Back in late May of 2021, when our country started to emerge from pandemic hibernation, there was a nationwide shortage of all kinds of things—among them, chicken wings. It was significant enough that several segments about it aired on network and cable news channels. Just prior to the Memorial Day weekend, I shopped every other day in five different grocery stores, but there wasn’t a wing to be had.
And when they finally appeared on the shelves a couple of weeks thereafter, they were selling for $5! I can remember when a pound of wings sold for $0.29, and even then, people didn’t know what the hell to do with them other than make soup. The Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, claims to have “invented” wings one night in 1964 when the cook threw some wings into the deep fryer. Surely they were not the first to do so, but their claim has become apocryphal.
Chicken Wing Recipes for Amazing Wings
Today, wings are right up there with pizza and burgers as our most popular comfort food. There are literally tens of thousands of bars and restaurants that actually specialize in these bony little digits. There’s not a lot you can do with wings other than serve them with various sauces, of which there are infinite options. There are, however, different ways of cooking wings, and that’s what we’re going to explore here. You can deep-fry ’em, which is how virtually every bar and restaurant does it, but in your own kitchen, you can also bake ’em, grill ’em or use an air fryer, an appliance that has just arrived on the scene quite recently.
Like I said, deep-frying in large amounts of oil that hold temperature is how wings are done in most bars and restaurants using commercial fryers. Home fryers are a little different in that even with just a dozen wings at or near room temperature, immersing the wings will drop the oil temperature by 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more, and double that if straight out of the fridge.
I used to use a home deep fryer, but I got tired of the long and messy cleanup. Now I use a cast-iron skillet on my induction cooktop and only enough oil to not quite cover the wings. That can vary depending on whether you’re frying both drumettes and flats, because the former are much thicker and require more oil. I much prefer flats to drumettes, and believe it or not, so does every one of my friends. I use the drumettes and wing tips to make soup or stock.
Cast Iron for the Win
If you decide to try the stovetop method, I strongly urge you to use cast iron because it holds the oil temperature better than stainless or aluminum. As with deep-frying, you have three options: seasoning and saucing bare or floured wings after they come out of the oil, breading them or dipping ’em in beer batter. With breading, either panko or regular, it’s the usual procedure of dredging the wings in flour, dipping them in an egg wash, then rolling them in breading seasoned to your liking.
With batter coating—the method I prefer—I use one-third corn starch and two-thirds all-purpose flour, adding little drizzles of beer while whisking until the right consistency is achieved. Getting that right consistency is a bit tricky because only a few drops of beer can more or less result in a batter that’s too thick or too thin. The good news, however, is that you can add more beer or more flour until you get it right.
I want to emphasize again that no matter which of the aforementioned preps you choose, the wings should be at or near room temperature. I’ve gotten to where I prepare no more than six to eight flats at a time in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Even at that, my 400-degree-Fahrenheit oil temperature will drop to 325 degrees and finish eight to nine minutes later at around 350 to 360 degrees. Flats take about 25-percent less time to cook than drumettes, so it’s best if they’re cooked separately. As for seasoning and saucing, that’s totally subjective. The original Anchor Bar recipe involved butter, hot sauce and a little vinegar, but a blue-cheese dip and a stalk of celery is also traditional. Beyond that, you’re limited only by your imagination.
It was only 12 years ago that the first air fryer was introduced by Philips Electronics at a consumer appliance show in Berlin. Since then, air fryers have taken the cooking world by storm. If truth be told, these appliances are nothing more than countertop versions of convection ovens that came on the scene in the late 1940s. Air fryers cook food by circulating super-heated air within a confined space, and in so doing, they can actually fry foods and do it virtually without oil. Not only that, but they are also easier to clean and much safer than frying with hot oil.
I’m relatively new to air frying, having gotten my unit about a year ago. I was skeptical at first, but after a few trial runs, I was sold. I’m getting wings that are 95 percent as crisp and as good as deep-fried—and infinitely healthier. The first-generation air fryers were barrel shaped, but the second-generation units now look very much like countertop toaster ovens, right down to having glass doors. They also have more features and more cooking modes.
Leave the Batter for the Pan
Batter dipping doesn’t work with air fryers, so your options are cooking ’em naked and then tossing them in a sauce as it’s done in most bars and restaurants, breading ’em or rolling ’em in seasoned flour. The best results are achieved when you arrange the wings in a single, uncrowded layer. The cooking tray in my unit is an 8-by-10-inch oval, and on it I can fit about 10 to 12 wings. Whether naked or breaded, I spray (or you can brush) the tray and wings with a light mist of olive oil; this prevents sticking when you turn them halfway through the cooking process (and adds crispiness).
The recipes included with air fryers are fairly accurate when it comes to cooking times, but only if you’re frying the type and amount of food specified. The recipe shown in my owner’s manual calls for 25 minutes for a batch of 30 mixed wings at a temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve never done more than 12 flats at a time, and it takes just 14 minutes. The nice thing about air fryers is that you can pull the tray at any time to check for doneness. Doing so, the unit shuts off, then restarts and continues at the time and temperature originally set.
If you don’t have an air fryer, I highly recommend getting one; you won’t be disappointed. There are dozens of brands to choose from, many of which can be had for under $75.
Most wing aficionados consider this the least desirable cooking method, and I agree. If you follow this procedure, you can have wings that are about 75 percent as crisp as those cooked in oil, to say nothing of being much lower in calories. However, the texture and taste are quite different from fried wings.
To start, you want to pat the wings with paper towels to get them as dry as possible. For 12 wings, you’ll need about a heaping tablespoon each of corn starch and baking powder in a mixing bowl or bag, along with whatever seasonings you prefer. Toss the wings until thoroughly coated, then transfer them to a colander and toss vigorously over the sink or waste basket until all excess powder has been sifted away.
The next step—and this is an important one—is to loosely arrange the wings on a wire rack in a sheet pan so that air can circulate around them, then place it in the fridge for three to four hours. Remove the wings, brush or mist them with a little olive oil and place them into a 450-degree-Fahrenheit oven. After 16 to 18 minutes, flip ’em, apply extra-virgin olive oil to that side and continue baking for another 16 to 18 minutes.
Using a gas grill is faster and more convenient, but for wings, I prefer the flavor imparted by the combination of charcoal and hickory on a kettle-type grill. You can, of course, simply dump your hot charcoal across the bottom of the kettle and have at it. That works fine for quick-cooking things like hot dogs, burgers, brats and so forth, but for thick steaks, halved chickens, pork and other meats that are best cooked low and slow, indirect heat is the way to go.
The newest twist to this oldest form of cooking is using what’s called a vortex; it’s nothing more than a sheet-steel cone roughly 4 inches high, 10 inches in diameter at the base and 6 inches in diameter at the top. The cone is placed in the center of the grill below the grate and filled with burning charcoal. For the smoky flavor, I add a handful of hickory chips directly atop the charcoal or chunks of hickory on the grate above.
Let it Flow
The idea is that with the cover in place, a concentrated column of heat is directed upwards against the dome, where it’s reflected downwards. The result is a steady flow of heat circulating around the wings, which are placed on the outer periphery of the grate. The wings are never directly over the hot coals. It’s really similar to convection cooking, and it produces wings that are incredibly tasty.
With kettle grilling, you can do a lot of wings at a time—like 25 to 30, depending on the size of your grate. As for prep styles, I’d recommend only naked wings, and brushing them with extra-virgin olive oil or butter at the start and during the cooking cycle. Basting with barbecue sauce while cooking is traditional, but tossing the wings in sauces afterward is just as popular. You’ll find cooking times can vary greatly—anywhere from 35 to 50 minutes depending on temperature. I try to maintain 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
National Chicken Wing Day Tips & Recipes
So July 29 is actually National Chicken Wing Day. And we’re completely onboard for this day of recognition! In honor of National Chicken Wing Day, Hi Mountain Seasonings made cooking even easier. They put together a collection of chicken wing cooking tips and recipes, all done Hi Mountain style. It includes recipes and tips from company employees and industry professionals. From quick and simple to gourmet wings, they got you covered. Check out the cookbook for more!
This story originally ran in the Summer 2022 issue of American Frontiersman. Get your copy today at OutdoorGroupStore.com.