Buffalo wings are barely half a century old, but they are part of the canon of American cuisine.
Reportedly invented in the 1960s at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, by Teressa Bellissimo, the first wings were cut into sections (drumettes and flats), deep-fried sans any sort of breading, tossed with hot sauce and then served with celery and blue cheese dressing. With much respect to the original, here’s a slightly modified version with some techniques borrowed from Korean and Japanese fried chicken in a quest for the crispiest skin possible. (As someone who has been making Southern fried chicken all my life, even I have picked up a few pointers.) You could argue that the quest for crispness in a dish that will be coated in a sauce is futile, but anyone who has encountered a flaccid-skinned wing knows that it is not.
How do you make Buffalo wings at home? It all starts with a starchy coating. “When cooking them on their own — grilling, frying or roasting — it’s important to dehydrate the skin and render the fat so that the skin can become crispy, not soggy,” the editors of America’s Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby wrote in their “Cook’s Science” book. One easy way to do that is with a dusting of potato starch or cornstarch. In a side-by-side comparison of the two, I found the potato starch to produce slightly crunchier results, but you’re more likely to already have cornstarch in your pantry and the differences are negligible once the wings are sauced. Either is preferable over wheat flour because it contains gluten, which inhibits the lightness and crispiness you can achieve with these two purer starches.
The second key to extra-crispy fried chicken is a double dip in the fryer. After the initial fry, “moisture in the center of the food migrates to the surface after the food cools and the surface gets soggy again,” Angus Chen wrote in NPR. That’s why it’s important to let the chicken rest for at least 5 minutes between dips in the fryer. “Then you boil off that moisture again on the second fry,” Chen wrote. The result is crunchy, craggy skin that will hold up much better than chicken that has only been fried once.
Lastly, the wings get tossed in a classic Buffalo sauce of Cajun pepper sauce and butter — or you could experiment with different styles of hot sauce, adding some honey or molasses to balance the heat or seasoning it with your favorite spices or blends to make it your own.
They are best eaten immediately for maximum enjoyment of all the crispness you worked so hard to develop. Then, the only question that remains is your selection of accoutrements: carrots or celery sticks, and blue cheese or ranch dressing?
Recipe: Buffalo Wings
Time: 1 hour
Yields: 4 servings (makes about 20 pieces)
▪ Buffalo wings were reportedly first served in 1964 at Anchor Bar in Buffalo. Traditionally, they are deep fried without any coating, but tossing the wing sections with potato starch or cornstarch gets the skin nice and crispy, and a double-fry makes them even more so. Once tossed in a simple mix of hot sauce and butter, they are best eaten immediately, while they’re still crunchy.
Storage Notes: Leftover wings can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Note: It’s important to divide your wings into batches to prevent the temperature of the oil from dropping too much. Equally important is to allow the oil temperature to return to 350 degrees before frying the second batch.
2 pounds chicken wings (drumettes and flats)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/2 cup potato starch or cornstarch
Neutral oil, for frying
3/4 cup Cajun pepper hot sauce, such as Frank’s RedHot
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Blue cheese or ranch dressing, for serving
Carrot and/or celery sticks, for serving (optional)
Pat the wings dry with paper towels. In a large bowl, add the wings, garlic powder, salt and pepper and toss until the seasonings are evenly distributed. Add the potato starch or cornstarch and toss until the wings are evenly coated. Let them sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes to help the coating adhere.
Meanwhile, add enough oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot to come 2 inches up the sides and set it over medium-high heat. Heat until a deep-fry or instant-read thermometer registers 350 degrees. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil by adding a pinch of potato starch or cornstarch; the oil should be at the proper temperature when it quickly, but not too vigorously, sizzles away.) Place a wire rack over a sheet pan or line a tray with layers of paper towels and set it near your work area.
Give the wings another toss or two to refresh the starch coating, and working in two batches (see NOTE), shake off any excess starch from the wings, carefully add them to the oil. Fry, occasionally turning the wings with a spider to promote even cooking, and adjusting the heat as needed so that the oil doesn’t drop below 325 degrees, until the wings are cooked through and have started to get crispy, about 12 minutes. (The bubbling will have quieted when they are ready.) Transfer the wings with a spider to the prepared wire rack or paper towels. Repeat with the remaining wings.
Starting with the first batch, return them to the oil and fry until extra-crispy, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a spider, return the wings to the wire rack or paper towels. Repeat with the remaining wings and let the last batch rest for 2 minutes before saucing.
While the wings are frying, in a small or medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the hot sauce and butter and cook until the butter has melted, about 2 minutes; whisk until combined.
In a large bowl, add the wings and sauce and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a platter along with the dressing, carrot and/or celery sticks, if desired, and serve.
▪ Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful nutrition analysis.
Recipe from staff writer Aaron Hutcherson.