Chicken

We Tested 5 Popular Chicken Wing Recipes—Here's How They Stack Up

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear little smudges of wing sauce on their faces.

January 31, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

Here at Food52, some of us are Patriots fans, some of us stand behind the Rams, and a handful of us have no horse in this race. But when it comes to the Super Bowl, there's one thing upon which we can all agree: Chicken wings are the true winner, every single year.

Which is why we have no shortage of chicken wing recipes on the site. We have baked wings. Broiled wings. Deep-fried wings. A drumette-only take. Wings with za'tar and fava bean dip. Wings glazed with orange-sesame.

This year, we held the first-ever Food52 Chicken Wing-Off: an all-day event hosted by our test kitchen, who, through true grit and dedication to crispy skin, juicy meat, and tangy dipping sauces, cooked five of our most popular chicken wing recipes for our entire staff.

"This is the greatest day of my life," said Director of Finance Victoria Maynard as the first platter of hot, saucy wings made their way from the test kitchen toward the tasting table. Zero people disagreed.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I prepare my wings and bake them, put them in ‘the sauce’ and put them on the grill! I can’t deep fry so this is a good alternative - enjoy”
— Pamela P.
Comment

It goes without saying that all of the recipes were excellent—but what, exactly, made each one so great? Our taste testers were ready to take on this important question. Below are our complete field notes. If you host your own Chicken Wing-Off (or, you know, game day party) at home, please be sure to tag your posts #f52wingoff, and share your thoughts in the comments below!


The Littlest Effort, Largest Reward Wings

The verdict:

Mark Bittman's wings are fuss-free—and, unsurprisingly (he was The Minimalist, after all!), this works very, very well for them. Our team loved the contrast of crispy, broiled skin against the tender, juicy meat. And the no-frills sauce? Let's just say if we had a swimming pool at our offices, we'd be filling it with this sauce. (And a company hot tub, you ask? We'd fill it with Bittman's optional blue cheese dressing. Celery sticks instead of towels. We'll show ourselves out, now...)

Taste-tester commentary:

  • "These are everything you know and love about wings. Crispy, yet juicy, with the perfect amount of spice and tang."
  • "Wow, these are so pure and simple and very delicious. Subtly spicy without sauce. Nice crust. Very juicy."
  • "Perfectly tender inside, crisp on the outside. The spices weren't over-powering, which made the dips extra-EXTRA."
  • "Surprisingly love that these aren't fried? I feel like I could eat 800 of them."
  • "Meat is juicy, skin crispy."
  • "Yum! Juicy and delicious. Love the sauce."
  • "Loved the flavor, juiciness, and just the right amount of saltiness."
  • "This feels like something I'd want while watching a football game!"

The Classic (With a Couple Party Tricks!) Wings

The verdict:

These wings bring us to an important point in our Chicken Wing-Off, the question of the day: Are you a drumette person, or do you go for the flats? Paula Disbrowe, author of our book Any Night Grilling, which includes this recipe for Party Wings, writes, "I use drumettes because they’re meaty and easier to eat." Case in point: We wanted approximately one million of these, thanks to their tangy, gently spicy sauce, and extra-juicy interiors. Disbrowe's two-heat-zone cooking technique yields the perfect balance of moist (sorry!) meat and just barely charred, crispy skin.

Taste-tester commentary:

  • "Very juicy and saucy."
  • "I enjoyed how even the meat was juicy."
  • "Juicy! Nice spice!"
  • "Bright flavors with a dish that's so often heavy."
  • "Love the vinegar and garlic flavor!"
  • "Tangy, liked the spice."
  • "Good amount of sauce, making them flavorful and not dry."
  • "Nice kick and acidity!"

The Tangy, Finger-Licking-Good Wings

The verdict:

Honey-mustard fans, gather 'round. Actually, everybody gather 'round! These glaze-forward wings make a really good case for licking your fingers between every single bite. The balance of sweetness and spice is spot on, and the scallion garnish brings a big touch of freshness. Thanks to a bake, a broil, and another post-glaze bake, you're going to really love the skin on these.

Taste-tester commentary:

  • "So often honey-mustard is all about the honey—with not enough mustard. I loved the balance on these, and the crisp crust."
  • "Love a scallion or 100."
  • "The soy cuts through nicely."
  • "Delicious glaze and stickiness."
  • "Really enjoy the crispy skin and the flavor."
  • "Love the sweet, sticky sauce and the crust."
  • "Love the scallions and the crispiness."
  • "Sweeter, love the texture, sticky and juicy. Feel like they would fly off the tray at a get-together."

The Ultra-Crispy, Sweet-and-Savory Wings

The verdict:

If you're looking for a truly crunchy wing, look no further than these. They won our contest for Your Best Chicken Wings way back when, and it's no wonder: They get double-fried for extra crispiness, and glazed with a sauce that's equal parts gingery, spicy, sweet, and savory.

Taste-tester commentary:

  • "Dreamy. Sticky, gingery bliss."
  • "Sweet, great crispiness, and a little spicy! Thought these had the best crispy skin."
  • "Yum, amazing crust. And still moist meat!"
  • "Ginger is a great touch, and love how crunchy they are."
  • "Excellent. Sweet, but not overwhelming. Good crispiness!"
  • "Ginger! Sticky! Crispy! Sesame! <3"
  • "Love the crispy skin and the flavor is very strong. LOVE LOVE."
  • "I love love love how crispy they are. The ginger adds a great kick. Honestly, what I loved the most was that crispy, crunchy skin."
  • "Super crispy and moist inside. Love the ginger."

The Smoky, BBQ-Inspired Wings

The verdict:

When our Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen learned about our Chicken Wing-Off, he immediately threw his own recipe into the mix. And we're eternally grateful he did, because we need these dry-brined wings in our life. They're delightfully smoky and salty, with wonderfully crisp skin, and super tender, well-flavored meat, courtesy of a high-then-low-temp baking method. The BBQ-sauce dip takes them from A++ to teaching the class.

Taste-tester commentary:

  • "<3 these! Smoky and juicy."
  • "The smokiest and most reminiscent of traditional pub wings."
  • "Moist! Salty!"
  • "Love this rub. Want to make a big batch and put it on everything."
  • "Salty, in a good way. BBQ [sauce] is nice and tangy, which is a plus."
  • "Chicken super juicy, sauce is amazing."
  • "Love the dry rub! Not greasy. V. good."
  • "Sauce is A+. Lots of spices."
  • "Into the dry rub. Felt like I could eat the most of these."
  • "Tastes like summer! The wings don't even need the sauce, but its sweetness balances the saltiness."
  • "OMG. These are ridiculously good. The sauce is [small drawing of flames] fire. Almost doesn't even taste like chicken, but pork."

Bonus Face-Off: Drumettes Versus Flats

For those of you holding your breath on the aforementioned question of the day (drumettes versus flats!), here are the cold, hard results of our highly scientific poll. (Disclaimer: Many of the surveys we received back were coated in wing sauce.)

  • Drumettes came in the lead, with 50 percent of votes.
  • Flats still had a solid backing, with 37.5 percent.
  • 12.5 percent of voters wanted it all and wrote in "both."

We'll chicken–wing cheers to that!

What recipes would you include in your own Chicken Wing-Off? Let us know in the comments!

13 Comments

Judith M. February 3, 2019
Only Mark Bittners' wings . Only flats!
 
Pamela P. February 2, 2019
I prepare my wings and bake them, put them in ‘the sauce’ and put them on the grill! I can’t deep fry so this is a good alternative - enjoy
 
Tracey P. February 1, 2019
My favorite recipes are: <br />https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/red-curry-lime-chicken-wings<br />https://smittenkitchen.com/2019/01/baked-buffalo-wings/<br />For the Red Curry Lime wings, I make a dipping sauce with sour cream, mayo, garlic and lime juice. Everyone I make them for wants more, AND the recipe. They're also extremely quick and easy to make.<br /><br /><br />
 
Fran M. February 2, 2019
What’s your dipping sauce recipe ? Would love to have it. Thank you.
 
2tattered February 2, 2019
Fran, I don’t measure, so tweak to your taste:<br />1 clove garlic and 1/2 tsp kosher salt, chopped and smeared together with side of knife<br />Juice of half a lime<br />1/2 cup sour cream. Whisk in Hellman’s mayo to taste. Add chopped cilantro or parsley, check for salt and add freshly ground pepper. If you like heat, stir in some of your favorite hot sauce.<br />Hope you like the wing recipe - it’s seriously good and easy,
 
2tattered February 2, 2019
Sometimes I add a dash of soy sauce, but I don’t miss it if I forget.
 
2tattered February 2, 2019
So I did a wing test tonight. Wings coated with salt and baking powder, overnight in fridge, baked as per Smitten Kitchen recipe cited above vs wings tossed in oil, s & p, baked at 475 for 40 minutes (no flipping needed). The latter produced better wings with less time and effort by far.<br />I also have a blue cheese recipe I’ve been using for 20 years that tops any other I’ve tried - including the buttermilk based recipes. I’ll share it tomorrow if I can find time between laundry batches.....
 
Ian M. February 1, 2019
Correctly prepared Korean wings are hard to beat. I suppose one illustration of my rapidly advancing age is that I remember when wings were regularly 49 cents a pound, and my local butcher would literally give them away when he received a large delivery.
 
2tattered February 2, 2019
‘Rapidly advancing age’ - I get that. I keep thinking I’ll wake up one morning in two weeks and be 85 (I’m 65, right now). Scary.
 
ELLE February 3, 2019
I'll wake up in a few days and I'll be 88. Scary but also miraculous. My favorite wings come from an old, old cookbook, long out of print. Cooked in an electric frypan (also old) with paprika, scallions, garlic and soy sauce and accompanied by Chinese veggies, excellent. Not spicy, I could never get used to spicy.
 
2tattered February 3, 2019
Fancy that. I happen to have an electric fry pan. What’s the cookbook?
 
Angie January 31, 2019
My favorite recipe comes from Nick over at Macheesmo https://www.macheesmo.com/slow-roasted-chicken-wings/ I've used this recipe for a few years now and it works equally well with thighs.
 
Bryan P. January 31, 2019
Interesting that they don't recommend the accepted standard for oven cooking: On a wire rack at low temperature until the fat renders and then cranking it up to 400F. Convection oven a bonus. I never had a reason to flip my wings during cooking with this method.<br /><br />If I'm feeling ambitious, I brine the wings first and then pat dry before doing the above.