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Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Tenders

Good golly y’all. Nashville hot fried chicken tenders are called that for a reason. They are hotter than the sun-soaked leather seat of my car on my thighs in summer but oh, how you’ll love it.

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A sandwich of hot fried chicken with pickles on a plate

Nashville hot chicken is a bit of a cult following. Restaurants made famous for their own secret versions are dotted across Tennessee and the South and people line up for helpings of these ultra-hot, crispy morsels.

The classic way to serve it on white bread. Just slices of the basic stuff with dill pickles on top. True to the frugal nature of southern cooks, we use the oil from frying to make the basting sauce for the spices once the chicken is cooked.

There’s no buffalo sauce, no hot sauce basting. That’s not what we’re after here.

If you’re new to frying chicken tenders or don’t want them spicy, you can check out my basic fried chicken tenders. Here are the basic steps:

four images of slicing chicken, breading and frying chicken tenders
  1. Use boneless skinless chicken breasts for the best result. Chicken tenderloins have a tendon that runs through them and make it hard to eat them. Just slice your chicken breasts in to 1″ thick strips.
  2. Bread your chicken tenders in this order: seasoned flour, then into egg/water (see recipe for full measurements) then back into the flour.
  3. Allow the chicken to sit 5 minutes before frying so the breading can “set” and you’ll get a better crust.
  4. Preheat your oil to 365/370 degrees F in a pot or skillet that’s heavy and sturdy. Using thin aluminum pans or cheap tools could make it hard to control the heat of your oil resulting in greasy chicken or even a fire. I like cast iron for this job.
  5. Fry the chicken, turning once, until cooked through. If you need to use a thermometer to make sure it’s done, do so. But for me each piece needs about 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer to a cooling rack lined with paper towels to catch any grease and sprinkle with a little more salt.
  6. **Remember not to toss out your oil. It will be hot from frying but you’ll need it to make the hot “sauce” for your chicken.

The best tools for frying chicken (no matter what kind it is):

Frying needs good tools. Because of the nature of it, using cheap gear means you could harm yourself, start a fire, or just make plain old bad food. Here are the tools I’d recommend you have:

A good cast iron skillet is key. This one is from Lodge cast iron. Get a 10″ or larger and make sure it’s at least 2″ deep so you can get enough oil in it.
Worried about how to season your fried chicken? Kentucky Kernel flour is all you need! Already seasoned, just dip your chicken and fry it up. It’s perfect every time.

Some notes about the spicy sauce

This is not a sauce for kids. Period. My 11 year old loves spice but he couldn’t do it. Heat lovers only need apply.

The sauce uses 3 tablespoons of cayenne pepper. Yes that’s what I said. I personally think that 1 1/2 tablespoons would be enough to numb your eyeballs so plan accordingly. There’s a restaurant in Tennessee I read about that uses 6 tablespoons in their “medium” heat chicken.

Want to fry a whole Nashville hot chicken? Check out this version.

A sandwich of hot fried chicken with pickles on a plate

Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Tenders

Holy cow its hot! Dig in to this spicy fried chicken for a different kind of dinner.
4.5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 342kcal
Author: Rachel Ballard

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 1-2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts sliced in to 1-inch thick strips
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 egg beaten in 2 tablespoons water
  • vegetable oil for frying (about a quart)

For the hot sauce

  • 1 cup leftover oil from frying
  • 3 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • white bread slices optional
  • dill pickles optional

Instructions

  • Fill a 9 or 10 inch heavy skillet with about 2 inches of oil and heat over medium high while you start breading the chicken. Keep an eye on it and don’t let it get too hot. 
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and pepper. 
  • In a separate bowl, beat your egg and water. 
  • Dip the chicken pieces into the flour, then into the egg and then back into the flour, pressing the flour on well. 
  • Transfer the chicken to a cutting board or on to the counter to rest 5 minutes before frying. (This helps the coating stick better.)
  • Check the oil temperature with a candy thermometer. You should be between 365 and 375. Add one piece of chicken. It should sizzle immediately. 
  • Add 4 or 5 total to your skillet and cook 8 to 10 minutes total, turning once or until golden brown. 
  • Repeat with remaining pieces. 
  • Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with a little additional salt if needed. 

Make the spicy sauce

  • While the chicken cools, make the sauce: mix the cayenne pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, garlic powder and paprika together in a small sauce pan. Slowly add the hot oil from frying the chicken and stir to combine. 
  • Brush or dip the chicken in to the sauce mixture and cover all sides. Serve warm on bread with pickles if desired. 

Nutrition

Calories: 342kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 113mg | Sodium: 590mg | Potassium: 560mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 1850IU | Vitamin C: 4.2mg | Calcium: 24mg | Iron: 3.1mg
nashville hot fried chicken tenders  on bread on a plate

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Recipe Rating




Robert Erskine

Sunday 23rd of August 2020

First time to do these and the family loved them. The pickle adds a nice touch.

Rachel Ballard

Wednesday 20th of May 2020

Great recipe!