Alton Brown's Top Tip For Crispier Wings Starts With Steam

Homemade pizza is almost shockingly easy to make, and there are few things that go with pizza better than chicken wings. Those, however, are a little more complicated, and while there are plenty of tricks that will allow you to seriously upgrade your chicken wings, it can still be a bit challenging to get them to come out as crispy as they do at a restaurant. While the absolute best method for cooking wings is one that you can do at home, deep frying can be relentlessly messy and takes a long time — especially if you're using a single pot on the stove to make a few dozen wings. But there's good news: The oven can definitely be an option for some deliciously crispy wings, thanks to one of Alton Brown's brilliant cooking hacks.

Brown adds extra steps to his wing recipe, and don't worry, it's not going to add much active time onto your meal prep. He suggests steaming your wings before baking them, and there's a neat bit of cooking science here as to why this works. Not only does it help make those wings nice and crispy, but since it's a step that you're adding at the beginning — before you even think about adding sauce — this works with any flavor of chicken wing you can imagine. Whether you want to get creative with some garlic ginger chicken wings or go for some sweet maple-glazed wings, this method is there for you.

Here's how and why Alton Brown's wing tip works

Alton Brown is famous for explaining the science behind cooking, which is a brilliant way to learn why things in the kitchen work ... or, on occasion, become catastrophic failures. According to the Buffalo wings recipe on his website that he featured on "Good Eats," the main reason that the chicken wings you bake in the oven don't come out as crispy as they do when they're deep-fried is the fat. Chicken wings have a layer of fat under the skin, and when they're deep-fried at high temperatures, the fat renders out and the skin gets crispier. 

That just doesn't happen when you bake them in the oven — unless you steam them first. Brown says that before baking, you should prep your wings, place them in a steamer basket, and after bringing the water to a boil, lower the temperature and let them steam for around 10 minutes. After taking them out of the basket, pat them dry, put them on a baking sheet, and pop them into the refrigerator for an hour before baking.

That's an important step of the process, too. Steaming the wings will help render some of the fat out before they go in the oven, and letting them rest in the fridge will cause that skin to get tighter. Both of those stages are necessary for some of the crispiest wings that have ever come out of your kitchen ... no deep-frying necessary.

Other things you can do to ensure crispy wings

Even when you take the time to steam your wings then let them chill, there are a few other things you should keep in mind if you don't want to sabotage your prep work. For starters, making sure they're dry when they go into the oven is key — and some sources swear that while an hour in the fridge might be fine, letting your wings air-dry on trays overnight can be a time-intensive but crucial step to crispy, oven-baked wings.

Before baking, you can also cover your wings in a very light coat of flour, baking powder, or a dry rub that might complement any sauce you're going to be using at the end. And no, you should never use a sauce before baking. Standard chicken wing recipes call for being baked for about an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, but for the last 20 minutes or so, you can opt for raising the temperature to as high as 450 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Alternatively, you can get a similar effect by broiling for a few minutes, flipping the wings, and returning them to the broiler for a few more minutes. This is a hands-on process, though, and you'll need to keep an eye on things. Remove them when the skin is crisp and don't leave them for too long, or you're going to get some dry wings that even sauce is going to have a hard time rescuing.