We’d like to clear something up: While the concept of chicken wings tossed in a spicy sauce may have been born in a bar in Buffalo, New York, in 1964, deep-fried wings have been a Southern tradition far longer than that. So, Southerners know how to appreciate a well-cooked platter. Whether you prefer them sweet, spicy, fried, or charred on the grill, use these chef-approved tips and you’ll have crispy, moist, flavorful wings every time.
Choose quality wings and make sure the tips are trimmed
If you want great results when cooking chicken wings, it all starts at the checkout line, says Brian Jupiter, a New Orleans native and the executive chef at Frontier in Chicago. “Investing in quality meat will garner better results, so I recommend making a trip to your local butcher shop to get your wings,” he says. “An added bonus is that the meat is already trimmed.” If you trim the wing tips yourself, save them to make stock.
Dry brine with an expert twist
To retain more moisture and guarantee a crispy skin, Jupiter rubs the wings with salt and lets them rest in the fridge overnight. “Sticking to my NOLA roots, I often mix my salt with Cajun seasoning: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, thyme, celery salt, and black pepper,” he says. Ed Randolph, who makes Southern-style barbecue at Handsome Devil in Newburgh, New York, suggests adding two tablespoons of baking powder per twenty-four wings to any dry rub. “Baking powder increases the pH balance in the chicken, which draws moisture to the skin where it can cook off and evaporate,” he says. “It accelerates the browning process so your wings will not only be crispy but also have a great color.”
Master the pre-cook
Every chef we spoke to said cooking the wings twice is key. “One of my go-to secrets for great chicken wings is mastering the pre-cook,” says Matt Bolus, executive chef at the 404 Kitchen in Nashville, Tennessee. “The meat in wings is dark meat and is loaded with connective tissue that is tough, so it takes time to get tender.” After dry brining, Bolus cooks the wings in a 225-degree oven, grill, or smoker until they reach an internal temperature of 168°F. Then he pulls them out and lets them rest again for at least thirty minutes or, for best results, in the fridge overnight, so they’re ready to cook again in the morning.
Pick a sauce
The sauce you toss your wings in is really a matter of preference—whether you like them sweet or spicy or with an Asian-inspired umami kick. For best results, Gabriel Lopez, executive chef at Willa’s in Tampa, Florida, says to make sure the sauce matches the flavor profile of the rub you used. “For example, I love to make a honey orange ginger glaze for my wings at home,” he says. “That matches well with a spice rub of coriander, orange zest, black pepper, salt, and Szechuan pepper.” Glaze them before cooking if you’re using a grill or oven (and baste while cooking for bonus flavor), or afterwards if you’re tossing them in a fryer.
Nail the final cook
To caramelize wings on the grill or in the oven, Bolus cooks them at 400 degrees until hot and crisp. If you’re frying them up, make sure your oil is preheated to somewhere between 375 and 400 degrees to ensure a crispy coating. Cook until golden brown then drain on paper towels. No matter how you cook them, work in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan or fryer.
Enjoy the results
Pile on a platter and scatter with chopped scallions and cilantro, and flank with the usual favorites: Ranch, blue cheese, carrots, celery, and of course, a big stack of napkins.