Inspired by the flavors of Nashville hot chicken, this spicy, Nashville-style hot tofu is seasoned in layers, rolled in crispy panko, and then baked (or air fried) to perfection. Though the kick of cayenne is the only similarity between Nashville hot tofu and the original dish, you'll love the crave-able flavors and textures of this healthier plant-based version.
About Nashville Hot
I grew up about 100 miles south of Nashville, TN, and have visited family there my entire life. Yet, I'd never heard of hot chicken until it became the cool new food trend a few years back.
According to this article, it's not surprising that my white family didn't know about hot chicken. For over 70 years, hot chicken was made and sold primarily in Nashville's black neighborhoods.
Since we've been vegan for almost 12 years, I've obviously never tasted the original. So this is my very loose, vegan interpretation of Nashville hot. And yes, it IS hot!
The spiciness comes entirely from cayenne pepper, which you can easily adjust.
And since we're not into fried foods, I decided to bake this fiery tofu instead. It's also great in the air fryer!
You can tear or cut the tofu into pretty much any shape. Try rectangles for sandwiches or nuggets for snacking. You can even switch things up and use seitan nuggets instead of tofu!
For the Nashville hot seasoning you'll need:
- cayenne pepper
- brown sugar - just a touch of sweetness balances out the flavors. Either light or dark brown sugar is fine. You could even use coconut sugar if that's what you have in the pantry.
- garlic and onion powder
- smoked paprika - I'm not sure if the original hot chicken calls for smoked paprika, but we like it. Substitute sweet paprika if that's what you have.
- salt and pepper
- tofu - choose super-firm tofu if you don't feel like pressing. Otherwise, use extra-firm and press it for 30 minutes first.
- seasoned "buttermilk" mixture - after the tofu is coated in flour, it takes a dip in a wet mixture of plain non-dairy milk, hot sauce, and mustard.
- flour - to dredge the tofu. Use regular or gluten-free all-purpose.
- nutritional yeast - adds nice savory notes to the dredge.
- panko breadcrumbs - since we're adding our own seasoning, look for plain panko, either wheat or gluten-free.
- oil - this helps the panko brown and crisp up but can be omitted.
See recipe card below for quantities and full instructions.
How to Make It
- First, combine the Nashville hot seasoning ingredients in a small bowl. Then, in 3 bowls, mix together the flour dredge, "buttermilk" bath, and seasoned panko. Add a heaping tablespoon of the hot seasoning to both the flour and panko.
- Tear the tofu into nuggets or cut into cubes or rectangles. Dredge in flour, and then dip in the milk mixture. Repeat that process - flour then milk - then coat with panko.
- To bake the tofu in the oven, arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes, flipping at the halfway point.
Alternatively, air fry the hot tofu following the instructions below.
Air Fryer Tofu
Don't feel like turning on the oven? No problem! The air fryer cooks up Nashville hot tofu in no time.
- Preheat the air fryer to 350 degrees F.
- Arrange the breaded tofu in a single layer. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, checking on it at the halfway point and during the last couple of minutes. See the Tips section below.
In Nashville, the original dish is always served with dill pickle slices and sliced white bread to help offset the heat.
But since there's literally nothing authentic about our version, go ahead and serve it however you like!
- Similar to vegan Buffalo wings, it's great with celery, carrot sticks, and vegan ranch on the side.
- Or pile this Nashville hot tofu on a fully loaded salad.
- Make Nashville hot tacos topped with guacamole and vegan queso fresco to cool things down.
- You can even chop it up and add it to nachos, pizzas, and flatbreads!
- Gluten-free - use a gluten-free all-purpose flour and gluten-free panko (just be sure to check the ingredients for egg).
- Oil-Free - if you strictly avoid oil in your diet, it's fine to omit the oil from the panko breading. After baking the breading will look lighter in color and more dry, but it's still delicious!
- Tempeh - cut tempeh into steaks or strips and steam it for 15 minutes, then bread it as described in the recipe.
- Seitan - instead of tofu, give these seitan "chicken" nuggets the Nashville hot treatment. Since there's salt in the Nashville hot seasoning, I recommend reducing the amount of salt added to the seitan dough.
After you try this Nashville hot tofu, be sure to check out my easy tofu nuggets!
Even though the breading is pretty spicy, for the sake of saving time, the tofu itself is not marinated or seasoned. So keep that in mind if you decide to reduce the spiciness. It's best to only reduce the cayenne, but keep the salt and other seasonings in their original amounts.
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I hope you enjoy this Nashville-style hot tofu. If you try the recipe be sure to leave a comment below to let us know!
Nashville Hot Tofu
Nashville hot seasoning:
- 16 ounces super-firm tofu - or extra-firm, pressed
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour - regular or gluten-free
- ⅓ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning blend - this is a blend of dried herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup plain, unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce - I used Crystal
- 1 tablespoon prepared mustard - any variety you like
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or agave
- ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs - regular or gluten-free
- 1 ½ tablespoons oil
- dill pickle slices, for serving
- Combine the Nashville hot seasoning ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Preheat the oven (or air fryer) to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.
- Locate 3 regular-size soup bowls. In one, combine the flour, nutritional yeast, poultry seasoning, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 Tablespoon of the hot seasoning. In the 2nd bowl, combine the milk, hot sauce, mustard, and sweetener. In the 3rd bowl, mix together the panko, oil, 1 Tablespoon of the hot seasoning, and a pinch of salt. Note: you'll have some hot seasoning leftover. Use it to season other dishes, add it to a sauce for the tofu, or store for next time.
- Tear the tofu into large nuggets or cut into cubes or rectangles. Coat tofu in flour mixture and shake off excess. Next, dip in the milk mixture, and let the excess run off. Repeat those two steps, then place in the bowl of panko. Lightly press the crumbs into the tofu so it's fully coated. Place tofu on the prepared baking sheet (or a plate/cutting board if cooking in the air fryer). Repeat with the remaining pieces of tofu.
- Bake for 28 to 32 minutes, flipping at the halfway point. Or air fry for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden and crispy. Serve hot with dill pickles on the side. See Notes for tips.
- gluten-free - use GF all-purpose flour and GF panko (just be sure to check the ingredients for egg).
- oil-Free - if you strictly avoid oil in your diet, it's fine to omit the oil from the panko breading. After baking, the breading will be lighter in color, but it's still delicious!
- tempeh - cut tempeh into steaks or strips and steam for 15 minutes. Then use in place of the tofu.
- Seitan - or use seitan nuggets instead of tofu. Since there's salt in the Nashville hot seasoning, I recommend reducing the amount of salt added to the seitan dough.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.