Contrary to some trend spotters’ predictions, wings will not be dethroned as the king of poultry cuts in 2023. Year after year, wings are unarguably one of the most popular items on the menu, solving the age-old question of poultry preference with a single word — wings! In fact, football fans just finished consuming 1.5 billion wings during “The Big Game” this year alone, attributing the smallest part of the bird with the largest following.
Wings are at home on a dinner plate, a charcuterie board and they’re often the star of the home field at a tailgate. Jumbo or standard, spicy or sweet, whole or sectioned, dry or wet, fried, grilled or roasted — who doesn’t like chicken wings? In this primer, we’re covering all things wings to keep you up to speed on an item you’re sure to see on menus in virtually every restaurant this year.
In the beginning — the lowly wing rises to fame
The mostly widely accepted origin story keeps its roots in America and takes us all the way to Buffalo, New York. The year is 1964, and chicken wings aren’t even a popular thing yet as they are strictly relegated to the stock pot or even ground up for animal feed. That was the legacy of chicken wings in 1964, or at least it was until a little dive called the Anchor Bar decided to use their leftover wings to feed hungry guests.
Like every restaurant operator, Anchor Bar owner, Teressa Bellissimo, was always looking for ways to cut food waste and maximize profits. Frying and tossing wings in a savory mix of butter and hot sauce, her guests quickly spread the word about what is now a chicken legend — the iconic Buffalo wing.
Fast forwarding from its humble beginnings in the 1960s, the wing is now king and easily the most served poultry item on many menus. Boneless wings and new plant-based alternatives can try all they want, but we know the wing will never be dethroned as the original snack of choice.
Small package — bold flavor
Despite the small package, there are several different cuts of meat on a chicken wing. Wing orders at a wing specialty restaurant range from “drummies or drums” to “flats only” or “mixed.” Some places serve them “all the way,” and that’s because there are three parts of a chicken wing — drumettes, drums or drummies, wingettes or flats, and tips.
The drumette or drum is the largest, meatiest section of the wing. It shares its shape with the signature drumstick, and has a robust, dark-meat flavor and texture. With more retained moisture and fat, drums can be a little messier and many people prefer flats, but we think a few extra napkins is a great alternative to making a difficult decision between two delicious wing cuts.
The wingette, more commonly known as a “flat,” is the middle section of the wing and is typically more uniform in size and shape. Since the meat on the flat is attached to two smaller bones, practiced diners can easily pull all the meat off in one careful bite. Additionally, flats are thinner, making them the optimal choice for fans of a crisper fry.
Wing tips are last on the list of wing cuts, and unless you're into gnawing on bones, you’re not likely to encounter this as a solo option, although this third section of the wing is often included in grocery store bags of raw wings. Before you throw them out, consider other options for wing tip preparation as they are stocked full of flavor. Instead, cut them off while segmenting your wings and use the tips to make a gravy, broth or stock, which will showcase their rich flavor.
The sauce is boss
Chicken wings may have started with that traditional Buffalo sauce in the 1960s, but, today, the options are endless, and even old-school herb and lemon-pepper sauces are taking a back seat to Asian fusion and other exotic flavor profiles. Habanero-pineapple, sesame and sweet Thai chili sauces transport bored palates to another culture with international flavors and presentations. You may even prefer a dry-rub for a big bold flavor — think classic BBQ, jerked or smoky-hot chipotle.
For the traditional dipping junkie, it always comes down to ranch versus blue cheese. Ranch is creamy, tangy and made with buttermilk and herbs, making it a dip that is popular with people who want something familiar that pairs with everything effortlessly. On the contrary, blue cheese is zesty and pungent, made with blue cheese and sour cream. Bold and experimental, blue cheese is perfect to cool down that super-hot Buffalo wing or balance other spicy flavored wing sauces.
Regardless of the preparation style, cut of preference or sauce of choice, wings are the universal food language of love, where there’s no right or wrong. At the end of the day, wings bring us together. From fall tailgates and ”The Big Game” in February to Independence Day and summer barbeques, wings will always be there for us, and they make no judgment on your choice of dip or dressing, they just want to be part of the fun.