Sauce

How to Make the Best Chicken Wings for a Crowd

Our Test Kitchen teaches you everything you ever wanted to know about serving maximum-flavor, minimum-effort chicken wings everyone can get behind.

January 29, 2020

Chicken wings have got a bad reputation for hanging around sketchy bars. It's time to intervene. Because you can make chicken wings that are crispy and tender, that are doused in homemade hot sauce butter or your favorite spices, that are actually addictive and not at all dubious.

Our test kitchen director, Josh Cohen, shares his go-to method when making chicken wings for a crowd: He dry-brine-spice-rubs the night before, and slides them into the oven while "refreshing everyone's drink." Baking them on a foil-lined sheet keeps cleanup minimal, and his make-ahead blender BBQ sauce has guests saying, "Frank's who?"

Your guests (and their spatter-free shirts) will thank you. Photo by Bobbi Lin

1. Prep your wings.

As always, the better quality meat you get the better dinner is going to taste—and in the case of chicken wings, your wallet won't be harmed in the process. As Josh explains in the video, while you can serve them whole, broken-down wings are easier to eat. Buy whole chicken wings and break them down into three parts yourself; not only will the meat be even less expensive, but also the butchering is quick work and you'll have the added bonus of getting some wing tips in the mix. (Wait, wing tips??)

A whole chicken wing has three parts, not just two: the drumette (with a large end like a club), the wingette (flat, with two bones), and the tip (pointy, wing-like, and too-often discarded). To break a wing down into these parts, slip your knife into one of the two joints, rocking it side to side until the blade slides through and separates the parts. You shouldn't have to cut through bone, only cartilage, and you'll get the hang of it after a few wings. Continue until all your drummettes, wingettes, and tips are free agents.

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Top Comment:
“The basic technique is to steam the wings for 10 minutes then dry them out in the fridge for an hour, which honestly I often skip the drying due to lack of time or patience. Line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly grease. I find this helps with the sticking and helps the crisping. I like to season mine before cooking. Roast at 425 for 20 minutes, flip and go another 20-30 minutes until desired doneness. Sauce as desired. We like traditional buffalo.”
— frank
Comment

A note about handling raw chicken: Josh usually works with latex gloves, but tossing the wings with tongs works just fine too. If you're working with gloves, try to keep one hand as "the wet hand"—handling the raw chicken—and the other as "the dry hand" (sprinkling the spice rub into the bowl of raw chicken). It keeps the rub from getting unnecessarily clumpy, and keeps you slightly cleaner.

2a. Dry-rub the night before.

Tossing the wings in a dry-rub the night before means that Josh can spend time with family and friends—not in the kitchen. Though Josh's go-to wing is a grilled wing, he found he was able to cheat that smoky flavor with the addition of smoked salt. Also in his not-so-secret magic rub: smoked paprika, garlic, onion, thyme, oregano, cumin, and coriander. Josh likes blitzing dried oregano and thyme in a spice grinder, as the herbs then better disperse in the rub. (Also, no one like flecks of green stuck in their teeth!)

While you could bake the wings right after seasoning, the overnight rest ensures that the wings get deeply seasoned inside and out. When taking the wings out of the fridge after their overnight rest, Josh noted that the wings appeared to be glistening—a good sign that the salt and spices had thoroughly permeated the wings.

2b. Or, enlist the crisping powers of baking powder.

This method is for when you don't have time for a full overnight rest (the people want their wings now). Toss your wings in a little salt and a bit of baking powder, which will both up the pH (encouraging the Maillard reaction and browning) and create bubbles on the surface of the chicken (more bubbles mean greater and thinner surface area, which means a higher chance of getting crackly). For each pound of wings, toss with one scant teaspoon of baking powder before setting out to dry.

3. Let's bake!

When ready to bake, spread the wings out on a foil-lined baking sheet. Using foil, while not entirely necessary, makes cleanup a breeze later. Avoid overcrowding the wings—overcrowding creates steam which creates soggy wings; use multiple baking sheets, or cook in batches, if you must. For the crispiest skin, Josh likes to bake his wings at a high heat (500°F) for the first 20 minutes, then lowers the heat to 350°F to finish cooking them without burning the spice rub.

If you must, must fry your wings, do so twice—as you would a French fry—for maximum crispness: 20 minutes in oil that's about 250ºF, and then after removing and resting, again for 10 minutes in oil that's about 400ºF, or until brown.

Who doesn't love wing sauce? Photo by Bobbi Lin

4. Jar sauce? More like blender-jar sauce.

While some may say the humble chicken wing reaches peak deliciousness when doused in equal parts butter and hot sauce (triple points if you make the latter from scratch), Josh offers an enticing alternative: wing sauce that comes together in a blender. Charred onions and cherry tomatoes get blended up with even more spices and a wee bit of Frank's until thick and spoonable. It's way more exciting-tasting than bottled BBQ sauce, but not that much effort.

Josh's recipe, while solid as is, is certainly not the end-all-be-all sauce. Here are some ideas to get you riffing:

  • For heat: Warm-colored hot peppers (cherry peppers, cayenne peppers, red jalapeños, habanero peppers, etc.); dried chiles, reconstituted in warm water
  • For freshness: Citrus (blood orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, etc.) juice or zest
  • For heft: Red or yellow bell peppers; tomatoes; carrots
  • For richness: Garlic; shallots; onion
  • For sweetness: Honey; molasses; brown sugar
  • For pizzaz: Ginger; horseradish root; lemongrass; fresh turmeric; smoked paprika

Whiz your concoction in the blender with enough vinegar to make it smooth—something mild, like rice vinegar, will let the vegetable flavors shine, but something punchier (apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar) would impart much more tang.

I hope you picked up a few beers. Photo by ROCKY LUTEN

Whether you choose to serve sauce alongside the wings, or toss and coat them, don't forget carrot and celery sticks—which as I'm sure you know are there not just for balance but, dunked in a creamy sauce, provide a nice cooling counterpoint. Do consider adding other crisp vegetables and fruits to the mix: jicama, peeled broccoli stems, green pepper slices, apples, and even pears.


need a creamy, cooling dip?


What are your best tips for serving a crowd? Tell us in the comments below.

This article originally appeared on February 1, 2016. We're rerunning it now with new information in honor of playoff season (and because wings are a surefire touchdown).
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12 Comments

Janie S. September 7, 2020
What are the rub portions? How much per how many pounds of wings? Thanks
 
Matty_Valdez July 28, 2020
Hello! I'm very intrigued by using baking powder to get extra crispy skin on the wings. Does the baking powder method only work if I'm baking them of would it work in crisping the wings on the grill as well? Thanks for your help!
 
AR January 30, 2019
I'll have to try the baking powder. I've been baking wings for years. For the past few years, I've been tossing then in BWW salt and vinegar dry spice or buffalo dry spice after baking. As much as I'm a DIY cook, these purchased spice blends are very, very good. I used to buy French's mild and hot wing spices and combine them, applying the spices prior to baking. Another recipe from a neighbor uses a cab of Pepsi and a cup of hot sauce, baking as they marinate, as the sauce thickens and reduces. It's messy and really hot. I'm betting that adding butter would mellow it a bit. Recently I bought the Power Air Fryer. I can air fry four lbs of wings drummies in 30 minutes and they are more crispy than baking. And this is without any baking powder. It requires swapping the tracks once or twice. In the year prior to buying this, I had started frying wings, instead of baking. Using this air fryer will be healthier and will pay for itself because of not requiring oil.
 
Jenny February 5, 2017
This guide is perfect! I cooked mine at 450 degrees on a foil-lined baking sheet for about 20 minutes on the first side and 10 minutes on the second. They came out crisp and perfect! Thank you, Food52!
 
JulieS January 30, 2017
There is another recipe on Food 52 for Korean chicken wings that uses egg whites, baking soda & salt to dry in the fridge overnight. What would be the difference in these 2 methods? I've never thought of baking soda and baking powder as being interchangeable and now I'm confused. Please help, I want to make these for Super Bowl! Thank you.
 
Lindsay May 30, 2016
My wings turned out great!! Used BP and salt. Mine took about 45 mins in the hot oven. Great technique!
 
frank May 31, 2016
no sauce?
 
Lindsay May 31, 2016
After they were finished in the oven, I did toss some of them with a 50/50 mix of melted butter and franks. I also made a honey mustard dipping sauce, about equal parts of melted butter, honey, yellow mustard and sour cream.
 
frank February 9, 2016
Need to try this. Hard to get oven wings as crispy as fried. I have had a lot of success with Alton Brown’s wing recipe. The basic technique is to steam the wings for 10 minutes then dry them out in the fridge for an hour, which honestly I often skip the drying due to lack of time or patience. Line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly grease. I find this helps with the sticking and helps the crisping. I like to season mine before cooking. Roast at 425 for 20 minutes, flip and go another 20-30 minutes until desired doneness. Sauce as desired. We like traditional buffalo.
 
ghainskom February 8, 2016
This is my go-to recipe right now: https://food52.com/recipes/22901-grilled-5-spice-barbecue-chicken-wings-with-herbs
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx February 1, 2016
I french the drumette for a better presentation. They're easier to eat as well. The rest go in the freezer for stock/broth.
 
LauriL February 1, 2016
Great idea for watching the Superbowl ....commercials!! Can't wait to try them!