Our final day in Nashville was dedicated to one thing, and one thing only: The Nashville Hot Chicken Festival.
The festival has been an annual Nashville tradition on the Fourth of July since 2007. It brings together some of the best hot chicken vendors from all around the city that put hot chicken on the map.
We had genuinely been looking forward to this occasion since we arrived in Nashville.
But before the festival opens to the public, there’s a joyful Fourth of July parade featuring local sports teams, business owners, community organizations and public servants.
The participants walking and riding by even throw mardi gras beads and other souvenirs at the crowd.
It was such a nice reminder that community is what really makes America special.
People start lining up for the Hot Chicken Festival early, so even though we arrived 30 minutes before the festival officially began, there were already a substantial number of people waiting to get in.
And once you get into the actual festival, there are individual lines for each of the six hot chicken vendors.
Available this year were Hattie B’s, Prince’s, Bolton’s, Pepperfire, 400 Degrees, and Deezie’s.
In addition to the chicken, there’s also beer from Yazoo, lemonade stands, ice cream, sno cones, popsicles, barbecue, Georgia peaches, and even free watermelon. Which was a lifesaver on such a hot summer day.
We tried to be as strategic as possible when it came to waiting in lines.
We had only really heard of Hattie B’s, Prince’s and Bolton’s before the festival, but after talking to some of the locals in line, Pepperfire and 400 Degrees also seemed like popular options. Just don’t get a Nashville native riled up about his favorite hot chicken place, because you’re guaranteed to get into a fight.
We knew that we had to try Hattie B’s and Prince’s, since they’re so famously amazing. But we decided to add on Pepperfire to try something less touristy.
The Hattie B’s line moved quickly, and we kicked things off with one each of their medium and hot chicken strips.
Shockingly, we were unimpressed with Hattie B’s. Their strips weren’t that spicy, and there wasn’t much complexity in the flavor. It tasted very basic, and almost like a fresher version of a freezer chicken tender.
Next up was Pepperfire. We got one order of the hot and one order of the extra hot.
We were pleasantly surprised by how much we loved Pepperfire. Unlike traditional hot chicken, Pepperfire’s seasoning has more of a black pepper kick than a cayenne kick, but it was still spicy and super flavorful. The seasonings were much more complex than Hattie B’s, and the coating was super crispy and not at all soggy.
Meanwhile, in the time it took to get orders from and consume chicken from both Hattie B’s and Pepperfire, we still hadn’t gotten to the front of the Prince’s line. We’re not sure if it was bad workflow, or if it was just so in-demand, but Prince’s was definitely the longest line at the festival.
Prince’s is generally the gold standard by which other hot chicken recipes are measured, and we liked it. Like Pepperfire, the strips were well-fried, well-seasoned, not at all soggy, and flavorful. They also had a unique flavor – possibly celery seed/salt?
But…surprisingly the winner of our taste test was Pepperfire! And now we’re craving it more than ever…
If we had a little more patience, a little more room in our stomachs, and a little more tolerance for the heat, we may have gone back in line for the other three vendors. But, alas, we did not.
We wrapped up our hot chicken extravaganza with a few refreshing slices of watermelon, and bid farewell to an amazing city.
The Nashville Hot Chicken Festival
700 Woodland St.
Nashville, TN 37206
That’s a wrap on our Nashville travel diary! We had an incredible time in this charming city, and would definitely like to go back one day. Thanks, Nashville, for the hospitality, and delicious food and drink.