A crispy exterior with crunchy skin and tender meat seems to describe the perfect hot wing for many. There is also a consensus for the desired level of heat — generally, the hotter the better. The habanero wings recipe posted earlier on our site roused many positive affirmations and “likes” on Facebook. (Rightly so, they are amazing.)
So how does one make this ultimate hot wing? It’s actually much easier than you think. Big Lou of Wildwood BBQ and Ivy Stark of Dos Caminos show how home cooks can make their wings in one of two ways: fried or baked.
If you choose to fry (assuming you don’t have a home fryer), cook the wings in about two inches of hot oil in a deep pan (please be careful if doing this when guests are over). Or, if you’re hosting a large party or looking to make multiple batches, bake the wings ahead of time and then finish them in the broiler to get that super crispy finish. Of course, you can always bake in the moment, but, according to Big Lou, preparing them ahead of time frees you up to watch the game, the Oscars, or do whatever else you want to do.
Why choose one method over the other? Aside from the obvious fact that baking (or grilling for that matter) is a healthier choice, it is also less dangerous than frying if you are doing it in a crowded kitchen when entertaining. On the flip side, baking tends to dry out the meat more easily than frying does. Grilling would be nice, but that’s just not a possibility for everyone (especially in winter), so we stuck to two of the more accessible methods…
To ensure your wings don’t end up burnt or blackened (not in the good way), we spoke to the experts to find out the answers to all of these pressing and important issues (there was no sarcasm there). From Big Lou, the charismatic retired NYC cop who opened up Hill Country BBQ and now heads the kitchen at Wildwood BBQ — check out the video demo with him below — to chef Stark who is of the fry-only school of thought, we’ve got something for everyone, no matter how you like your hot wings.
Check out the tips below and happy chomping!
What Is a Hot Wing?
For Big Lou, a traditional hot wing is made with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce that’s been mixed with a little butter and honey. He likes to start with a great, bone-in wing — "I love chewing on the bone." Most wings are sold already split, but you can ask your butcher to do it for you otherwise. Also, have the wing tips removed because those tend to burn while cooking (there’s practically no meat), but they do make for a tasty stock so feel free to reserve them for later.
Opting for a Rub
Big Lou uses a flavorful rub directly on his wings — one that has brown sugar, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and ancho chile powder, just to name a few ingredients. This helps to season the wings and infuse flavor into the skin and meat.
Stark recommends putting on a rub before you bread your chicken wings. She follows a standard breading that dips them in an egg wash, followed by flour, and then panko (Japanese) breadcrumbs. These steps are what give the wings that crispy crunch on the outside. To fry at home without a deep fryer, Stark recommends taking a deeper casserole dish or a pot and putting in a couple of inches of canola oil or whatever oil you choose for frying and fry in the pot.
For Baking (or Smoking… If You Do It Big Lou’s Way)
"The big secret here is that you can do this one of two ways. You can put the wings in your oven and do it ahead of time," advises Big Lou, this works if "you’re having a big party for the game." He suggests cooking them on a sheet tray at 350 degrees until the internal temperature is 160 degrees (about 40-50 minutes). At his restaurant, Big Lou prefers to smoke the wings for about an hour and then finish them in the fryer. If you do want to smoke your wings, he recommends putting the charcoal on one side and the wings on the opposite side. Because the wings are already cooked through, putting them in a deep fryer or under the broiler to finish warms them up and crisps the skin.
Why Frank’s? Big Lou says it’s a great commercial hot sauce, one of the original’s out there, and when people talk about hot wings, they are talking about Frank’s Red Hot sauce. “If that’s not hot enough for you, you can always add some Tabasco or more heat.” Stark would have to agree and spices her’s up with a habanero sauce. The sauce generally only takes about five minutes to make and can be made in a bowl or pan. Simply toss the wings in the sauce with tongs or your hands. (Photo courtesy of itemmaster)
Both chefs agree — blue cheese all the way. While blue cheese is the traditional dip and offers a cooling counterpart to hot wings, ranch lovers shouldn’t be ashamed to dip away. Serve wings with celery and carrots — you need to make it a little healthy, after all.
Feel free to experiment with wings if you want to branch out from the standard hot wing. Try Asian-themed wings with soy sauce, teriyaki, or hoisin sauce and a little honey to cut the heaviness. Big Lou loves a chipotle sauce but also thinks tossing wings in fresh garlic butter would be divine. Though, he admits that a surprising number of people at his restaurant like the wings plain.
Check out our video demo with Big Lou below as he makes his classic hot wings!