With the big football game coming up it is time to start thinking about what you will be eating during the game. In a couple days I will have another post with a couple ideas but for now let’s talk about chicken wings. Call them buffalo wings, hot wings, or anything else you want but you can be assured they are delicious.
There are few foods better for eating during a football game than chicken wings. You don’t need any utensils, you can eat a couple or a couple dozen, and they are easy to eat while sitting on the couch while the game is going on. You can put a variety of different sauces to accommodate different tastes as well but for me there is only one flavor you need to worry about: Buffalo Wings.
The buffalo wing sauce is very, very simple: Melt 1 stick of butter (I actually think margarine works better for these but let’s just stick with butter and kill ourselves with natural fat) and combine with 1 cup of Frank’s Red Hot sauce. That’s it. You don’t need anything beyond that. If you want spicier use more Frank’s, if you want more mild use less. But that is a good ratio to start with. Not too hot but hot enough where you know you are eating something spicy.
If there is a trick to buffalo wings though it is cooking them properly. The traditional (and in my opinion, best) way to cook them is to deep fry them. Bust out your deep fryer or fill a dutch oven or deep cast iron pan with some oil (peanut is best but canola will also work), heat it to about 400, and fry the wings for a few minutes. I usually like to cook them about 10-12 minutes to ensure a nice, crispy skin but you can probably get away with about 5 minutes if you need to.
But are there other ways to make a delicious wing? Can they be just as good in the oven? A lot of people are scared of deep frying and the oven is a bit more “hands off” if you are getting other food ready so can we make a wing in the oven that is as good as fried?
I have baked a few wings int he past and it turns out a fine wing but I have never compared them side by side with fried wings. Baked wings usually aren’t quite as crisp and it takes at least 45 minutes in a 450 degree oven to cook them properly. The “problem” (not really a problem in my book) is that chicken wings have a LOT of fat in them. To properly render out the fat so they will crisp up in the oven takes a long, long time. Temperature-wise they will be edible long before the 45 minutes but to get them anywhere close to as crispy as they are when fried you need at least that long. When frying you have hot oil hitting them from all sides and since oil is a much better conductor of heat than air they crisp up much quicker.
What if we can take out some of the fat and moisture? Alton Brown actually steams his wings to render out some of the fat beforehand and then dries the wings for a while in the fridge before baking them. I have tried this before and it works very well and makes your kitchen a lot less smokey. But what I haven’t tried is frying the steamed wings. Maybe it will give me an even crispier wing???
So let’s cook chicken wings 4 ways and see which is the best: (left to right) Baked, steamed and baked, steamed and fried, and fried:
First off, let’s start with the wings. You can buy bags of frozen wings at the grocery store or Cotsco but I usually like buying whole wings and cutting them myself. Basically just find the two joints and cut through them. Save the wing tips for your stock pot and you are then left with the flat and the drummette. But today I was feeling lazy and Costco sells some packs of just the flats and drummettes (not frozen) so I went with those.
I put half of them in the steamer for about 15 minutes and then put them all in the fridge for about 30 minutes to dry out a bit. You don’t want to put wet chicken in the deep fryer. That won’t end well. If I was really thinking ahead of time I would have taken a page from Kenji’s book and let them sit in the fridge overnight to dry or even try his double frying method (basically confit the wings for about 20 minutes, rest them, and then fry them at 400) but for now we will just go with this because who actually remembers to start their wings the night before?
For the fried wings I just used my basic fried chicken wing recipe I have been making for years. For the baked wings I baked them at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. With the steamed versions I steamed the wings in my rice cooker/steamer for about 15 minutes prior to frying or baking.
What is the verdict?
There is a definite texture difference between the steamed and non-steamed wings. As expected the non-steamed wings are more fatty and a bit juicier than the steamed ones. The mouth feel of the steamed wings feels a bit more like meat if that makes any sense. The meat is a bit denser and a bit tougher and it is hard to describe but it is a bit more solid but not in a bad way.
The baked wings both had pretty decent skin but I think overall I generally preferred the fried wing skin texture. It was just a bit crispier and had a better flavor to it. Although flavor is hard to test when they are doused in wing sauce. I don’t like how the baked wings stick to the rack and pull some skin off as you can see in the second wing above.
Steamed and baked wings were the most “shriveled” but they did have a nice, dark color on them. But again, if you cover them in sauce the color doesn’t really matter all that much.
If I had to rank the 4 cooking methods I would go fried, baked, steamed-fried, and steamed-baked. None of them were bad by any means and I wouldn’t hesitate to serve any of them at a Super Bowl party. If I was going to cook a lot of wings and had other food to prepare I would probably bake them since it is a bit more hands off. You can easily fit 30-40 on a sheet pan so if you bake two pans that is a decent amount of wings. But if I wanted the best I would fry them. Since you don’t want to overcrowd your fryer or pot you can only cook about 10-15 at a time depending on the size of the fryer but you can just keep the cranking for an hour or two and have enough wings for most crowds.
Ultimately I would skip the steaming all together unless you are really concerned about cutting out some fat. If you are eating chicken wings though you probably aren’t overly concerned about eating healthy so just fry the suckers and enjoy.