Nashville hot chicken went from an African-American regional delicacy to a national phenomenon in about a decade. The style of extra-spicy fried chicken served with pickles and some bread to mop up the sauce is credited to Prince’s Chicken Shack, a restaurant that earned a James Beard America’s Classics award for its innovation. It became the flavor of the moment in 2016, when every American restaurant of a certain type – you know, the ones with reclaimed barn wood and whiskey cocktails served in Mason jars – adopted it en masse.
And then it went corporate: Shake Shack and KFC added it to their menus. The spice level, painfully hot in the original, was dialed down to make it palatable for a wider audience. When Nashville’s Tennessean newspaper told Andre Prince Jeffries, the current owner of Prince’s, about the KFC version of the dish, she exclaimed, “Have mercy!”
“Hot chicken’s actual history, its particular origins in a distinct community, has been diluted, transforming it into a pale echo of what it was,” wrote Zach Stafford in Eater, “a spicy but soulless joyride.” That’s a good way to describe what’s happening in the chip aisle, where you might find it as the newest flavor from Pringles. The chip maker is about two years late to the trend, and the chips are available at Dollar General stores for a limited time.
Pringles are a Frankensnack, the pink slime of chips: They’re formed from a paste of rice, wheat, corn and potato flakes, and reconstituted into their curvy shape before being sprayed with a flavor coating. In this case, that flavor is made from onion powder, hot sauce, chile pepper and garlic powder, which makes them taste like a pretty standard barbecue chip. Some tasters said they were spicier, but I’m not convinced.
The company suggests eating them with “Screamin’ dill pickle”-flavored Pringles to fully replicate the hot chicken experience. Try it, and you’ll find that the pickle flavor easily overpowers the spice level. The “Hotchickenfrication,” as cookbook author Timothy Charles Davis put it, is complete.