Brave Church's Rolls Out Spicy Chicken in the Home of Hot Chicken

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Anybody in the chicken biz knows that Nashville rules the roost when it comes to hot chicken. Yet, Atlanta-based Church's Fried Chicken is not afraid to go head to head with the singed taste buds of Nashvillians, and have chosen our fair city as one of their main target markets as they roll out their new Spicier Spicy Chicken recipe.

There are several reasons why they chose Nashville, not the least being that they are seeking to re-establish their brand in town after their recent purchase of locally-owned fast food poultry joint Mrs. Winner's. I was lucky enough to get to sample some of the new spicier chicken with Kirk Waisner, who holds the title of (I swear I'm not making this up) Chief Chicken Officer of the corporation.

And Kirk knows his spicy chicken, since he held a similar position at Popeye's prior to making the jump over to Church's. A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Kirk has over 20 years of experience in the food business and has been a big fan of Nashville's version of hot chicken for a long time. He knew going in that there was no way to reproduce the fire of Prince's or Bolton's in a way that would be appropriate for fast food diners.

Instead, Kirk developed a new formula based on customer suggestions from multiple markets. Since Texas is the state with the most Church's locations, it's not surprising that the flavor profile skews a bit toward Western peppers. Apparently, sales of spicy products have increased sevenfold in the last 20 years, so Church's is trying to head where the people are pushing them.

Rather than just fire it up with cayenne pepper, the new Spicier Spicy Chicken actually uses five different peppers including chipotle, jalapeño and the big, bad habanero. To ensure that the spice is not just in the crust, chicken pieces are marinated at least twelve hours in a brine to maintain the juiciness throughout the frying process. I commented that the individual pieces seemed larger than fast food chicken I was accustomed to and discovered that Church's cuts their wings to include half of the breast.

After hand breading the marinated pieces in a batter that includes the same peppers as the brine, they are fried up with a goal of making the crust even crunchier than their original recipe. In my humble opinion, the result is a fine piece of poultry. The heat is an additive effect with layers of flavor building as you enjoy your two-piece snack. Spicy aromas invite you in, rather than burning your eyes and turning your head. The initial bites have a nice slow burn with a strong black pepper flavor in the back of your palate without numbing your lips. You'll notice the fiery orange ring of marinade has soaked into the meat, providing for heat even after you've eaten all the crunchy coating.

Grab extra napkins, because that's juice dripping down your chin, not grease. I intentionally grabbed a drumstick with a napkin and squeezed it to see how much oil would soak into the napkin. The answer was just about none. I was impressed.

Does Church's Spicier Spicy Chicken compare with Nashville hot chicken? Only in that they are both fried and chicken. Unlike after a trip to Prince's, you'll be safe to travel on an airplane within 24 hours of eating at Church's. But as a fast food option to less flavorful fried chickens, Church's has developed an excellent alternative.

Drop by any of their Nashville locations to try it out and report back here to tell us what you think.

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