The numbers are mind-blowing: On Super Bowl Sunday alone, Americans eat 1 1/2 billion chicken wings according to the National Chicken Council. Another source reports that the average serving per person is 16 wings, or about 290 wings per person per year. Wow.
There’s no doubt that chicken wings are one of the most popular appetizers and game day snacks in the U.S. (In fact, if you intend to serve them on February 11, Super Bowl Sunday, you’d be well-served to tuck a few packages in the freezer right now as they sometimes become scarce.)
But wings are popular all over the world, from South Africa to Australia to Malaysia. Their versatility is part of their appeal. After all, the wing is the choicest morsel of the chicken for grilling, consisting chiefly of skin—rendered crackling crisp by the heat of the grill—and bones, which are fun to gnaw on and impart rich flavor. The meat there is well marbled so it stays moist throughout the cooking.
Here’s how to smoke-roast flavorful, crispy, utterly addictive chicken wings on your grill or smoker.
Tip for Grilling Crispy Chicken Wings
Buying Wings: Like shrimp, wings are often sold by the pound, with 5 to 7 wings per pound being on the larger side. (Smaller wings are usually available in markets, too.) The appendage consists of three parts—the meaty drumette, the flat, and the wingtip. In Asia, grill jockeys impale the entire wing on long bamboo skewers to maximize their surface area. (See an example on page 247 of Steven’s book How to Grill.)
Prepping Wings: You will save money if you cut wings apart yourself. Simply stretch them out on a cutting board and slice through the two cartilaginous joints with a sharp knife. Discard the wingtips or save them for stock. If desired, you can turn the drumettes into chicken “lollipops”—a fancier presentation that features a knob of meat at the end of the bone, rather like a mini chicken drumstick. Run a sharp paring knife around the base of the bone to sever the tendons. Then use the knife to scrape the meat toward the end of the bone. Yes, it’s an extra step, but the cool factor is worth it.
Seasoning: Our approach to wings has evolved over the years, resulting in crispier wings and fewer flare-ups. We start by tossing the wings with extra virgin olive oil, then seasoning them with a good rub blended with aluminum-free baking powder—about 1 tablespoon per 3 pounds of wings. (You might have to read the ingredient list to confirm that the baking powder is aluminum-free. Otherwise, the wings can take on a slightly metallic taste.) Without delving too deep into the science of it, the baking powder changes the alkalinity of the skin, giving it a crispier texture when cooked.
Smoke-Roasting: The fat in chicken wings can really excite the fire, making direct grilling an anxiety-producing exercise. Which is why we now recommend indirect grilling—meaning the wings are not cooked directly over the flames. Heat your grill to 425 degrees, then arrange the wings on the cooler side of the grill. The higher heat will help you avoid the rubbery skin found on wings that are cooked over smoking temperatures, 225 to 250 degrees. Add hardwood chunks or soaked and drained smoking chips to the coals and replace the grill lid. If using a gas grill, put the chunks over the burners or wrap the chips in a foil package and poke holes in the top. (See how here.) Grill the wings for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning every 15 minutes, until the wings are nicely browned and the meat is cooked. (For their size, wings take longer to cook than you’d expect.) If desired, brush the wings on both sides with your favorite sauce the last 10 minutes of grilling. (You want the sauce to “tighten up,” but not scorch.) Or, you can serve the sauce or dip on the side.
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Recipes for Chicken Wings
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