Who doesn’t love chicken wings? They are great sharing food or as part of a BBQ platter (or just as a meal with some veg and mash). I must admit I was late to getting to the wings party - growing up, going to KFC I’d go for the legs over the wings, and its only been the last few years that I have really got into wings. Not particularly healthy, but they most favourable fat/skin-to-meat ratio of any part of the chicken ensures its the tastiest part!
1. How to buy chicken wings
Chicken wings are pretty widely available, and usually really cheap. Major supermarkets will normally sell a kilogram of chicken wings for less than £2, that said, you always have to question when meat is that cheap, so if you have a local butcher it is definitely worth the trip. Butchers won’t be much more expensive per kilogram, but will usually be from better treated birds, which is a difference you will see in chicken wings. As there is such little meat on a chicken wing, that difference really stands out.
2. Preparing chicken wings for cooking
More good news for the pro-wing camp, chicken wings are super easy to prep. There is an optional step of breaking up the wings, but I almost never bother with that stage, far too much effort and don’t really see any reward.
Chicken wings will usually come in pieces with two/three pieces - The drum, the wing and the tip. The drum is the part that looks a lot like a chicken drumstick (but smaller) and has the most meat, the flat is the piece attached to that, with two bones running through and less meat and the tip is the third, pointed part (these are sometimes pre-trimmed off). If you prefer to split these parts you can, the tips can be thrown away, or you can leave them in one piece. If you want to split them, use a sharp knife, cut through the flesh/skin around the joint, and then cut through the ligament connecting the bones. Once you get the hang of it you can get through a kilogram pretty quick, but it still seems like far too much effort to me.
2.1 Apply dry rub
Assuming you skip the chopping step, the only real prep is liberal application of some BBQ rub (or just salt and pepper seasoning if you prefer. Simply apply the rub generously over both sides and into the joints. Make sure that you use one hand to hold the rub shaker/container and another to hold the raw meat so not to cross-contaminate your shaker with raw chicken.
If you want to make your own rubs then there are lots of recipes and options you can do, but if you want to play it safe for the first cook then a pre-bought rub is probably a good option. Angus & Oink here in the UK make lots of great rubs, and for chicken wings I’d highly recommend Sweet Butts & Bones or IRN BBQ!
3. How to smoke chicken wings
When I smoke my chicken wings, I normally cook them low’n’slow, indirect for an hour or so with a bit of smoke, and then finish them up hot’n’fast direct over the coals. This gives us the advantage of slowly and evenly cooking the meat, keeping it moist and tender, and then the hot finish allows us to crisp up the skin and render the fat.
It is possible to finish the wings up fully on the smoker, but if you go this route you may find that by the time the wings are cooked, the skin is still slightly rubber-y, this will be because the skin hasn’t rendered properly yet. It will be perfectly safe to eat, but I prefer the crisper finish.
4. How to check for “doneness”
The recommended temperature for chicken is 165F which is something of a moving target - for leaner cuts, such as breasts, this can easily be stringy and dry, but for the fattier cuts such as thighs or wings, they can handle easily going over that (and you will often want to go over to make sure you break down the connective tissue and render the fat).
5. Hot’n’fast from the start
An alternative approach that I often use is hot’n’fast from the start. If you setup your BBQ/smoker for 180C or so, the chicken wings will cook in about 35 - 45 minutes, and won’t need to finish with the direct heat as that temperature should be plenty to finish up the skin nicely (likewise you can use this approach if you just want to chuck the wings in the oven).
- Wings for 2-4 people (1 kg chicken wings)
- 10 minutes
- 1 - 2 hours
- 1 kilogram chicken wings
- Sauce Shop South Carolina sauce (or your preferred sauce)
- BBQ Rub (see notes for recommendations)
- Apply your BBQ rub liberally over the wings, on both sides
- Leave the wings in the fridge with the rub applied and setup the BBQ/smoker for indirect cooking at 110C/225F and add a chunk of wood
- Add the wings to the BBQ/smoker and cook for about 60 minutes
- Move the BBQ to direct cooking and allow the coals to heat up (if using a bullet smoker you can just remove the middle section and lay the grill above the coal at the bottom)
- Dip the chicken wings in the Carolina sauce, shake of excess and then cook directly above the hot coals, turning regularly, until the skin is crisp and the internal temperature is at least 165F
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This is one of the many fantastic recipes available on this blog