How to Make Great Chicken Wings

Kitchen Expert Clark Grant guides you through selecting the best chicken wings, how to cut and cook your wings, and shares sanitization tips for working with raw chicken.

Photo by Clark Douglas

Photo by Clark Douglas

Buffalo, NY has two wondrous gifts to American sports: the Bills Mafia and Buffalo Wings. Say what you will about the Buffalo Bills, the Bills Mafia has to be one of the most entertaining fan groups in the world of sports. They eat pizza made in an old file cabinet and body slam each other through flaming tables for fun. And that doesn't even factor in their love for Zubaz pants, but I digress. We are here to talk about wings. This off-cut of chicken is really a perfect marriage of texture, fat, juiciness, flavor, and sauce popularized in Buffalo, NY, at the Anchor Bar in the 1960s. Buffalo wings took America by storm and became a mainstay appetizer at any game day party, any season of the year.

Culinarily, I do not know if there is a more perfect finger food for my tastes. Crispy chicken skin is one of the tastiest morsels of food known to man. Flash frying the wings gives them their crispy skin and keeps the fat and flavor inside, while when cooked perfectly it will remain juicy and delicious. As far as the peppery, hot sauce–based condiment, the vinegar is the perfect marriage to the fatty, crispy chicken wings. Clearly, I like Buffalo wings.

Selecting Your Chicken Wings

Now for the wings themselves, you can find fresh chicken wings in the grocery store as just flats or wingettes (my favorite, but more on that later), only drumettes, or as whole wings with the wing tip still attached. The drumette looks like a little drumstick. They aren't to be confused. The drumette is located in the wing, and the drumstick is from the leg. Now, the wing tip is basically useless other than looking cool like a sword ready to fight off anyone trying to eat the wing. The whole wings you find are the same as the wingettes or drumettes, but they have everything still attached at the joints. You can cut chicken wings into drumettes and wingettes very easily from these whole chicken wings.

The different parts of a chicken wing; Drumettes, Wingettes and Wing Tips

Photo by Clark Grant

Cutting the Wings

If you want to break down your whole wings into their parts, (similar to my article about cutting whole chickens) you will want a very sharp knife, and you want to let the blade do the work. The chicken wing has three parts: the drumette, the wingette, and the wing tip. The drumette is where the wing attaches to the breast area of the whole chicken, and it looks like a mini drumstick. The flat is the middle part between the drumette and the wing tip. The wingtip is pretty devoid of any meat and is at the opposite end as the drumette. Each joint, much like ours, is connected by tendons and cartilage. We are going to cut through the cartilage, not the bone.

Hold the chicken wing in your hands, and bend the flapper back and forth at the joints. This will show you how the wing functions. When you identify where the two joints are, you are one step closer to having individual wing portions. To separate the drumette from the wingette and the wingtip, hold the wing by the drumette and the wingette, and bend it backward. This will break the joint. You should be able to pretty easily double it over and gain access to the joint.

Using a sharp boning knife, you should be able to separate the drumette part of the wing by gently slicing between the two parts without a lot of resistance. If you run into difficulties, then reposition your knife. I'm trying to paint this picture as well as I can, but you are going to have to try a few times to get the feel right. You should not try to go through the bone. You should be able to separate the wing parts very easily just by following the way the bones connect. Use this same method to separate the wingette from the wing tip. You may find it easier to bend the different parts backward, and then place the chicken on your cutting board to help leverage your knife through the joint. If you still struggle you can try using kitchen scissors to cut between the joints, but I find this creates a less clean cut. Plus, I believe in you! You should end up with clean-cut whole chicken wings into pieces at this point.

Now, back to the flats and drums debate. For me, I love chicken skin, and the skin-to-meat-to-sauce ratio on a flat is about as perfect as it gets. I personally like my wings naked and extra crispy to dunk into the available sauce because I like crispy, and sauce tends to make the skin a bit soggy. But ask my doctor—I am not one to turn down any chicken wings.

Separating the drumette from the wingette and wing tip

Photo by Clark Grant

Finding the joint of the wingette and wing tip

Photo by Clark Grant

Separating the wingette and the wing tip

Photo by Clark Grant

Cooking the Wings

All right, now that we have our wings broken down into pieces or kept whole—whatever your preference is—let’s get down to cooking. You can find chicken wing recipes all over the internet featuring all kinds of flavors: garlic parmesan (delicious), jerk (delightful), traditional Buffalo (the OG that trumps most others for me), and plain (nothing wrong with this). So gather the ingredients for your favorite recipe, and let's get down to business. I encourage you to have fun with your favorite recipe, too! Food is supposed to be fun, so have fun with it. Like a traditional Buffalo wing? Toss some honey or curry powder in with the sauce to add another dimension of flavor to your favorite fried delicacy!

As far as cooking goes, I like to parcook my wings first in the oven. This cuts down fry time and also produces a juicier wing. I bake my wings at 350° until the internal temperature reaches 145° using a meat thermometer. You can do this the day before and refrigerate your wings in a plastic bag. I do recommend lightly seasoning your wings before baking. You can go straight salt-and-pepper, or you can use a favorite BBQ rub or seasoning. You are building flavor here. Another great reason to parbake is that it removes some of the moisture from the outside of the wing. Moisture is the enemy of crispy, so this will also help you with achieving a crispier wing in the end.

Now, the best way to finish your wings—and there is really no room for debate here—is to drop them in a 350° deep fryer and cook them until golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 165°. Toss them in your favorite sauce, if you'd like, and serve.

Let's be honest, though. In your home kitchen, deep frying is messy, smelly, and a pain in the you-know-what. Alternatively, you can use your air fryer to finish the wings. You can put some oil in a pan and shallow fry them to get the crispy skin. You can also grill them to add some more flavor and crisp the skin. This is your path to choose. If you want the same style of wing as it is at your favorite wing places, I can assure you that you will need to deep fry them. But again, this is not the easiest in a home kitchen.

Keeping Your Kitchen Sanitary

As always, let’s talk a little about sanitation in the kitchen. When cutting chicken wings, make sure you are using a cutting board that is reserved for raw poultry, meat, or fish. I recommend you use a plastic cutting board for this. You can read about my opinions and suggested uses for wooden versus plastic cutting boards here. Work in batches so as not to crowd your workspace, and sanitize with a commercially available sanitizer or a diluted mixture of unscented bleach and water (one tablespoon of bleach to one quart of water) often to reduce cross-contamination. Scrub and sanitize your cutting board after use, and allow it to air dry.

Make It Fun!

Remember, chicken wings are fun to eat, and they should also be fun to prepare and cook. Have fun with it. Use different ingredients. Switch up your flavors. Or don't… I'm not the boss of you, but either way, make the process and end result fun, so you are ready to do it again down the road! Remember, if you are missing any tools needed for your recipe, remember you can reach out to a Curated Cutlery Expert here.

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Written By
I grew up cooking with my grandmother and great aunt learning to bake first and then falling in love with food in general. My culinary career has taken me from Georgia to Chicago to now Kansas City. I have helmed the kitchen in top Steakhouses in Chicago and Kansas City as well as fine dining Italia...

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