all of their product, they share the proceeds with one of that neighborhood's favorite charities.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:38 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hasn't Jerk Chicken been around for a long time? How is this different?

Very different. Jerk Chicken is a Caribbean style bbq chicken, primarily allspice and scotch bonnet pepper, marinated and grilled/smoked.

This also has been around, but it's battered and fried, then dipped in cayenne/paprika/sugar and lard.
posted by Karaage at 5:01 PM on July 21, 2015


So where can I get hot chicken in Atlanta? I've been wondering this since stumbling across Hattie B's on a visit to Nashville a year ago.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:28 PM on July 21, 2015


Was coming in to mention Hot Chicken Takeover in Columbus, but I see Toekneesan beat me to it. I'm so addicted it's ridiculous.
posted by imabanana at 5:39 PM on July 21, 2015


I've been sitting here for a non-marginal amount of time trying to decode what Nashville Hot Chicken means to me and as an Ex-Pat Middle-Tennessean, and as a possible dyed-in-the-wool, first-gen SE-USian hipster. Hot Chicken is one of those things; like my "In a perfect world, Steve Earle would rule Nashville" t-shirt, like hanging out with Jason Ringenberg on the West End at the Exit/In, like talking trash about Music Row with Ryan Adams, like selling Gillian Welch her organic grits at Wild Oats, like wearing cowboy boots with the cuffs cut off like k.d. lang , it is one of those serious, wild, free, true things. It is real, and loud, and of a time and place and you either get it or you don't, but I will fist-fight any man who dares say anything that doesn't agree with my own very personal experiences, because for me it is a beacon of light and hope and a certain very specific chunk of a certain very specific time in my life that I felt like I was on the edge of something, something big that never came to pass, a high water moment in HST speak, and if you weren't there, then you didn't know, man. But seriously, Prince's is all that is good and true and I worn the loss of Mr. Boo like a beloved uncle. Hot chicken is one of two items in the Southern Folk Food Canon I will defend it to my dying day, because in the South: Politics and Religion may bend with the wind, but food is the one true thing you may hang your hat on and mountains will rise and fall but chicken and barbecue are forever steadfast..

Amen... and pass the white bread.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:08 PM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm still not sure why I never knew about hot chicken during the time I lived in Nashville (2006-2011), even though I specifically asked friends what the iconic Nashville food was and they said "Uh, I dunno. Meat and three?", and about a year after I left, everyone was talking about hot chicken and how it was The Nashville Thing and it had been around forever.

I guess it comes down to I had bad friends.
posted by cardioid at 7:00 PM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Or, y'know, it was basically the same situation as the article author's.
posted by cardioid at 7:18 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Holy shit this sounds amazing - and possibly kosher!
posted by oceanjesse at 7:35 PM on July 21, 2015


I have never been to Tennessee, but the Nashville Hot Chicken at Sam's Brasserie in Chiswick is a mighty fine thing with a pint of lager.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 10:02 AM on July 22, 2015


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