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iACE - Chicken Wing Stories

Methods for Preparing Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are small enough to be served as appetizers or as party food. Combine them with other ingredients and they can be served as a main dish. There are a lot of ways of cooking chicken wings and many more ways of coating them to enhance their flavor.

The most common way of preparing chicken wings are grilling, smoking, oven-roasting, braising and deep-frying.

wings on the grill

 Grilling: One of my favorite taste sensations is grilled chicken. With a little care and some low heat, wings take on an addictive and complex barbecue flavor.

A gas or charcoal-fired grill large enough to hold lots of wings and has a cover is very important. A tight-fitting lid traps the flavor filled smoke essence. Make sure you have a long handles basting brush and sturdy tongs so you can baste and turn each wing without scalding your hands.

If you use a charcoal-fired grill, be sure to use briquettes. They start easily and provide steady even heat. Unless you are a barbecue expert, stay away from wood fires since they burn very hot, fast and may burn your food on the outside and leave the inside partially uncooked.

The skin on a chicken wing burns easily, so keep the heat low. On a charcoal grill, push the briquettes to the edges of the grill. For a gas grill, use the outside burners and keep those burners on medium or low. To test the temperature, hold your hand spread out about 3 inches above the fire. You should be able to count; “1001, 1002, 1003” before you have to move your hand. It’s better to err on the low temperature side than to have the fire too hot. It may take longer to cook the wings, but it will be worth the wait. With an oven thermometer on a gas grill, keep the temperature around 300°F to 350°F range.

Grilling Tip: For extra smoky flavor on a gas grill, I like to soak some apple, oak, or hickory wood chips in water for about a half hour. I put the wet chips in a disposable aluminum pie plate over the heat and once the wood chips start smoking, place the wings on the grill.

Hurry up, company is coming! Marinate those wings, then grill them “open” – whole wing, not cut into parts. Again, lower heat is always better. On a gas barbecue grill, preheat to 325°F. Brush the cooking grate with flavorless oil then put the wings out on the grate. Cover the grill. Regulate the heat so it remains at a medium temperature. Grill the wings until the skin turns a deep mahogany color, about 30 minutes. Every 5 minutes. Open the grill cover, brush the wings again with the marinade, then close the lid. Keep those wings moving!

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Smoking Wings:

My Southern friends call Slow Smoking “barbecuing”. What that means is you cook your wings in a closed, smoke-filled container where the heat is maintained an even 200°F to 220°F.  Because of the long time the wings need to cook through, they acquire a deep smoky flavor and become exceptionally tender.

There are hundreds of smokers, including a few electric models. Mine is an old Brinkmann that cost almost $90 and has processed many great flavorful meals. An advantage to this smoker is an access door just above the firebox. You can add briquettes and wet wood without removing the cover of the smoker.

When you smoke it’s better to err on the side of too low heat. I use about 12-14 briquettes of charcoal which gives me about an hour worth of heat. Every hour, be ready to add 12-14 more briquettes to keep the low heat burning.

The other ingredient of smoking is wood. My favorite is Hickory and Mesquite wood chips. Use one or the other, not both. Keep a good handful of these wood chips in about two cups of water.  Every half hour, take out the wood and shake off any excess water. Toss the damp chips onto the hot coals. There should be just enough smoke to flavor the wings, but not so smoky that it gives the meat an acrid flavor. Better too little smoke than too much.

No two smokers, briquette and wood combinations are the same. You should keep careful notes to assure your good results can be repeated the next time you smoke a batch of wings. Watch for that deep mahogany color that indicates your wings are perfect.

The impatient method of smoking:  Marinate and smoke the whole wing. I like the crunchy wing tips, but some people remove them. Using a charcoal grill, bring the temperature of the inside of the grill to 200°F to 220°F. Put the wings on the grill for an hour. After that hour, brush the wings with the marinade on both sides. After 30 minutes more, repeat, and so on until the wings turn a deep mahogany color.

 Wood Chips to try:   

  • Alder: light, delicate flavor
  • Apple and cherry: sweet, fruity flavor
  • Hickory: strong hickory flavor
  • Maple: sweet flavor
  • Mesquite: pungent. Take care not to overdo it. Can give food a bitter flavor.
  • Oak: an assertive flavor
  • Pecan: subtle, rich flavor

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Oven-Roasting:

If you are going to appreciate the best way to prepare chicken wings, try oven-roasting. The oven heat is even and easily controlled. Your whole house will fill with the pleasant smell of roasting chicken wings. What better way to greet your party guests.

Use a heavy baking sheet with shallow sides. Line the baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil and then place a nonstick wire rack on top. Despite the claim of “nonstick”, spray the wire rack liberally on both sides with nonstick spray oil or rub with a vegetable oil.

Place the marinated chicken wings smooth skin side down. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the pan of wings onto the oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Baste both sides of the wings and turn them after about 30 minutes. Don’t baste them again. After you turn the wings over, if there is any moisture accumulated on the bottom of the baking pan, pour this off and discard it. If you don’t the wings will steam during those last 30 minutes in the oven and won’t turn that rich mahogany color.

When you take the wings out of the oven, let them sit for 5 minutes before splitting the wings at the joints.

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Braising:

Braised wingsBraising is a great technique for preparing chicken wings when you have other things to prepare at about the same time.

Choose a heavy 12 to 14-inch pan with 3-inch sides and a tight-fitting lid.

Always cut off and discard the wing tips, and cut the wings in half through the joint. Make sure the wings are snuggled close together to assure that all are equally covered with the braising liquid.

Preheat the pan until it becomes hot. When the pan is hot, add the braising liquid. There must be enough liquid to cover all the wings so they can cook evenly. Add the wings and bring it up to a simmer.

Keep the pan tightly covered. Adjust the heat so that the liquid is at a simmer with only a few bubbles rising to the surface and never allow it to come to a boil. If the wings boil, the meat will become dry and lose its flavor. The wings are done when the meat tastes tender. This takes about 30 minutes.

Before serving, remove all the fat floating on the surface of the sauce. If you don’t, the sauce will taste greasy. Once the wings braised chick wingsbecome tender, remove them from the sauce. Use paper towels to skim the fat off the surface. You can also allow the sauce to cool completely, put it in the refrigerator, and then spoon the hardened fat off the top.

Return the wings to the sauce and serve. An alternative; to intensify the flavor, return the wings to the sauce and turn the heat to medium. Cook the wings, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces and forms a thick glaze around the wings.

Wings can be left at room temperature for an hour and then gently reheated. If cooked more than an hour before service, refrigerate the wings.

Braised wings taste delicious reheated the next day as well.

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Deep-Frying:

Here is a technique that requires a bit of practice, which is a good thing if you like to eat lots of chicken wings. Deep-frying creates a crisp skin while at the same time keeps the meat tender, juicy and tasty. It’s time for calm nerves and a steady hand, but the result will please your family, friends and those party guests.

Cut off and discard the wing tips. Cut the wings in half through the joint. These individual pieces are much easier to move around in the hot oil.

Wings are always coated with some kind of protective layer such as white flour, powdered breadcrumbs, or a batter to prevent the oil from splattering. The only way to make the coating stick evenly to the chicken wing pieces is to make sure the wings are completely free from moisture. Dry them thoroughly with paper towels or allow them to air-dry for up to 1 hour.

You will need a good heat source and lots of ventilation. Use an outdoor gas barbecue. A gas grill turned to high will keep the oil bubbling around the wings.

Choose a heavy pan that will hold the heat well. A good choice would be a cast iron frying pan.

Set up your workstation so a right-handed person would have the uncooked wings and batter positioned on the right side of the frying pan and the wire rack for draining the wings on the left. You also need long-handles tongs and oven mitts handy.

Use a high-heat flavorless cooking oil such as peanut oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, corn oil, or canola oil. Never use olive oil or sesame oil, both smoke at low temperatures.

The frying pan should have oil 1-inch deep. The wings will only be half submerged in the oil, but you’ll be turning them several times. Note that your indoor stovetop or outdoor grill will not generate high enough heat to maintain a larger quantity of oil to the essential 350°F to 375°F temperatures.

200px-Deep frying chicken upper wingThe key to successful deep-frying is to maintain the 350°F to 375°F temperature range. As long as the oil is continuously bubbling around the chicken wing pieces but not so hot that it smokes, the oil is in the correct temperature range.

It is better to cook too few wings than too many. If the pan is overloaded with wings the oil temperature will drop below 350°F. If this happens, not matter how hot the oil becomes later, the wings will taste greasy.

The wings will take from 10 to 15 minutes to cook through. Just because the coating has turned a crispy brown doesn’t mean the wings are fully cooked. Cut into a wing with a paring knife to see if the meat is cooked all the way to the bone.

Deep-fried wings must be served right away. Once these wings cool to room temperature, the crisp coating won’t be crisp anymore. There is no reheating method that will return the wing to crispiness.

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