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On a Wing and a Prayer

UP IN SMOKE
ON A WING AND A PRAYER

Dear Up in Smoke Subscriber,

America’s obsession with chicken wings, the story goes, began on October 30, 1964. Dominic Bellissimo was tending bar at the Anchor Bar, the popular Buffalo, New York, watering hole owned by his parents, Frank and Teressa, when a group of friends barreled through the door around 11:30 p.m. They were flush from a bowling victory and ravenous and thirsty. Dominic poured a round of drinks, then asked his mother to make something to eat other than the meatless dishes she’d been preparing all evening for the restaurant’s mostly Catholic clientele.

Teressa didn’t normally place meat orders on Fridays. But inspiration struck in the form of a case of chicken wings that had been mistakenly delivered to the kitchen instead of the backs and necks she routinely used for sauce. She chopped the wings into sections, dredged them in seasoned flour, and dropped them into the fryer. She then dunked the wings in a mixture of hot sauce (Frank’s RedHot, we hear) and melted margarine. The rest, as they say, is history.

Within weeks, “Buffalo Wings” were an Anchor Bar mainstay, and although the Bellissimos have since passed on, their landmark restaurant at the corner of Main and North Streets still serves wings—more than a half ton a day.

Of course, chicken wings turn up all over Planet Barbecue: in South Africa, where wings marinated in a fiery sauce of piri-piri chiles are glazed with butter, lemon juice, more hot sauce, garlic, and cilantro; (see the recipe in the January issue of Up in Smoke).

In Malaysia, where curbside pit masters and mistresses roast soy-and honey-glazed wings on special charcoal rotisseries. In Australia, where wings are soaked in local beer prior to being direct grilled and slathered with barbecue sauce.

Chicken wings were once routinely discarded (they don’t even do much for the chicken). So how has the lowly wing acquired such a cult following on the world’s barbecue trail?

• Wings are well-suited to grilling, consisting chiefly of skin (the most flavorful part of the chicken), which becomes crackling crisp when exposed to the high, dry heat of the grill.

• The bones are satisfying to gnaw on and for keeping a running tally of wing consumption. They’re the perfect finger food, with just enough meat to reward you for the effort of eating them.

• Wings are relatively inexpensive. People who keep track of such things say the Bellissimos likely paid about 5 cents a pound for wings in 1964.

• Wings are the blank canvases of barbecue—suited to an almost infinite range of flavorings. In my travels on the world’s barbecue trail, I have seen everything from yogurt to hot sauce to coffee used with great success.

In fact, nearly every book I’ve written in The Barbecue! Bible series has recipes for wings. EvenRaichlen on Ribs pays homage to the genre with a recipe for Buffa-que Ribs—inspired, of course, by Teressa Bellissimo’s creation.

As varied as the recipes are around the world for chicken wings, so are the methods of preparing and cooking them.

• In North America, wings are often broken down into “drumettes,” the white meat closest to the breast, sometimes scraped toward one end of the bone, making them resemble diminutive chicken legs; “flats,” the two-bone section of well-marbled dark meat in the middle; and the wing tips, which are typically discarded.

• To break down the wing, lay it flat on a cutting board, and using a sharp heavy knife or a cleaver, cut through the cartilage at the joints that separate each section. (Take care not to splinter the bone; the knife will move through the wing easily if you find the sweet spots.) Reserve the flats and drumettes, and either discard the wing tips, or—and I prefer this as I hate to waste food—freeze them for making stock.

• In Asia, the wings are usually grilled whole, often impaled on bamboo skewers to stretch them out, thereby maximizing the surface area exposed to the smoke and fire. Here’s how to do it: Using 12-inch bamboo skewers, skewer the chicken wings through loose skin, starting an inch or so below the end of the wing tip, and continuing through the length of the straightened chicken wing. (Try to buy larger wings, if possible.)

My preferred method of cooking when I wrote The Barbecue! Bible and How to Grill was direct grilling—8 to 12 minutes a side, 16 to 24 minutes in all. To test for doneness, make a small slit in the thickest part of one of the wings: There should be no traces of red or pink at the bone. (My Flexi-basket, available at www.grilling4all.com, makes stretching and turning the wings for direct grilling a snap.)

These days, my preferred method is indirect grilling the wings. You get the same crackling crisp skin and moist meat without having to worry about charring or flare-ups. The longer cooking time (30 to 40 minutes) renders more fat out of the wings. Simply set up your grill for indirect grilling, place a drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium. Arrange the wings in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat, skin-side up, stretching the wings out as far as possible. Cover the grill and grill the wings until they are crisp-skinned and cooked through. (See test for doneness above.)

Spit-roasting has similar advantages. Either impale the wings crosswise on a spit, or corral them in a rotisserie basket and spit-roast for about 30 minutes, or until the wings are crisp-skinned and darkly browned. (In Asia, I have seen a special dual-spit rotisserie for wings. It pins the wings in such a way as to stretch them out and expose as much surface area as possible to the fire.)

Smoking chicken wings: You can add smoke flavor by throwing a couple of handfuls of soaked wood chips on the coals before arranging the wings on the grill grate. To you hardcore smokers, I have this to say: Smoking wings at low and slow temperatures makes the skin—the most alluring part of chicken wings, in my mind—too rubbery.

If finishing the wings with a barbecue sauce or glaze, especially one containing sugar or honey, apply it toward the end of the cooking time so it doesn’t scorch.

Here is a sampling of wings from Planet Barbecue, which will be out this May. Order an advance copy from Amazon.com or your local bookstore.

 

HONEY AND SOY SPIT-ROASTED CHICKEN WINGS

Source: Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, 2010)
Method: Indirect grilling or spit-roasting
Serves: 4
Advance Preparation: 4 to 6 hours for marinating the wings

3 pounds whole chicken wings (about 12 large whole wings)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Asian (dark) sesame oil
1/4 cup Chinese rice wine, sake, or dry sherry
3 tablespoons oyster sauce (optional)
2 slices (1/4-inch thick) peeled fresh ginger, crushed with the side of a cleaver
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup hoisin sauce (optional)
1/4 cup Asian chile sauce, such as Thai Sriracha (optional)

You’ll also need: A rotisserie with a flat basket attachment (optional)

Rinse the chicken wings under cold running water and blot them dry with paper towels. Place the wings in a large nonreactive mixing bowl.

Make the marinade: Place the soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, rice wine, oyster sauce, if using, ginger, five-spice powder, pepper, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl and mix well. Add the marinade to the wings and stir to coat. Let the chicken wings marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 to 6 hours, turning them several times.

To grill: Drain the wings well, discarding the marinade before grilling.

If you are using a rotisserie, spread the wings out and place them in the basket. Alternatively, you can skewer the wings crosswise on a single spit rotisserie. Set up the grill for spit-roasting following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to high. When ready to cook, attach the spit to the grill and turn on the motor. Spit-roast the wings until they are crisp-skinned, darkly browned, and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Start basting the wings with the vegetable oil after 15 minutes, and baste them several times as they grill.

If you are using the indirect method, set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium. Arrange the chicken wings skin-side up in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat, stretching the wings out as far as possible. Cover the grill and grill the wings until they are crisp-skinned, darkly browned, and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes.
Start basting the wings with the vegetable oil after 15 minutes, and baste them several times as they grill.

To test for doneness, make a small cut in the thickest part of one of the wings; there should be no traces of red or pink at the bone.

Transfer the wings to a platter or plates. Normally, they’re so flavorful you won’t need a sauce, but sometimes they’re served with hoisin sauce and chile sauce. Place 1 tablespoon of each side by side in each of 4 tiny bowls. Mix the two sauces together with the tip of a chopstick and use as a dip for the wings

LOUISVILLE WINGS

Source: BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, 2003)
Method: Indirect grilling
Serves: Makes about 18 wings, serving 6 to 8 as an appetizer
Advance preparation: 4 to 5 hours for curing and marinating the wings

18 whole chicken wings (about 4 pounds)
2 tablespoons lemon pepper
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) salted butter
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2/3 cup Dijon mustard
2/3 cup Tabasco sauce or your favorite hot sauce (Red Devil or Crystal
brand sauces are less hot)
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup bourbon (or substitute apple juice)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

You’ll also need:
1-1/2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably hickory), soaked for 1 hour in water to cover, then drained

Rinse the chicken wings under cold running water and blot them dry with paper towels. Place the wings in a large nonreactive bowl and toss them with the lemon pepper, paprika, and 2 tablespoons of salt. Let the wings cure in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour.

Melt the butter in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant and sizzling but not brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the mustard, hot sauce, lemon juice, bourbon, brown sugar, and black pepper. Season with salt to taste. Bring the bourbon mixture to a boil and let boil for 3 minutes, then let cool to room temperature. You’ll use this for the marinade and sauce.

Pour half of the bourbon mixture over the wings and toss to mix. Let the wings marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 3 to 4 hours. Set the remaining sauce aside.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch and run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center, preheat the grill to medium, then toss all of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.

When ready to cook, drain the marinade from the wings and discard the marinade. Brush and oil the grill grate. Place the wings in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat, and cover the grill. Cook the wings until golden brown and cooked through 30 to 40 minutes.

During the last few minutes of cooking, move the wings a few at a time so that they are directly over the heat, and leaving the grill uncovered, cook them until crackling crisp, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer the grilled wings to a platter or plates and serve at once with the remaining sauce. Provide hot wet towels for sticky fingers.

IRANIAN SAFFRON LEMON CHICKEN WINGS

Source: Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen (Workman, 2010)
Method: Indirect grilling
Serves: 4
Advance preparation: 6 to 24 hours for marinating the wings

1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 medium onion, peeled and grated
1 cup plain Greek-style whole milk yogurt, such a Fage brand
2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea), or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
18 chicken wings (about 4 pounds)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (optional), for serving
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional), for serving
2 lemons, cut into wedges, for serving

You’ll also need: Flat metal skewers (optional)

Prepare the marinade and wings: Place the saffron threads and 2 tablespoon of hot water in a small bowl and let the saffron soak for about 4 minutes. Transfer half of the saffron and water mixture to a small bowl and set it aside for the glaze.

Grate the onion on the coarse holes of a box grater into a large nonreactive mixing bowl. Add the yogurt, salt, pepper, and remaining soaked saffron and stir to mix. Gradually whisk in the 1/4 cup of lemon juice and the olive oil. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as necessary; the mixture should be highly seasoned.

Rinse the chicken wings under cold running water and blot them dry with paper towels. Cut the chicken wings in half, cutting off and discarding the tips. Add the wings to the marinade and stir to coat. Let the wings marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 6 hours, or as long as overnight, stirring them every few hours.
The longer the wings marinate, the richer the flavor will be.

Make the glaze: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high het. Add the reserved saffron and water mixture and the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and let the glaze simmer until blended and flavorful, about 2 minutes.

To grill: Drain the wings, discarding the marinade, before grilling. Set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the chicken wings skin-side up in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and grill the wings until they are crisp and golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes. Once the wings start to brown, start basting them with the saffron glaze. Baste the wings several times.

To test for doneness, make a small cut in the thickest part of one of the wings; there should be no traces of red or pink at the bone.

Transfer the grilled chicken wings to a platter and pour any remaining saffron glaze over them. Drizzle the pomegranate molasses, if using, over the wings and sprinkle them with parsley, if using. Serve the wings at once with the lemon wedges.

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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