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America's Classics: Sean Brock on Prince's Hot Chicken in Nashville

JBF Editors

February 24, 2016

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Photo by James Collier

 

Prince’s Hot Chicken
Nashville

No one knows exactly what’s in Prince’s addictive hot chicken—the recipe is so closely guarded the kitchen is practically barricaded off from the booth-filled dining area—but it’s so spicy and so good no one really cares. There are plenty of other places in Nashville that serve great hot chicken, but at Prince’s there’s a patina of authenticity that you just can’t fake, explains JBF award winner Sean Brock. However, eating chicken this hot is not for the faint of heart, the chef cautions. To really enjoy the experience, one needs to have a strategy. With that in mind, Brock laid out his hot chicken–eating game plan.

JBF Award Winner Sean Brock’s 5 Tips for Eating Prince’s Hot Chicken

Hot chicken here is a religious thing. There are all different places; each place is like a church, and you choose your worship area. It’s such a source of pride for Nashvillians because it belongs to Nashville. That changes everything—when something belongs to a city it becomes something emotional, and that's what's happened here with the hot chicken. 

If you have friends coming to town, the first thing you do is go to Prince’s. There’s this nostalgic thing about it: it’s a bit far out of town, it’s in a shopping mall, and the place just fits. It’s like an old honky-tonk or a juke joint—you can’t just build those things. The soul’s not there. That’s what Prince’s has; it has that soul, that vibe you can only get from a place that's been there forever.

I usually order it hot. You get zero respect if you go there and get mild. You might as well not have gone. If you don’t order it hot you're wasting everybody's time. That's pointless. Go to Kentucky Fried Chicken. If you're going to eat hot chicken, eat hot chicken—don't eat mild chicken. But when you order it extra-hot, you feel it going through your veins. You feel it in your blood. My ear starts ringing, my left arm goes numb; I start thinking I’m going to die. But it’s so delicious. It’s crazy delicious. I eat hot chicken once a week, maybe twice a week. It becomes this real addiction, and everyone in Nashville has the fever. 

Photo by James Collier

Here’s what I recommend to anyone trying it for the first time:

1.    Order extra pickles. I always get two extra sides of pickles and then you have to get three sweet teas, because their sweet teas are these tiny little things, which is torture. So you’ve got your pickles, which give you that acid to cut the heat, and then you’ve got the sweetness of the tea to get you through it.

2.    Do not eat the bread. They put white bread underneath the chicken, and you think the bread's going to help—but that bread's been sitting there soaking up all that cayenne grease, so it does the opposite: it lights you right back up. So either don't eat the bread or order it on the side.

3.    Get your paper towel game down. You have to have two piles, one on the left, and one on the right. The one on the left is for hands only. The one on the right: sweaty face only. You do not want to mix them up.

4.    You can’t wash your hands enough. You can wash your hands and think they're clean and safe, and you'll go to the bathroom two hours later and you'll be picking up some new dance moves. I squeeze lemon juice over my hands.

5.    Don’t drive home. Your brain is so confused that you're distracted and driving a car is not a good idea. You have to have a designated hot-chicken driver.

Most importantly: Before you go, put a roll of toilet paper in the freezer. They’re not joking when they say it burns twice.

—Sean Brock, JBF Award Winner

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