Savannah’s Cotton & Rye Takes JBF’s Southern Wing Showdown

Seven chefs went head-to-head to prove whose wings are best
Cotton & Rye
Arthur Bovino

Cotton & Rye's wings were dusted with chile and sumac and glazed with spiced honey.

Ain’t no thing but a chicken wing? Try telling that to the chefs from seven restaurants who gathered at New York's James Beard House last Thursday evening to face off in a Southern wing showdown. The chefs brought a variety of styles to the competition, battered then fried, hot smoked, honey-bourbon barbecued, and even a deboned, sweet tea-brined wing. And though there were spicy and fried wings, nary a Buffalo wing was there to be found.

Chefs in attendance included Daniel Doyle of Poogan’s Porch, Charleston, SC; Eric Fulkerson of Bald Headed Bistro, Cleveland, TN; Thomas Marlow of Mimosa Grill, Charlotte, NC; Margot McCormack of Margot Café, Nashville; Todd Richards of Richards' Southern Fried, Atlanta; Savannah Sasser of Hampton + Hudson, Atlanta; Zach Shultz and Brandon Whitestone of Cotton & Rye, Savannah, GA; and Greg Best of Ticonderoga Club, Atlanta.

Margot McCormack’s crispy tarragon chicken wings took an interesting approach. She par-fried her wings then baked them to develop their tenderness before frying them to order and tossing them with in a sticky sweet sauce. Unlike traditional Buffalo wings, sweetness was a thread through much of the night’s dishes. Thomas Marlow’s hot-smoked dry Cajun wings were nearly candied and well-cooked through with a spicy bite.

The night’s award for most labor-intensive wings may have belonged to Savannah Sasser. Her sweet tea–brined and Coca Cola-glazed wings had all been deboned, making each wing a tasty, one-bite affair.

But it was chef Brandon Whitestone and Chef Zach Shultz of Savannah’s Cotton & Rye who left the event as wing kings. Their sumac and chile–dusted chicken wings were served with spiced honey over a butter bean–corn succotash with field peas, sweet peppers, onions, house-cured-and-smoked bacon, and herbed butter. They were certainly the night’s crispiest wings, and the sweet glaze was also probably the most measured approach, not overly cloying and balanced with just a bit of heat.

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“We treated our wings tonight like fried chicken with a 24-hour marinade,” chef Whitestone explained, then giving the classic chef answer with a smile as to how to cook the perfect wing: “Until they’re crispy and cooked through!”