Serious Eating: Oven-Fried Buffalo Wings and a Prize

Can you tell what’s different about this fried chicken wing? OK, if you hadn’t already read the title of this post would you have thought that this wing was deep-fried? See the blisters on the skin, the crunchy bubbly bits that will hold all that buttery hot sauce? That does not just happen on oven-fried chicken skin, no matter how long you keep them in the oven, no matter how close to the broiler you might dare to put them. I know, I’ve tried. As I’ve mentioned before, I avoid deep-fat frying and even shy from shallow frying if I can help it. Not because of health concerns but because I hate the clean up. You have to be a deep-fried stuffed olive to tempt me to the fryer!

But I do love Buffalo wings. I remember the first time I tried them. I was visiting Seattle. The restaurant specialized in seafood, but one of my companions insisted on ordering this strange appetizer — it was the 80s, Buffalo wings were just hitting the far coast. One bite, two. The plate was soon emptied and a great love was born.

As a rule, I have limited Buffalo wing consumption to an occasional treat enjoyed only when eating out. In the last few years, though, more often than not, Buffalo wings we’ve been served have been a disappointment and not worthy of the caloric overload they entail. A year or so ago I tried oven-baking wings at home, it satisfied the taste craving but not the crunch craving because the oven-baked chicken skin came out smooth and slick. I was consigning myself to the dread task of frying for this year’s Buffalo wing orgy until I came across a Food Lab dissertation on how to get the fat-fried effect in the oven. Again, our sensei in this journey is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the very same who talked us through making fresh cheese at home. The great (and twice repeated) success of that venture prompted me to try Mr. Lopez-Alt’s carefully researched method for the perfect crunch in oven-fried chicken skin.

As you can see, it worked very well! I won’t spoil the secret to Mr. Lopez-Alt’s method — his writing is always a fun read and his research is thorough (did he really say 12lbs. of chicken wings to perfect this method?) so I encourage you to discover it for yourself. (Hint: the first picture of the uncooked wings below gives you 2 clues on how it’s done.)

Food Lab is part of the Serious Eats family dedicated to all things that can be imbibed, noshed, slurped, and otherwise happily consumed. While we were in the midst of prepping these wings, I received an email from Erin, an editor at Serious Eats, with the stunning news that an haiku I submitted for their BBQ feast giveaway was one of three selected by the SE team as a winner!  How exciting is that?!

What this means is that instead of re-creating these wings this Sunday, we will instead be immersed in intense BBQ porkiness in the form of a couple of racks of ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, sauce and Magic Dust from none other than BBQ legend Mike Mills of the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, IL. Consistently chosen as “best ribs” in the U.S. (Bon Appetit, and Playboy!), 17th Street Bar&Grill was most recently featured on the Food Network’s Food Feuds wherein host Michael Symon declared 17th Street’s “the single best rib I’ve ever had in my pork-lovin’ life.” I’ve only heard tell of legendary Memphis BBQ, never having had the pleasure of a visit myself — so to know we’ll be receiving the best of the best, I can hardly contain myself!

Mahalo nui loa, Domo arigato gozaimashita, Vielen Dank, Merci beaucoup, and a heartfelt Thank You to the Serious Eats wordsmiths and to Mike Mills and the 17th Street Bar&Grill crew for this incredible bounty! We’ll be sharing the spread with friends, and will post the Feast here over the weekend. In the meantime, you can read my winning tribute to the sauce and bone here. If you’d like to order a BBQ Feast for yourself, 17th Street can deliver to your doorstep, too! BUT I’m seriously digressing… 

Back to the wings… Here is a quick look of how we achieved better (especially for our hearts) than deep-fried chicken wings for our favorite Buffalo hot sauce.

After 18 hours of non-attentive prepping (3d hint), the wings are ready for the oven.
One thing I did that was not in JKL’s method was to drizzle a bit of
light olive oil over the wings after this pic was taken.

Hot out of the oven, they are perfectly browned and
have just the right kind of bumps and bits to cling to sauce.

An incredibly satisfying first course (we had these with rice — weird, I know)
or perfect for a party since you don’t have to stand over a hot stove
and splattering oil to cook up a large batch!
Read how this was done, or go straight to the recipe.