A football might be called a pigskin, but the real animal star of the game come from elsewhere on the farm. Enter the venerable chicken wing.
And we're now upon the literal Super Bowl of wing-eating. During Super Bowl LIII weekend, Americans are expected to eat a whopping 1.38 billion chicken wings, according to the National Chicken Council. That’s about 27 million more than in 2018 and 130 million more since 2011, the first year the trade association shared its data.
Who, you might ask, is eating the biggest portions? About 50 percent of this weekend's wing consumption is expected to come from the 40-and-up crowd, says digital marketing and customer loyalty company Punchh .
It turns out women are scoring more of the finger food, ordering roughly 5 percent more wings than men do on that day, the company says. But guys, you're actually ordering about 10 percent more food total.
So why wings?
“Chicken wings are great, because they’re so versatile,” said Christopher Bronke from Downers Grove, Illinois. “It’s the perfect construction. The skin-to-meat ratio is just correct and there’s something about using your hands to dip meat into good sauces. It’s fun and social."
The 37-year-old high-school English teacher is such a big fan of the game day menu staple all year round that he makes them at least two times a week at home — grilling in the summer, pan-frying or baking in the colder months — and orders them at restaurants weekly.
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Winner, winner. Chicken dinner!
If you want to know who wins the Super Bowl, it's not the New England Patriots or the Los Angeles Rams, according to Nielsen. You guessed it, it's wings.
Grocery shoppers are buying more fresh, rather than frozen, ones; sales grew 31.4 percent in the past year from about $135 million to almost $178 million. And online wing sales in the seven days leading up to and including the Super Bowl have grown 45 percent from just under $8 million in 2017 to more than $11.5 million in 2018.
“Whether you’re a fan of the left wing or the right wing, there’s no debate — or controversial missed calls —about America’s favorite Super Bowl food,” said National Chicken Council spokesperson Tom Super.
What you pay for wings has gone up, too. The national retail price for a fresh tray-pack of whole wings of whole wings is $3.01 per pound, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most recent data from the week ending Jan. 31. That's up from $2.66 the previous week and up from $2.50 the same time last year.
The demand for wings is attributable to the current protein craze, fueled by the popularity of keto and similar diets, and chicken’s ever-growing overall popularity, according to Liz Moskow, culinary director of the Boulder, Colorado-based culinary trends firm SRG.
“People are avoiding the chips and moving to the meats,” she said, adding that bone-in wings have an added appeal. “People perceive it as healthier because they see the muscle. They can see it’s real food.”
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Don't forget the sauce
As any wings fan knows, the chicken is only part of it. The real fun comes with the sauces — both the plethora of flavors and the pile of napkins required. What was once the domain of blue cheese and buffalo has expanded to Korean barbecue, a variety of spice rubs and even a peanut-butter-and-jelly-inspired-but-still-chicken-y version.
“Spicy is driving the trend. People are looking for more and more sensationalist flavors. How spicy can you handle? It’s a badge of honor and flavor exploration,” Moskow said. “They also like to engage with their food — picking it, getting messy, while watching the Super Bowl. It’s down and dirty football.”
Americans are expected to spend an average $81.30 for a total of $14.8 billion as they watch the Super Bowl, according to the National Retail Federation. Of the adults who said they intend to watch the game, 79 percent plan to buy food and beverages.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who's the real winner of Super Bowl LIII? Hint: It's not the Patriots or the Rams