Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Best Grilled Chicken Wings EVER!

Last year, a week before the Superbowl, I went to my usual supply depot to get a big mess of chicken wings.  I was met with disaster:  "What do you mean you're OUT of wings?  but... I... You can't... shut UP... What about..."  It was true.  Due to a sharp increase of "Buffalo Wing" restaurants in the country snapping up millions of wings across the nation, local stores were unable to supply local consumers with any wings at all.  This was the first time in history that this happened and it affected me in several ways:

  1. I was suddenly struck by just how many people in the world are stricken by famine, and it made me sad for awhile.
  2. I wondered what made the wings at Buffalo Tap, Buffalo Wild Wings, and other places just "that good."
  3. I visited these places over the next couple of days to learn that, while they have great TVs and cold beer, their wings are truly, truly, awful!
Seriously, the wings in these joints are little more than tiny portioned, over-cooked, dried up salt-licks with a variety of well-marketed sauces to hide their horrible texture and flavor profile.  I can make better wings.  YOU can make better wings!!

You Will Need:
  • A bunch of chicken wings
  • Olive oil
  • Dry Rub
  • Hot charcoal fire OR a fire grate over your bonfire pit
If you insist on sauce, you will need:
  • 1/2 Cup of Cayenne Pepper hot sauce
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter  (yes, I'm serious about the "unsalted" part)
Wing Anatomy

Have a look at your basic chicken wing.  There are three parts, everyone's favorite, the "Drummy," the low profile, two boned "Flapper," and the useless "Giblet" that gets thrown away. You don't need Popeye's arms and a huge set of kitchen shears to cut this thing apart.  A sharp filet knife will do the trick, if you follow the cut lines here.  There are ligaments that join these parts together and you can easily slice right through them without having to cut any bone!  Practice makes perfect and for goodness sakes, don't cut your own fingers in the process.

Good wings start with an ample supply of over-sized drummies and flappers.  I start with a 24-pack of wings, if I can find them.  If you buy a pack of wings already prepped, you'll pay almost double the price, so it's worth it for you to cut them yourself.


Get a dozen wings or more and put them into the fridge as soon as you get home.  It's ok if they're partially frozen.  On "Wing Day," take them out of the fridge and cut them apart (throw away the giblets, or make stock with them, if you have 50 or more of them on hand).  Place them in a big stainless steel bowl in layers.  Lay down a layer of wing parts, then a healthy drizzle of olive oil, then a generous shake of your best Dry Rub.  Repeat until you're out of wing parts.

Now, shake the bowl or stir it up until everything has a complete coating of oil and some dry rub.  Add more dry rub at this stage, until the oil is a light shade of orange and a generous amount of the rub is sticking to the wings.  Now, set the bowl down on the counter, cover with plastic wrap, and let the wings come up to room temperature.

NOTE: For those of you who are freaking out right now that I'm leaving chicken out on my counter at room temperature, please consider the fact that at some time in this chicken's cooking history, it WILL HAVE TO pass from its refrigeration temperature, up through 50, 60, 70, and 80 degrees on it's way to 160, eventually, where it will be plucked from the grill and consumed.  I don't plan to leave it on the counter, in the "bacterial zone" long enough to pose a bacterial problem.  If leaving cold chicken on your counter for an hour or two freaks you right out, then go straight from the fridge to your grill.  Just don't get mad at ME when your chicken is burnt on the outside and the inside still hasn't come up to temperature.


Now, go outside and make fire.  Make a big old hot flame ridden fire under HALF of your iron grate with wood, charcoal, or (sigh) propane.  Get the grill hot hot hot, and let it preheat the grate for 15 minutes.  Pour your big bowl of winged goodness right onto the grate!  Flames will rise!  Using a long pair of tongs, stir them around in the flames for a few minutes (be careful) and let the heat sear the rub and the skin a little bit.  Close the lid quickly to douse the flames to a more reasonable level.  Once the excess olive oil and chicken grease burns out (a minute or two) the flames will subside to a manageable level. 

Open the lid, and stir the wings around.  Get them all separated and move them off to one side, away from the heat (see the "Wing Man" video, below).  Make sure your grill is cooking around 400 degrees with the lid closed and the smoke is imparting its goodness into the wings for around 20 minutes.  You may want to turn the wing pile over once, halfway through cooking to make sure they're all browning evenly.

Using an instant-read thermometer check a few random drummies and flappers to make sure everyone is 160 degrees (or a little warmer), then pull them off the grill into a clean serving bowl.  Cover with foil and let them rest while you make the sauce.


Melt a stick of butter with your favorite cayenne pepper hot sauce, stirring constantly (it will want to separate).  Add a sprinkle of flour to bind the two together, if you want to.


Take 1/2 of your wings and put them into a different bowl, then stir the sauce all over them to coat.  Now, you have a bowl of "Grilled Wings" and another bowl of "Hot Wings" for everyone to share!  Both bowls will feature smoky, juicy, full flavored wings, with plenty of meat on the bone!  The cold beer and big TV are up to you to provide...

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