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Nashville Hot Fried Chicken

Jeff McInnis - Nashville Hot Fried Chicken
Jeff McInnis - Nashville Hot Fried ChickenNathan Congleton / TODAY

Chef notes

This is a classic fried chicken recipe that has been elevated into something really special: famous Nashville hot chicken. The brine makes the chicken incredibly juicy and it has the perfect balance of seasonings. The buttermilk crust is amazingly crunchy and stands up well to the spicy butter and pickles served with the chicken.

Technique tips: Invest in a candy thermometer to monitor the oil temperature and a meat thermometer to take the temperature of the chicken. You can not fail with these two tools! Also, using a good quality free-range bird always make the difference in flavor!

Swap options: Instead of serving the chicken with white bread, at Root & Bone restaurant we use our buttermilk biscuits. At our dim sum restaurant, Sarsaparilla Club, you will see us using Chinese steamed buns!


  • quarts black tea
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup cayenne
  • quarts ice water
  • 2 whole chickens, each cut into 8 pieces
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
Seasoned flour
  • 2 pounds all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 5 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
Buttermilk dip
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce, preferably Tabasco
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 eggs
Spicy brown butter
  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce, preferably Tabasco
  • 1 Fresno chili, thinly sliced
Cucumber pickles
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups cucumbers, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
To serve
  • 1 loaf thick-cut white bread


    For the brine:

    Place the tea, sugar, salt, and cayenne in a pot and bring to simmer over medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Whisk to ensure that all spices and sugar have dissolved completely. Remove from heat and combine with ice water to cool.

    Transfer the brine to a large container and let chill in the refrigerator until it reaches 40°F or lower.

    Place the cut chicken in a container and pour the cold liquid brine over the chicken. Chill in refrigerator for 24 hours.

    For the seasoned flour:

    Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and reserve until ready to fry. For the buttermilk: Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.

    For the spicy brown butter:

    Place butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Once butter melts it will foam up and then subside. After about 4-5 minutes it will take on a brown color an smell nutty. Turn off the heat and add remaining ingredients stirring to incorporate. Set aside.

    For the cucumber pickles:

    In a small pot, heat sugar, vinegar, celery seed and salt together. Pour over cucumber slices and let sit for at least 4 hours.

    For the frying:

    Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Dredge chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Dip chicken pieces into the buttermilk dip and dredge them in the seasoned flour a second time.

    Heat vegetable oil in a 12-inch cast iron pan to 350°F, using a candy thermometer to regulate the temperature.

    Place the breasts and thighs in the pan, skin side down. Adjust the flame to maintain the temperature at 350°F. After 8 minutes, flip the pieces over. Fry for another 6 minutes. 

    Remove from oil and let sit on a cooling rack over a sheet pan to catch any excess oil. Check the temperature using a meat thermometer stuck into the thickest pieces; they should be 165°F. Season lightly with a pinch of sea salt.

    Place the wings and drums in the oil (again making sure to maintain 350°F) and fry these for about 5 minutes on one side then flip and fry another 4 minutes. Check internal temperature again looking for 165°F. Season with a pinch of sea salt.

    To serve:

    Ladle a small amount of the spicy butter over the chicken, allowing the excess to drain off.

    Serve chicken pieces on slices of your favorite thick cut white bread or you can use buttermilk biscuits to soak up the extra flavor. Top with cucumber pickle slices and serve with caution! This chicken is hot!