Air-Fryer Nashville Hot Chicken Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 30 min. + marinating Cook: 10 min./batch
Learn how to make the iconic Nashville hot chicken in your home kitchen yourself—even if you do not call Tennessee home.

Updated: Dec. 06, 2023

Hot chicken may be new to you, but the people of Nashville, Tennessee, have been hooked for decades. This fiery fried chicken is coated with a special (often top-secret!) blend of spices, then deep-fried and served over white bread, garnished with pickles to help balance the heat.
Nashville is still home to the original hot chicken, but variations on the dish have been popping up on menus across the country—and in home kitchens, too. Our go-to Nashville hot chicken recipe calls for an air fryer, but don’t fret if you don’t have one at home. You can easily modify the recipe for the Dutch oven (or simply cook it the traditional way, in a deep fryer).

What is Nashville hot chicken?

As the name indicates, Nashville hot chicken is fried chicken with a major kick. The chicken gets a hefty dose of spice thanks to hot sauce and cayenne in the coating, as well as a spicy sauce drizzled over the top.

The first Nashville hot chicken recipe is said to have originated at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville, though many restaurants (and even fast-food chains) have adopted their own take on the recipe. Some hot chicken joints sell milder versions of this dish, while others offer blazing-hot versions to suit culinary daredevils.

How to Make Nashville Hot Chicken

If you’re familiar with making fried chicken at home, making hot chicken should be a cinch. The first few steps are pretty standard: Marinate the chicken in a flavorful brine made with pickle juice and hot sauce, then dredge and fry the chicken. Or, in our case, we skip the deep fryer and instead use the air fryer to crisp up the chicken to golden-brown perfection.

The thing that elevates regular fried chicken to Nashville hot chicken status is a spicy oil mixture—the signature Nashville hot chicken sauce. This sauce gives the chicken its appealing red glow and extra-spicy flavor. You can brush it over the fried chicken with a basting brush, or add it to the fried chicken in a bowl, and toss until each piece is well coated.

Ingredients for Nashville Hot Chicken

  • Chicken: Debating whether to use chicken tenderloin vs. breast? We prefer tenderloins in this recipe because they’re naturally tender and they cook up quickly in the air fryer.
  • Brine: A brine of dill pickle juice, hot pepper sauce (this is our Test Kitchen’s favorite) and a little salt injects tangy, spicy flavor into the chicken. Plus, the acids in the pickle juice break down proteins and lock in moisture, making the meat juicier as it cooks.
  • Dredge mixture: The coating in this Nashville hot chicken recipe is straightforward: flour, salt and black pepper. You can also add cayenne pepper or chili powder to the dredge mixture if you want your chicken even spicier.
  • Hot oil mixture: This seasoned oil gives Nashville hot chicken its signature kick. It’s a combination of olive oil, hot spices (cayenne pepper, paprika and chili powder) and savory garlic powder. We add a little dark brown sugar to give it a sweet-and-spicy vibe.

Directions

Step 1: Mix up the marinade

Mix up the marinadeTMB STUDIO

To start, whisk together 1 tablespoon of the pickle juice with 1 tablespoon of the hot sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a bowl or shallow dish. Add the chicken to the mixture, and turn to coat. Cover the dish, and chill in the fridge for an hour or more.

Drain the chicken, and discard any marinade.

Step 2: Make the coating

Coating the ChickenTMB STUDIO

Preheat the air fryer to 375ºF. Meanwhile, grab a shallow bowl, and whisk together the flour, pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. This is your dry mixture to create the crispy chicken coating. In another shallow dish, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and remaining 1 tablespoon pickle juice and 1 tablespoon hot sauce.

Dip the marinated chicken in the flour mixture, making sure you coat both sides. Shake off excess. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture, then back in the flour mixture.

Editor’s Tip: This double-dipping of dry coating will help give your chicken that crispy texture we all love in fried chicken.

Step 3: Fry it up

Frying the Chicken in Air FryerTMB STUDIO

Working in batches, arrange the chicken in a single layer on the well-greased tray inside the air-fryer basket. Give the chicken a quick spritz of cooking spray (this air-fryer trick helps things cook perfectly golden brown). Cook until golden brown, five to six minutes. Turn the pieces over, and cook until golden brown and cooked through, an additional five to six minutes.

Editor’s Tip: In our testing, we find cook times vary dramatically between brands of air fryers. To be sure your chicken is cooked through, use a meat thermometer to determine when the chicken reaches at least 165°.

Step 4: Create the Nashville hot sauce

Adding Sauce to ChickenTMB STUDIO

Whisk together the olive oil, cayenne, brown sugar, paprika, chili powder and garlic powder in a small bowl.

Transfer the cooked chicken to a large bowl, and pour the oil mixture over the top. Toss to coat the chicken. Serve the chicken over white bread to soak up all the extra sauce. And don’t forget a hefty side of pickles. Cold, briny pickles are a great complement to the fiery heat.

Editor’s Tip: If you want your Nashville hot chicken hotter, add more cayenne and hot sauce to this oil mixture. You can cut back on the cayenne if you want to go a bit milder, knowing you can always add more spice later.

Nashville Hot Chicken Variations

  • Add spices to the flour mixture: Add more flavor to the chicken by adding spices like garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, dried thyme or dried oregano to the flour mixture before dredging.
  • Use a Dutch oven: If you’d prefer to fry the chicken the traditional way, cook them in a Dutch oven instead. First, fill the Dutch oven with about 1/2 inch of oil, and heat the oil to 350º. Add a few pieces of chicken (don’t overcrowd the pot), and cook, uncovered, until golden, seven to eight minutes. Turn and cook until both sides are golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 165º. Remove chicken from the pot, and let rest on a bed of paper towels.
  • Serve it on waffles: Instead of serving this Nashville hot chicken with the classic white bread and pickles, turn it into a spicy version of chicken and waffles. The hot oil will pair perfectly with the warm sweetness of maple syrup.

How to Store Nashville Hot Chicken

Let the cooked chicken cool completely. Transfer to an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator for four to five days. To reheat fried chicken in the air fryer, preheat the unit to 350°. Spray each side of the chicken with cooking spray. Cook, flipping every three minutes to promote even cooking, until each piece reaches an internal temperature of 165°.

Nashville Hot Chicken Tips

What makes Nashville hot chicken different?

The spicy oil is the secret that makes Nashville hot chicken unique.  Our recipe calls for hot pepper sauce in the brine and spices like cayenne, paprika and chili powder in the hot chicken sauce.

What flavor is Nashville hot chicken?

It’s spicy, of course! But while the spice level can vary, the flavor complexity does not. Most Nashville hot chicken recipes use a healthy dose of seasonings. Many also include pickle juice for tang and brown sugar for a hint of sweetness.

What is Nashville hot chicken sauce made of?

Our version of Nashville hot chicken sauce uses smoky and spicy seasonings, olive oil, and brown sugar.

What to serve with Nashville hot chicken?

Traditionally, Nashville hot chicken is served with white bread and pickles to help balance the spiciness. You can also enjoy it alongside cooling foods like cottage cheese or ranch dressing, or alongside classic fried chicken sides like french fries or tater tots. It also pairs well with southern side dishes like hush puppies or collard greens.

Where to find Nashville hot chicken (even if you’re not in Tennessee)?

Not planning to be in Nashville anytime soon? Lucky for you, chicken shacks are popping up around the country. If you’re traveling to New York City, Peaches Hot House in Brooklyn is known for its chicken. Try Budlong Hot Chicken in Chicago or Howlin’ Ray’s in Los Angeles. Those in Birmingham, Alabama, can visit Hattie B’s satellite location (the original is in Nashville). And, for what it’s worth, KFC has it on their menu, too.

Air-Fryer Nashville Hot Chicken

Prep Time 30 min
Cook Time 10 min
Yield 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons dill pickle juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dill pickle slices

Directions

  1. In a bowl or shallow dish, combine 1 tablespoon pickle juice, 1 tablespoon hot sauce and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add chicken and turn to coat. Refrigerate, covered, at least 1 hour. Drain chicken, discarding any marinade.
  2. Preheat air fryer to 375°. In a shallow bowl, mix flour, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. In another shallow bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk, and the remaining 1 tablespoon pickle juice and 1 tablespoon hot sauce. Dip chicken in flour to coat both sides; shake off excess. Dip in egg mixture, then again in flour mixture.
  3. In batches, arrange chicken in a single layer on well-greased tray in air-fryer basket; spritz with cooking spray. Cook until golden brown, 5-6 minutes. Turn; spritz with cooking spray. Cook until golden brown, 5-6 minutes longer.
  4. Whisk together the next 6 ingredients; pour over hot chicken and toss to coat. Serve with pickles.

Nutrition Facts

5 ounces cooked chicken: 419 calories, 21g fat (3g saturated fat), 96mg cholesterol, 367mg sodium, 21g carbohydrate (5g sugars, 1g fiber), 39g protein.

I live in Tennessee and absolutely love our state's famous Nashville hot chicken. To make cooking it easier, I thought I’d try air-frying. I’m so glad I did—this Nashville hot chicken recipe is almost better than the original. —April Lane, Greeneville, Tennessee
Recipe Creator