It comes on slow, the way humidity in the South rises rather than falling as the sun goes down. The heat isn't obvious from the first bite, and even though the hot chicken oil lingers sticks to your lips, that's not where it begins the intensify.
No, the heat from the Boomshakalaka hot chicken at Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen (their hottest of six options) starts in the back of the tongue and takes over your mouth by degrees, like a pan slowly heating up on a burner that just keeps getting hotter and hotter.
The heat is actually blinding — my eyes were watering enough that seeing was becoming an issue as I groped my way to the bar to ask for a cup of water. By now the heat had spread up to my nose and making breathing possible only through heaving gasps. The bartender gave me water, along with a cup of ice and, for good measure, a tiny Solo cup's worth of Southern Kitchen's buttermilk soft serve. Surprisingly dense and only very slightly sweet, it did the trick enough that I could go back to finish the drumstick.
Those next few bites clarified something — the Boomshakalaka's heat, while intense, wasn't obliterating. Some hot sauces seem designed specifically to reduce your senses to a screaming siren of pain. Interestingly, there was no pain here — Hall tempers the ghost peppers and Carolina reapers with fruit and other spices for a complex flavor that's still meant to be tasted.
Despite the hot oil's intensity for this spicy-food loving girl, Hall says as far as the Fraternal Order of Hot Chicken is concerned her Level 6 bird doesn't go far enough. So use it as a test to see if you could handle whatever actually-on-fire hot chicken comes out of the kitchens in its hometown of Nashville.
If you're looking for a milder high, even Southern Kitchen's baseline level Hoot & Honey chicken has a gentle kick — and it'd be a shame to miss the outrageously good pool of hot honey that the softly breaded bird is meant to be dipped in.