Award-winning chef, author and recipe developer Virginia Willis has a new cookbook out that will revitalize your love of Southern cooking like never before. Grab a copy and prepare to bake, batter and biscuit your way to a more delicious dinner. This Nashville hot grilled chicken ditches the calories, not the flavor.
Nashville is famous for many things—country music being at the top of the list. It’s also famous for spicy-hot fried chicken, supposedly first made by a woman who was mad at her good-looking man for being out on the town all night. The story goes that Thornton Prince came home from carousing and wanted something to eat. His wife whipped up a batch of ultra-hot spicy chicken. But her plan backfired—he loved it. Prince’s Hot Chicken was born and soon caught on to other chicken shacks. For many years, the picante poultry was solely found on the menu of African American establishments, but then some of those country singers found out about it and word got out. In a unique turn of events for the South at that time, because the restaurant was black-owned, white musicians would buy their chicken from the side door while blacks used the front entrance.
Typically, the breading mixture is hot with cayenne pepper, and then, to take the chicken over the top, the fried chicken is bathed in fiery-hot spiced oil. I’ve adapted the classic recipe for grilling instead of frying, so it’s healthier and easier for weeknight cooking.
Chicken and Marinade
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2 pounds), cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1/4 cup hot sauce, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 tablespoon firmly pack dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
For the chicken
To marinate the chicken, combine the chicken, buttermilk, hot sauce, and cayenne in a resealable container. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours.
When ready to grill, drain the excess marinade off the chicken and discard the marinade. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. If using a charcoal grill, prepare a charcoal fire using about 6 pounds of charcoal and burn until the coals are completely covered with a thin coating of light gray ash, 20 to 30 minutes. Spread the coals evenly over the grill bottom, position the grill rack above the coals, and heat until medium-hot (when you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill surface for no longer than 3 or 4 seconds). If using a gas grill, turn on all the burners to High, close the lid, and heat until very hot, about 500°F, 10 to 15 minutes. If using a grill pan, heat the pan over medium-high heat.
Grill the chicken until the juices run clear when pierced with the tip of a knife and the internal temperature registers 165°F when measured with an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes per side.
Meanwhile, to make the hot oil, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until hot, around 300°F, 5 minutes. Combine the cayenne, sugar, garlic powder, and paprika in a small bowl. Pour the hot oil over the spice blend and stir to combine.
Transfer the cooked chicken strips to a bowl and drizzle with some of the hot oil. Toss to coat. Serve immediately with the additional hot oil on the side.