Birthday Grilled Chicken Wings

Our two sons were born exactly 4 years apart (that’s project management skill). When they were young we’d split the birthday parties across the two weekends around their actual birthdays. As they grew up, it was a rarity to have them both in town so we celebrated the best we can. Now that they both live in the Portland area we get to combine the celebrations; being in their 30’s and 40’s they are okay with sharing.

Because of various diets and tastes we decided on take out for dinner. We asked if they had any special requests and our oldest son asked for Buffalo wings. We don’t need to order those in; I made a nice batch last year for the Super Bowl and have been anxious to try them again. If you go back and read that post you’ll see that I winged it (heh, heh) and, while the results were great I wanted to nail down the process a bit.

When our 4-year old grandson masters a new talent he announces “easy-peasy lemon squeezy”. This recipe, based on a recipe from J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious eats, for cooking them in the oven is just that easy. For a nice read on the diligence Mr López-Alt applies to his recipe development, check out this article on how he settled on his published recipe. There were a LOT of chicken wings cooked.

In order to get nice crisp wings that can match or surpass deep fried they must have a dry exterior, plenty of surface area, and be encouraged to brown. To that end, the night before cooking we lay the wings out on a wire rack set in a cooking sheet and pat them dry. Then we toss them with a mixture of kosher salt baking powder and set uncovered in the refrigerator. The baking powder raises the pH which in turns encourages browning. This is the same approach López-Alt uses for turkey; you can read about my experience with that method here (spoiler alert: it’s great).

I didn’t take pictures of the night-before prep, but here they are ready for cooking. I don’t usually take pictures of raw chicken – I mean c’mon! But I think it is an essential part of the process so here you go.

2.5 pounds of chicken wings after dry brine of kosher salt and baking powder

At this point they are ready to cook. The Serious Eats recipe just calls to put them in a 450° oven for 35-50 minutes flipping after the first 20 minutes. I used my Mak 2 Star pellet grill and planned to grill them at the end so I started at 400°. Wanting to start with indirect heat like an oven produces, I placed a double layer of aluminum foil under the grates and on top of the flame-zone pan. Then roasted the wings on an upper rack that had frog mats to keep them from slipping between the rack bars. Kinda (well, exactly) like this.

Stage 1 of roasting chicken wings on the Mak 2 Star.

After 20 minutes I flipped the wings and swapped positions for the left and right sides. After another 15 minutes I pulled the aluminum foil from beneath the lower rack so I could have some direct heat. I turned the grill up to “High”, moved the wings to the lower rack and cooked with the lid open and flipping every 3 minutes until they were golden brown.

Grilling chicken wings on direct heat.

When done they come back in the house. It’s amazing how much they shrink. Before cooking they took up the whole sheet pan.

Chicken wings waiting to be transformed into Buffalo wings

Cooking them is just the first part of the process. We want them to be Buffalo wings!

Hot sauce for Buffalo wings

Using equal parts butter and hot sauce, melt the butter on medium-low heat, add the sauce and whisk until the mixture just starts to simmer. I made this while the wings were on the grill, but it separates pretty quickly. When the somewhat cooled mixture didn’t whisk together quickly I turned up the heat and started whisking. But keep that heat low; if it gets too hot the ingredients will separate and be much harder to incorporate.

By the way, notice I bought a jar of bleu cheese dressing. When I made my own last February it wasn’t as good as store-bought, so why bother.

After whisking the sauce together, I put the wings in a big bowl, poured the Buffalo sauce on top and tossed with tongs.

Wings coated with Buffalo sauce

I put them on 3 plates: a small plain, non-sauced, portion for the little guys and two plates of Buffalo wings for the grown ups. We are still maintaining our 6-foot distance from our older son and his wife because of their needing to be a bit more exposed to risk in their day-to-day lives. They got the bigger portion.

Buffalo wings and plain wings.

“Is it spicy?” is what my grandsons ask whenever I make something for them. By spicy they mean, is it spicier than bread? (For the record, most ice cream and candy pass the spicy test.) The plain wings are just chicken with a bit of salt and baking powder. They enjoyed them.

JT loving the wings
Little Dude says they are A-OK!

Rating: ★★

These wings are crispy without being dry, And they are very simple to make. They are perfect for parties – serving them for a football game watching party is perfect – well when we can get back to football watching parties; in the meantime make them for yourself!

No grill? Don’t worry, just cook them in the oven according to J. Kenji López-Alt’s recipe linked above. I found that 2½ pounds of wings barely fit on a sheet pan. If I was making this for a larger group of people, I’d probably make 4 pounds on 2 cooking sheets and do them in the oven.

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