Grilled Buffalo Chicken Wings

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is on a roll in his Food Lab series over at Serious Eats. A recent favorite of mine was his investigation into oven-roasted chicken wings. He wanted to make oven roasted chicken wings that were the same as deep fried wings, without the mess of deep frying.
*My favorite quote from the article: “I’d be willing to wager my negligible income that the Venn Diagram of people scared of frying and people who own well-seasoned cast iron woks looks like two non-overlapping circles.” This is why I’m loving his posts – Kenji’s combination of humor, obsession, food science, and pure geekiness makes my heart sing.

His answer, in a nutshell? Dry brine the wings for at least eight hours in the refrigerator, using a mix of salt and baking powder. All three of these things (the refrigerator, salt, and baking powder) help crisp up the skin on the wings. How? By drying the skin out, and increasing its alkalinity, you increase its browning. *Yes, increasing the alkalinity of a food helps in browning. And yes, I know my wife is the chemist in the family, and will probably want to correct everything I’ve just said. 

So, why post this myself? Why not just link to Kenji’s post and be done with it? Because, in perfecting oven baked wings, he missed something. Chicken wings taste better grilled then oven baked. I had to know – what if I tried Kenji’s approach with my grill roasted wing technique?
*OK, I had to try out Kenji’s baking powder trick as well – he had my curiosity piqued. Did it really matter?

The answer is…great chicken wings. These wings come out browned, crispy and delicious. Obsessive food science combined with grilling makes a wonderful combination!

Recipe: Grilled Buffalo Chicken Wings

Equipment:
Cook time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs chicken wings, cut into wingette and drumette sections, tips discarded
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder

Wing Sauce

  • 1 stick of butter, melted (4 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot sauce (traditional for Buffalo wings)

Directions:
1. Dry brine the wings: Toss the wings with the kosher salt and baking powder in three batches – 1 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/3rd of the wings per batch. Spread the wings out on a sheet pan with a rack over it, so they aren’t touching each other. Refrigerate, uncovered, for eight hours to 24 hours before cooking.

Wings dry brined in salt and baking powder

2. Prepare the grill: Set your grill up for indirect high heat cooking. For my Weber Summit, this means preheating for 15 minutes, then turning off all the burners except for the two outer burners (burners 1 and 6) which I leave on high.

3. Prepare the wing sauce: Melt the butter, then whisk in the Frank’s Red Hot.

4. Cook the wings: Put the wings on the grill grate, over the unlit section, so they are cooking with indirect heat. Cook with the lid closed for twenty minutes. Flip the wings, then cook, lid closed, for another ten to twenty minutes, until the wings are well browned. Move the wings to a large bowl, pour the sauce over them, and toss until the wings are well covered with sauce. Let them rest in the sauce for a few minutes, toss them again, then serve.

Pour in the sauce
…and toss to coat

Serving Options:
It is traditional to serve the wings with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. I like to replace the celery and blue cheese with a spring mix salad tossed with blue cheese dressing.

Variations:
*Smoked wings: To make the wings even better, smoke the wings while you’re grilling them. I prefer to do this on a charcoal grill – add 1 fist-sized chunk of hickory wood that has been soaked for an hour to the coals.  If you really want to try this on a gas grill, soak 1 cup of wood chips for an hour.  Wrap the chips in an envelope of aluminum foil, poke a couple of holes in the top and put it over one of the lit burners on your grill.
*The problem is that gas grills need to allow a lot of airflow, so combustion gases can escape.  This lets the smoke escape as well.

*Hotter or milder sauce – I think Franks Red Hot is pretty mild, and the equal ratio of butter to hot sauce in the recipe gives you a “medium” heat level for your wings. If you want hot wings, go with 3/4 cup Franks, and 1/4 cup butter (half a stick.) If you want milder wings, go with 1/4 cup Franks, and 3/4 cup butter (a stick and a half).

*Nuclear sauce: If you want really hot wings, go with half Tabasco sauce, half butter. Tabasco has a lot more kick than Franks…

Notes:
*Chicken wings drip a lot of fat into your grill, and because of the indirect cooking, it won’t burn away…until the next time you preheat your grill. Then you’ll have a grease fire on your hands. I recommend making a drip pan out of aluminum foil, and putting it under the grill grate over the unlit burners. Or, the next time you cook, assume you’re going to have to wait an extra ten minutes for the grease fire do die down while you’re preheating.
time to clean my grill.

See the dark shadow under and around the wings?
That’s not a shadow, that’s a grease fire waiting to happen…

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Grill Roasted Chicken Wings
Grilled Chicken Wings, Spicy Asian Glazed

Adapted from:
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: The Food Lab: In Search of the Best Oven-Fried Buffalo Wings [SeriousEats.com]

Stephen Raichlen: Buffa-Que Wings [BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America]

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24 Comments

  1. Buffalo Wings /

    That looks really good dad. Thanks for sharing.

  2. @Buffalo Wings:

    You’re welcome!

  3. Wow! Made my mouth water! And, yes, I’m one of those who fear the fryer – and so have never in my life made wings before (but they’re on the menu for sometime this week!)

  4. @Pam:

    I’m not afraid of frying, per se. It’s just the mess that it makes. I fry maybe twice a year, because it takes six months for me to forget the cleanup from the last time.

    And, with this recipe to satisfy my chicken wing cravings, I don’t miss the frying all that much.

  5. I just found your blog! I also do a lot of cooking and love my Weber grill. I will be making these wings within the next week as I’m sure my wife will love them. Keep up the great blogging!

  6. @Pat:

    Thank you. Let us know how it goes when you make the recipe!

  7. Dave in Tenn /

    Hi I really like the blog and want to try this. In the ingredients it lists 1 t salt + 1 t baking soda… then it says to toss 1/3 of the wings with 1 t + 1 t. So it should really be 3 t salt plus 3 t baking soda total? Thanks!

  8. @Dave in Tenn:

    I just double checked – I think I have the recipe written correctly.

    Ingredients are 1 Tablespoon salt and 1 Tablespoon baking powder. There are three teaspoons in a tablespoon, so if you split everything into thirds, you get 1 teaspoon of salt and baking powder with each third of the wings.

    I probably should change the ingredients list to 3 teaspoons of salt and 3 teaspoons baking powder instead of 1 Tablespoon. Even if they are the same thing, it can be confusing.

    Sorry about that!

  9. Dave in Tenn /

    OK I see MY mistake, sorry about that (also see I switched the BP and BS too)! Thanks for the fast response and all the great ideas! Dave

  10. @Dave: You’re welcome!

    And, I updated the ingredients to 3 teaspoons, to avoid this problem in the future.

  11. Dave in Tenn /

    wow these were delicious and disappeared FAST! I left the dry rub on for about 36 hrs and the wings browned up nice, cooked on the Weber kettle with some cherry smoke wood. Thank you and Happy New Year! Dave

  12. @Dave:

    I’m glad to hear they went quick. Thanks for following up, and happy new year!

  13. Anonymous /

    This recipe worked great, but I found the wings a little salty for my liking. Do I NEED the salt to make them crispier, or would baking soda do it on its own? Maybe I could cut the salt in half?

  14. @Anonymous:

    Did you use kosher salt? If not, then you definitely should cut back by half – table salt (and fine sea salt) have twice as much sodium (by volume) as the Diamond Crystal kosher salt that I use. That means, 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt is equal to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt.

    Did you use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt? I didn’t specify it, but Mortons kosher salt also weighs a bit more – 1 teaspoon of Diamond Crystal Kosher is equal to 3/4 teaspoon of Morton’s Kosher.

    All that said, some people are more sensitive to salt than others – if they tasted too salty for you, definitely cut back on the salt. I wouldn’t eliminate it entirely, because you need at least some salt in food to help the taste.

    And…if you try the recipe again with more or different salt, let me know how it goes!

  15. Mike,

    Great recipe and they did turn out very crispy. Rena and Jatin enjoyed them too. Now I just need to find some variety with the sauces so they can try different ones. Great job!!

  16. @Ted: Thank you!

    For other sauces, I would recommend teriyaki sauce or spicy asian sauce. Do everything else the same, and toss with these sauces at the end.

  17. @coov07:

    You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help you impress the wife. 🙂

  18. coov07 /

    The wings were absolutely great! I tossed them with three different sauces and we loved the wings best naked. They were actually crispy! Thanks for the effort and great recipes! My wife is hooked.

  19. Mary N. /

    I made these for my Hubby today for Father’s Day. The only thing I did different is double the sauce, we like ’em hot! They came out fantastic! The baking powder really works! I refrigerated them for the full 24 hours befor grillin; yum yum yum!! Thanks for sharing this great recipe.

  20. You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed them!

  21. DublD /

    I just tried this and was very pleased with the results but the wings were very salty. Should I have rinsed them after dry brining??

  22. No, I don’t rinse them. Did you use Kosher salt? Table salt is more salty; cut the amount in half if you use table salt.

  23. arizona boy /

    This really works!!! May be the best wings I’ve ever had!!!!

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