Sometimes the universe is just plain cruel. Exhibit A: the plopping down of one of the great, gluttonous food holidays — football’s biggest night, with its buffalo wings and chili and vats of dip — smack dab in the middle of our earnest attempts at healthy New Year’s resolutions for eating and dieting. *Cut to me glaring up at the heavens with one slowly shaking fist.*
A conundrum to haunt us all our days (or until they move New Year’s back on the calendar), but what to do until then? Diet-friendly versions of game day food may sound anything but super — however, with a little technique, and insights from some of our favorite culinary friends, you can in fact health-ify big game grub, without losing out on taste. In this piece we’ll tackle baked buffalo chicken wings.
Wings are gotta-have big game food. In fact, the National Chicken Council predicts over 1.4 billion wings will be consumed on game day this year alone. Already naturally high in protein, they’ve got that going for them, and most sauces and dips aren’t total diet-busters, but things begin to unravel when we bread and/or deep-fry the suckers, so baking wings is a natural remedy. The is also a great option, but most models just aren’t big enough to handle enough wings to feed a crowd (unless you want to cook several batches and risk missing the action).
Unlike deep frying, which famously makes anything taste good, baking requires more strategy and attention to detail to achieve that moist-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside buffalo wing we all covet. How long do you bake buffalo wings? What if they’re frozen?
Here are a few tips to help with this years batch of delicious baked buffalo chicken wings, and a few recipes to get you started. Baking your buffalo wings does not require mountains of technical skill, but following a few basic rules is important.
An extra-large baking sheet fits a whole flock of wings and the rack elevates above the dripping fat — or can be used for cooling.
Starting with high-quality chicken wings is also a good idea. These come from pasture-raised birds that get room to move in fresh air and a varied diet without added hormones or antibiotics.
How to bake chicken wings in the oven:
1. Decide how many wings you need. Generally speaking, budgeting six to eight wings per person is wise, depending on what else is being served. A variety of sauces and dips will keep things interesting.
2. Make sure the wings are washed and patted completely dry. Preparing the wings beforehand is as important as anything to achieve crispy results, so don’t skip the drying step.
3. To lock in moisture and also help the skin develop crispiness, most chefs encourage a light coating of baking powder and/or white flour. If you’re trying to avoid those two ingredients, trusted food nerd Alton Brown suggests lightly steaming the wings for 10 minutes to render the fat, which naturally helps to crisp skin during cooking.
4. If you’re doing a dry rub like Cajun seasoning or jerk spices, apply to the wings before cooking. Otherwise, wings are tossed in a wet sauce afterward (but never before).
5. Place the wings in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet. Feel free to line it with aluminum foil for easy cleanup, and place the wings on a wire rack set within the pan so the fat drips down (optional).
6. Bake the wings at 350 degrees for 1 hour, turning them over halfway through. This helps the skin crisp relatively quickly without drying out the inside. Optional: A good, if slightly more caloric, tip comes from Mark Bittman who suggests a little extra fat to baste the wings while they cook, still flipping them partway through. Not only do they stay moist, according to Bittman, but they get beautifully browned too.
7. For truly crispy skin, turn the oven up to 425-450 degrees during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. Or, broil the wings for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. If you’re basting per Mark Bittman or the wings are baking in some of their own juices in a tray, you may cook them for longer without risk of them drying out. Just look for a crispy skin to develop and don’t exceed 90 minutes of total cooking time.
8. You can follow these same basic rules and processes to make frozen chicken wings crispy in the oven too. Just make sure to pat them dry especially well before cooking, as ice may have formed on the skin.
9. Once cooked, it’s saucin’ time. There are a million and one sauce (and dip) recipes to try, from classic buffalo with blue cheese to international flavors like soy, garlic, teriyaki, ginger and even curry.
Here are some favorite wing recipes to get you started:
Truly crispy oven-baked buffalo wings
This demonstrates the use of a rack to drain juices for less fat and more crisp. Get the truly crispy oven baked buffalo wings recipe.
Smoky rubbed chicken wings with honey, bourbon and molasses sauce
A smoky spice rub and a doctored barbecue sauce make these baked-then-broiled wings irresistible. Get the smoky rubbed chicken wings with honey, bourbon and molasses sauce recipe.
Soy-glazed chicken wings
These sweet soy-glazed wings are great as is, but add some fresh chive, sesame, crushed red pepper or diced garlic for a multilayered sauce. Get Chowhound’s soy-glazed chicken wings recipe.
Maple-mustard BBQ wings
These grilled wings are easily adapted to the oven-baked method. Just brush the wings with the sauce in the last few minutes of cooking so it caramelizes a bit but doesn’t burn. Get Chowhound’s maple-mustard BBQ wings recipe.