The Flavor Pitfall To Watch Out For When Cooking Chicken Wings With Baking Soda

The great chicken wing shortage seems to have slowed down as of 2023, and that means that wing nights might be getting cheaper at some point. That doesn't mean that you should forget about making your own chicken wings at home, though.

Roasting a whole chicken may feed the whole family and leave you with bones to make a stock, but nothing matches the excitement of enjoying homemade wings for dinner. Still, one of the biggest challenges to making wings at home is mimicking that restaurant quality crispiness. Commercial eateries have deep fryers on their side, but you won't need to buy your own just to match their results. All you actually need is a dash of baking soda to make the crispiest wings possible. While that special ingredient will help create the best texture possible, it does come with a slight flavor drawback — too much of it will cause your wings to taste metallic and bitter. Luckily, all you need to do to avoid this flavor pitfall is to make sure you're using the right amount of baking soda.

Savor that flavor

One of the keys to using baking soda correctly is to remember that a little goes a long way. It's great for creating crispy skin and tender meat, but if you use too much, it will start to affect the flavor of your food or baked goods. You can compensate for some of this by using an aluminum-free baking soda, but it's best to play it safe and avoid using too much.

Just a ½ teaspoon is all that it takes to help 3 pounds of chicken wings to become nice and crispy. If you're working with smaller amounts, then a pinch is truly all that's needed to get the same effect. To accomplish this, just coat the wings in a simple dry rub with baking soda before cooking them. 

It can also help to mask some of the more metallic notes with other flavors. Mixing salt, onion powder, garlic powder, or chili powder will add a nice punch of savory flavor to your wings and help prevent them from tasting like baking soda. Because baking soda is an alkaline substance, its flavor can also be neutralized by finishing your wings off with a spritz of an acid, like lemon juice. You can also incorporate an acid into your favorite wing sauce to mask any residual bitterness.

Benefits of using baking soda

The reason that we need the baking soda in the first place is to help the wings crisp up nicely without resorting to deep frying. You might know baking soda as the powdery ingredient that gives a gentle lift to cakes, cookies, and muffins, but it can do so much more. Baking soda is an alkaline substance, which means that it raises the pH level of foods that it is added to and makes them less acidic. This creates a simple chemical change, but one that has all sorts of uses in the kitchen.

Adding baking soda creates a "velveting" effect on meats, can help you caramelize onions in a flash, soften dried beans, and make the crispiest shrimp. It plays the same miraculous role when cooking chicken wings at home. Raising the alkalinity on the surface of the chicken's skin breaks down the chemical connectors holding it together. This creates a unique surface area that becomes more crispy when it's cooked without drying it out.