The quest for the best chicken wings recipe continues! Last week, I attempted to test the best chicken wing recipes on the internet and see if I could improve them. I thought I made a pretty valiant effort and even got my new and improved recipe(s) up in time for “the big game.”
Fried wings are hard to beat and fairly straightforward to make, provided you feel like doing all that setup and cleanup. The trick for home cooks and recipe writers is trying to come up with a recipe that combines the crispy skin and juicy meat of fried wings with the simplicity and scale of baked ones (“scale” here means the ability to make a bunch at one time on standard cooking equipment).
Like I said up top, I think I did a decent job accomplishing that with last week’s recipe, combining a pan sear with a shorter bake on a rack. I did, however, run into one problem during testing. Sharp-eyed readers might have noted that I didn’t really have a clear fix for it at the time. Basically, if you’re baking wings on a sheet pan over aluminum foil or parchment paper as I suggested, the fat from the wings has a tendency to drip down into the sheet pan and burn, smoking up the oven and/or the house/dwelling in the process. In my house, this sets off the smoke alarm a lot.
While I didn’t really have a fix for that beyond a better oven, higher ceilings, and less intense baking, one of my readers came through with a proposed solution:
I do oven ‘fried’ wings a lot with the baking powder. What helps is to lay down some baking soda on the baking sheet, then set the wings on a rack above.
The soda absorbs the fat and stops the smoke.
— John Claude Vann Hamm (@mburchett) February 10, 2023
A layer of baking soda on the sheet pan, very interesting… This tip supposedly comes via the Anova Precision Oven subreddit, so thanks to those folks. Naturally, I had to try it out. I made another batch of wings (again, just in time for the “big game”), and SPOILER ALERT: it worked.
And when I say it worked, I don’t just mean that the chicken smoked less, or that my smoke alarm only went off half as many times, I mean there was no smoke at all, that I could detect. I was able to crank the oven as hot and hard as I wanted (heh) without having to wave a terrible towel at my crying wolf-ass smoke alarm every seven minutes.
Clearly, this warranted a rewrite. So here it is, my updated recipe for crispy baked wings.
- 4 pounds chicken wings
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt*
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder*
- 2 teaspoons onion powder*
- Pinch black pepper* (*OR, just use your favorite, pre-mixed seasoned salt blend)
- A little oil (olive, peanut, canola, ghee, whatever)
- About 1/2 cup baking soda
For the sauce:
- 1/2 cup of Frank’s Red Hot
- Stick of butter
- A sheet pan with a wire rack that fits over it.
- A pan
- A pot (though you could just reuse the pan)
- Mixing bowl
Time: About 80 minutes.
Combine your dry spices, baking powder and cornstarch (but NOT the baking soda), and pour it over your chicken. Massage it over your meat. Go ahead, I know you love massaging your meat.
Now, tear off some aluminum foil or parchment paper and use it to cover the bottom of your sheet pan. Take your baking soda and spread it in an even layer over the foil or paper, and then cover that with your wire rack. Now arrange the raw meat on your wire rack. I know how you love arranging your meat over a rack– sorry I’ll stop now.
This step you can do ahead of time and it actually improves the product. Ideally, leave this spiced and lightly coated chicken uncovered overnight in the fridge, though it doesn’t take that long. You just want the skin to dry out a little — probably 30 or 40 minutes would be sufficient.
Now, preheat your oven to 475F. Get your pan on the stove going at medium-high heat. Add a little oil to your pan, enough to coat the bottom. Once it’s almost to smoking, start dropping in your chicken in batches. Heat them in the pan until the skin starts to brown and the skin visibly tightens, and then remove them back to the sheet pan.
Once your meat is all browned and arranged on a rack, cram that meat back into your oven and bake hot and hard for 15 minutes. Then flip it over and cook for 15 more minutes. Note: your chicken drying time, as well as oven type, wing size, and altitude will all affect your cook time. So use your eyeballs (and your nose).
You want your skin nice and crispy but not blackening.
Now make your sauce. Take a pot (or your pan) and heat the hot sauce on low heat. When it juuust starts to bubble, start adding in cubes of cold butter while whisking. When all the butter is incorporated, remove it from the heat.
Once the wings are cooked until crispy, toss them with your sauce, then re-arrange on your rack and bake for five more minutes. (I like the re-baking-with-the-sauce step because it makes the wings slightly less messy. They’re still going to be messy, just slightly less so. You can also re-sauce after for saucier wings).
This was what my foil looked like afterwards:
I rode it hard, cooking the wings at high heat, and partly with sauce on them, which burns even more easily. And still, no smoke. It’s a miracle.
And yes, the wings were pretty good too. Crispy, but still juice, saucy, but not to the point that it was dripping down to your elbows. They were so good that I almost didn’t mind that I’ve eaten wings probably eight different times in the course of the past week. These wings were so good that it was a perfect place to begin my wing fast. It’s going to be a month before I even want to look at a chicken wing again.
Or at least until the next reader comes through with a really good chicken wing recipe tip.
Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can read more of his recipes here.