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Chicken/ Finger Food/ Spice

Nashville Chicken Tenders

September 28, 2022 by Chris Collins

These Nashville Chicken Tenders are spicy, crispy and absolute packed with flavour!

I recently went to Nashville for the first time and it’s officially one of my favourite places on earth. Not only because I love me some country music, but potentially more importantly, the fried chicken. Oh, the fried chicken, let me tell you 🤤. Actually you know what, let me show you. Follow me…

3 nashville chicken tenders on square slice of bread in small red basket with pickles

Nashville Chicken Marinade

The fried chicken in Nashville is darn good. We accidentally stumbled across Hattie B’s one day, not knowing it was one of the most iconic fried chicken joints around. Good heavens was this chicken good (if you know you know). Today I’m sharing with you my take on the classic hot fried chicken. And for ease, we’re going to be using tenders!

Nashville Chicken Marinade Ingredients

  • Buttermilk – This is a key component in any fried chicken recipe as it helps tenderize the chicken. It also has the perfect consistency for clinging to the chicken and dredging through flour to build up a thick crust.
  • Pickle Juice – I was speaking with a local about fried chicken and he gave me this tip. It totally makes sense, seeing as fried chicken is often served with pickles/gherkins. The brine from the jar helps add flavour to the chicken AND helps tenderize it.
  • Hot Sauce – Hot fried chicken is called hot for a reason. Adding hot sauce to the marinade gets the party started right from the get go.
  • Egg – This is to help bind the breading to the chicken. I don’t always add egg to marinades, but in this instance, because the marinade is slightly thinner than I’d usually make (due to the pickle juice and hot sauce) it’s always handy to include it. Plus, we’re going to glaze the chicken later on, so we want to give the batter every chance of sticking to the meat so it doesn’t fall off.
  • Salt – To season the meat.

How long to marinate for?

I usually go for 4 hours. I recommend a minimum of 2 hours though.

Process shots: add marinade ingredients to a mixing bowl (photo 1), whisk until smooth (photo 2), add tenders (photo 3), mix then marinate (photo 4).

4 step by step photos showing how to make nashville chicken marinade

Fried Chicken Batter

Okay, chicken marinated, let’s get breading.

This is a crucial stage for both the flavour and texture of the chicken:

  • Flavour – We’re going to season the flour and season it well. The marinade will offer a base flavour, but a large amount of the flavour comes from the batter. To season, I like to use paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, salt & black pepper.
  • Texture – You’ll want to really work the flour into the chicken to create lots of tiny flaky bits. This is what will give the chicken a nice crunchy exterior. What you DON’T want to do is quickly dab the chicken in the flour and be done with it. Fill every crack and crevice, give it a shake then repeat.

Process shots: mix seasoning and flour then add chicken (photo 1), coat chicken (photo 2), repeat one by one (photo 3).

3 step by step photos showing how to coat chicken tenders

Nashville Deep Fried Chicken

In my experience, I’m still yet to produce crispy, juicy ‘fried’ chicken in the oven or air fryer. As such, we’re keeping this classic and frying it in good old trusty oil.

Chicken tenders are perfect for beginners for a couple of reasons:

  • Oil – You don’t need as much oil as if you were frying larger cuts of chicken. Just enough to cover the depth of the tender.
  • Speed – They fry pretty quickly through the centre, so you don’t have to worry too much about raw meat.

What kind of Oil to use?

You want something with a high smoking point like vegetable, canola, sunflower or peanut oil.

When it comes to frying the chicken I recommend using a kitchen thermometer. You can do it without, but you can get thermometers super cheap and you can fry with much more accuracy.

Process shots: add chicken to hot oil (photo 1), fry until deep golden/white through the centre (photo 2), add to wire rack and repeat in batches (photo 3).

3 step by step photos showing how to fry nashville chicken

Fried Chicken Glaze

This is probably the most iconic part of Nashville chicken. Once you’ve fried the chicken, you’ll want to scoop out some of the leftover oil to create a glaze.

Fried Chicken Glaze Ingredients

  • Leftover Cooking Oil – This will now be flavoured with all that fried chicken goodness. Just let it cool slightly before you scoop it out.
  • Hot Sauce – Use your favourite brand. I like equal parts oil and hot sauce.
  • Honey – One thing I noticed in Nashville is that fried chicken was often served with honey. Here I add honey to the glaze, just to balance out the spice a little.
  • Smoked Paprika – Deepens the flavours and colour of the glaze.
  • Garlic Powder – Adds a final pop of flavour.

Process shots: add glaze ingredients to a bow (photo 1), whisk until smooth (photo 2), brush over chicken (photo 3).

4 step by step photos showing how to make nashville chicken oil glaze

close up overhead shot of nashville fried chicken on wire rack

Nashville Chicken FAQ

What kind of hot sauce should I use?

Use your favourite brand and preferred spice level! I like Cholula because it’s not crazy spicy and I find it slightly less vinegary than Frank’s.

How spicy are these tenders?

Hard to say as it’s so individual. The fried chicken itself has a fairly subtle kick of spice, maybe a 4 or 5 out of 10. Once glazed, and if you use the quantities provided, I’d say it creeps up to a 7.5. Not overbearing, just nice enough to enjoy (it’ll obviously be hotter if you use a spicier hot sauce than Cholula!)

Can I use Cayenne Pepper instead of Hot Sauce for the glaze?

Traditionally you would use cayenne pepper, I just much prefer hot sauce. You can sub cayenne if you’d prefer, just increase the amount of cooking oil to make up for the lost liquid. I recommend starting at 1 tbsp cayenne pepper and working up (some recipes go as high as 6 tbsp!)

close up overhead shot of hand holding nashville fried chicken tender

Serving Nashville Fried Chicken

Another thing I wasn’t used to seeing was how the fried chicken was served; which was on a thick slice of bread with pickles, usually with honey and hot sauce on the side too. All the side dishes were usually served in individual portions to one side. Here are some recommendations for you:

Fried Chicken Sides

Alrighty, let’s tuck into the full recipe for these hot chicken tenders shall we?!

hand lifting chicken tender from basket with 2 other tenders and pickles

How to make Nashville Hot Chicken Tenders (Full Recipe & Video)

3 nashville chicken tenders on square slice of bread in small red basket with pickles

Nashville Chicken Tenders

These Nashville Chicken Tenders are spicy, crispy and absolute packed with flavour!
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Servings (click & slide): 4
Course: Finger Food
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Marinating Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Calories per serving: 186kcal
Cost per serving: £2.50 / $3

Equipment:

  • Suitably Sized Pot or Cast Iron Skillet & Tongs (for deep frying)
  • Medium Sized Bowl, Cling Film & Whisk (for marinating)
  • Large Shallow Dish or Curved Baking Tray (for dredging chicken)
  • Wire Rack & Baking Tray (for resting fried chicken)
  • Small Bowl & Brush (for glaze)
  • Kitchen Thermometer

Ingredients (check list):

Chicken

  • 1.3lb / 600g Chicken Tenders (see notes)
  • 3-4 cups / 750ml - 1litre Vegetable, Peanut or Sunflower Oil

Marinade

  • 1 cup / 240ml Buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml Pickle Juice (Gherkin juice in UK)
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml Hot Sauce
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp Salt

Dry Mix

  • 1 3/4 cups / 250g Plain/All Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp EACH: Paprika, Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 tsp EACH: Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Baking Powder, Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper

Glaze (see notes)

  • 1/2 cup / 120ml leftover Oil, from deep frying
  • 1/2 cup / 120ml Hot Sauce (see notes)
  • 2 tbsp Honey, or to sweetness preference
  • 1.5 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions:

  • In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk together buttermilk, pickle juice, hot sauce, egg and salt. Add in the chicken tenders then tightly cover and marinate in the fridge. 4+ hours best, 2 hours minimum. Get out the fridge 30mins before needed.
  • In a large shallow dish or curved baking tray combine dry mix. One by one take a chicken tender straight out of the bowl and place it in the dry mix. Use your hands to thoroughly coat the chicken. Really press the flour into every crack and crevice to create lots of tiny flaky bits. Give it a shake, then place to one side and repeat.
  • Heat up the oil in a suitable-sized pot or cast iron skillet to 350F/175C. Working in 3-4 batches, carefully place the tenders into the hot oil and leave for a few mins. The temp will drop slightly to around 320F/160C, just try and maintain it as best you can. Flip the tenders and continue frying for another few mins until deep golden and visibly crispy. Remove and place on a wire rack with a tray underneath to catch excess oil. Timings will depend on the size of tenders so just be vigilant. The chicken should be white and piping hot through the centre.
  • Once all the tenders have fried, allow the oil to cool slightly then scoop out 1/2cup and pour into a small bowl. Add in hot sauce, honey, smoked paprika, garlic powder & salt (if needed) and whisk into a glaze.
  • Brush the tenders all over with the glaze then serve up and enjoy!

Quick 1 min demo!

Notes:

a) Chicken Tenders - If you can't find chicken tenders you can just slice up some chicken breast. Strictly speaking you'll end up with fried chicken strips instead of tenders, but that's fine. For reference, 1.3lb/600g is around 16 tenders.
b) Hot Sauce - Use a hot or mild brand based on your spice preference. I like Cholula (not crazy spicy/vinegary).
c) Glaze - Traditionally you would use cayenne pepper in the glaze, I just much prefer hot sauce. You can sub cayenne if you'd prefer, just increase the amount of cooking oil to 3/4cup to make up for the lost liquid. I recommend starting at 1 tbsp cayenne pepper and working up (some recipes go as high as 6 tbsp!). By the same token if you're going to use hot sauce, obviously hot sauce brands will differ in spice level, so just work to preference. I usually go for 1/2 cup, which gives a good kick of spice. If you want it SPICIER than 1/2 cup hot sauce then add in cayenne pepper 1 tsp at a time.
d) Pickle Juice - This is simply just the brine from a jar or pickles (Gherkins in UK). This adds flavour and helps tenderize the chicken. If you don't have this just sub more buttermilk.
e) Serving - From my experience in Nashville I saw a lot of places serving tenders on a thick slice of bread in a small basket, usually with pickles/gherkins and more hot sauce & honey on the side. I also enjoy them with a dip (Blue Cheese or Ranch).
f) Calories - Tricky to calculate, but based on 16 tenders total (calories for 1 tender). Assumes half the marinade sticks, all of the dry mix (overestimate) and 1.5tsp oil per tenders. No sides.

Your Private Notes:

Nutrition:

Nutrition Facts
Nashville Chicken Tenders
Amount Per Serving
Calories 186 Calories from Fat 128
% Daily Value*
Fat 14.23g22%
Saturated Fat 6.438g32%
Trans Fat 1.841g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1.241g
Monounsaturated Fat 5.745g
Cholesterol 6mg2%
Sodium 322mg13%
Potassium 55mg2%
Carbohydrates 13.58g5%
Fiber 0.7g3%
Sugar 2.57g3%
Protein 2.02g4%
Vitamin A 421IU8%
Vitamin C 1.9mg2%
Calcium 12mg1%
Iron 0.9mg5%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition is based on the absence of salt unless stated as a measurement in the ingredients. Cost is worked out based on ingredients bought from UK supermarkets, then divided by the number of servings. In both instances these values are just for guidance. Please check out my FAQ Page for more info.
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Looking for more?You'll find plenty more delicious comfort food like this in my Debut Cookbook 'Comfy'

If you’re looking for more similar recipes then check out these beauties:

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Stefanie
    November 13, 2022 at 11:23 pm

    5 stars
    This recipe is absolutely AMAZING. HONESTLY, I am *heavy breathing* while eating this right as we speak. I used the cast iron skillet, vegetable oil, and half the salt in the glaze at the end. I also used Sweet Baby Rays Hot Sauce.

    Incredible. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      November 14, 2022 at 3:57 pm

      So awesome to hear these went down well, Stefanie! Thanks so much for the review 🙂 C.

  • Reply
    DeeDeeK
    October 7, 2022 at 6:08 pm

    5 stars
    Wow, wow and wow!!!
    The very best fried chicken We have ever tasted. No more KFC for use. Wonderful recipe thank you

    • Reply
      Chris Collins
      October 10, 2022 at 5:42 pm

      So great to hear! Thanks for the review 🙂 C.

    5 KNOCKOUT

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