When it’s hot like it is right now, it’s easy to forget that a cook’s best friend is probably waiting just outside the back door.
That’s right — your grill.
And what better item to throw on it than chicken wings?
Laugh if you must, but whole restaurants are devoted to this crowd pleaser, and there’s a reason.
Wings are kings when cooked right.
I know lots of people who’ll wait thirty minutes or more for a table at our neighborhood wing spot — or big bucks for just take out alone.
C’mon people, excellent wings at home are so easy.
Having cooked thousands of wings in my lifetime (no exaggeration — I once brought 300 to one block party alone), I’ve learned a few things from the mistakes I’ve made.
I’ve burned them.
I’ve undercooked them.
I’ve also cooked them perfectly only to realize that they were so underseasoned that they sat untouched.
I’ve learned the hard way what not to do (and what’s worth the effort) and so, without further ado, here are:
My Five Tips to the Juiciest, Most Flavorful Chicken Wings Ever.
Tip #1. Buy the Best Ones you Can Find.
I’ve made the mistake and bought ones at a big commercial market that were in some kind of party pack; priced right, they seemed too good to pass up.
Stupid rookie mistake.
Seek out your favorite butcher and buy wings or drummettes there; chances are they’ll only be a dollar more a pound than their cheaper counterparts and the end result will be less flabby with much more succulent meat (with much more chicken-y goodness).
Tip #2. Get Creative with your Flavorings.
Now’s the time to think beyond the traditional BBQ sauce.
Fish sauce, lime juice and cilantro.
Yogurt, curry powder and freshly grated ginger.
Another great combo is Chinese 5 Spice, garlic, and fresh citrus juice (like this tangerine) along with a couple dashes of sesame oil and honey.
Your liquid can be yogurt, buttermilk, citrus juices or vinegar-heavy vinaigrettes (balsamic, olive oil and rosemary is another one) and the dried seasoning can be as simple as garlic and chopped herb or zest.
Tip #3. Season in stages, and then to the hilt.
I’m a big fan of both seasoning the wings with first a round of spice, then salt and then letting it all sit in a flavorful liquid.
Let’s break that down.
Rinse and dry off each wing, and lay them flat in a glass Pyrex pan so you know each wing is being seasoned (hard to do when they are all in a Ziploc). Mix together a couple spices (or your favorite spice blend) and season each wing with that. Then do the same with salt.
Next pour over your liquid or yogurt (with more hot sauce mixed in) and allow to sit in your fridge 1 hour to up 2 days.
It should only take 5 minutes to pull together your ingredients (dry and wet) and then another 5 minutes to do the three part seasoning — and it’s worth it.
And here’s another tip — season more aggressively with spice and salt than you might normally; wings are bland and this step towards extra flavorful skin will add greatly to the end result.
Easy so far, right?
Tip #4. Take into account different desired heat levels.
I used to struggle this one — I like mouth-burning heat while the rest of my family balks at this. That translated to either food too spicy for the rest of the crew or I’d end up prematurely cooling my wings by splashing on a little cold Sriracha on my wings after grilling.
There’s an easy way to deal with this; marinate them all equally (only mid-heat level for all) and assess your crowd as to what percent will like mild vs. spicy.
Grill the mild ones first and the remainder should get a last dunk in Sriracha or Chilula-spiked buttermilk and garlic sauce (like this one here) before going on the grill.
Plate separately and if you’re a smart, make more of the variety you like best so you can hog all the leftovers.
Tip #5. Bake and grill.
The reason why wings are so good at a restaurant is because they’re usually fried — why wouldn’t they be good?
(Yes, wing lovers, Pok Pok’s Ike’s Chicken Wings really are worth the hype and will probably be the best wing you’ll ever eat).
Don’t be daunted by professional results you’ve eaten out or your fear of frying, though.
I rarely fry at home (too much work, too messy and too unhealthy as a regular cooking method) but for wings, I’ve found another method that works well for home cooks.
I like to both bake and grill them; the former for even cooking and juicy meat, and the latter for crispness and char.
And here’s the beauty in this — you can bake them all ahead until they’re 2/3 done and then gather a crowd. Get your grill nice and hot and then finish them off there; I usually reserve some of the marinade before they go in the oven and brush them with this right before they go on the grill (feel free to grill and then bake in that order, too).
And if you’ve played your cards right, you’ve remembered to make a dipping sauce.
Nope? Don’t panic. Just grab some yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk with a little feta or blue cheese and fresh garlic and mash or puree it all together (adjust seasonings and add heat or lemon as desired).
Hopefully you’ll also have cooked up a pot of basmati rice (perfect if your wings have Asian flavors).
Or these little beauties if your wings have a more straightforward flavor profile.
Who doesn’t love a crispy, garlicky tater tot?
Time to bring the wings to the table and get busy.
Don’t stop until either you’re stuffed silly or the plate is empty.
Who brought the Wet Naps?