Our Ultimate Guide to Chicken Wings: Here's How to Buy, Cook, and Serve This Go-To Party Appetizer

We'll help you choose right size chicken wings, decide whether you should bake or fry them, and teach you how to keep them warm (but never soggy!) on game day.

caramelized mustard marmalade chicken
Photo: Marcus Nilsson

Whether you're hosting a Super Bowl party or a casual weeknight gathering, you can't go wrong with chicken wings. They're fail-proof crowd-pleasers, especially on game day: According to the National Chicken Council, Americans ate nearly one-and-a-half billion chicken wings over Super Bowl weekend last year.

Whatever the occasion, learn how to prep and serve your best-ever chicken wings with these tips from Lauryn Tyrell, our former senior food editor, and chef Erik Wichert of J. Timothy's Taverne Plainville, Conn., which is known for their award-winning wings.

Choosing the Right Size Wings

Stellar chicken wings start with the right meat. When purchasing wings, choose free-range organic chicken that is free of hormones or antibiotics, says Tyrell. Wichert suggests using wings that are already cut to save prep time. "Look for a good-size wing with a good amount of meat. Chicken wings are graded by size; if you choose five to seven count wings, that means you get five to seven wings per pound," he says.

Fried vs. Baked Wings

Both methods have their fans. Frying is the most popular method for making chicken wings, but for those who want to avoid fried foods or don't own a deep fryer, baked chicken wings are the way to go.

Fried Chicken Wings

According to Wichert, blotting wings dry before cooking them is an essential step when frying. It's also important to achieve the balance of crispy skin and tender meat (without overcooking it). Follow our favorite Buffalo Chicken Wings, which makes 4 pounds of wings, if you want to take the frying route.

  • Combine 1 cup hot sauce and 11/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a simmer. Gradually whisk in 4 tablespoons of butter, a few pieces at a time, until combined. Reduce heat, and keep warm until ready to use.
  • Place a wire rack in the bottom of a heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add enough vegetable oil to come 4 inches up the side, and heat over medium-high heat until it reaches 400°F on a deep-fry thermometer. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a wire rack; set aside.
  • Working in batches, carefully add the wings to the heated oil and cook until they are dark golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet to drain.
  • Transfer cooked wings to a large, wide bowl. Add the hot sauce mixture you've been keeping warm and toss to coat. Serve with blue cheese sauce and celery sticks.

Baked Chicken Wings

If you are looking for a lighter way to make crowd-pleasing wings, try baking chicken wings. Follow these steps to do so.

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  • Pat wings dry with paper towels and season with salt.
  • Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet (this is key as it allows air to flow around the wings as they bake.)
  • Spread the wings evenly on the wire rack and bake until golden and cooked through, about 45 minutes.
  • Use a thin metal spatula to transfer wings to a bowl. Toss with desired sauce and serve.

How to Keep Wings Warm Until Party Time

If you're hosting a party, you know wings will be a winning appetizer—but one of the trickiest aspects of serving them is keeping them warm. If you want to prepare the wings and sauce in advance, preheat your oven to 160°F and keep the wings in the oven until party time, says Wichert. Then, toss the wings in the sauce just before serving to prevent them from getting soggy.

Avoid Plastic and Aluminum

Never store crispy wings in a container with a plastic or aluminum cover. "The heat from the chicken causes steam inside the container, which creates moisture and causes the chicken to lose crispiness," says Wichert.

Essential Sauces and Garnishes for Serving

Wings are delicious on their own, but they're so much more satisfying when paired with the proper garnishes. Carrots, celery, and blue cheese or ranch dressing are essentials. "Cool, crisp celery, the creamy and fatty dip, and spicy wings are the ultimate trifecta," says Tyrell. She recommends serving a light, refreshing beer with wings, such as a pilsner, which doesn't have a super strong flavor that might take away from the appetizer.

How to Avoid Double-Dipping

Both Tyrell and Wichert agree that double-dipping is a big no-no. So, how do you ensure that everyone has enough sauce for their wings? Wichert has an easy solution: Fill individual ramekins with blue cheese or ranch dressing so that guests can each have their own portion of sauce; they can refill it as needed.

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