Their methods are so proprietary, in fact, that many local cooks refused to spill all the details on their spices and steps. But we were able to score some tricks of the trade that can easily be applied to cooking wings at home.
One thing that's clear: Going the extra mile with marinades, rubs, and par-cooking techniques will yield a big payoff in taste and texture.
You also might want to consider adding some Far East flair. Asian ingredients and techniques have crept into many wing recipes around town, giving the traditional Buffalo style a run for its wingdom.
"Pop's Wings" - named for manager Rick Cao's father - are a popular menu item at the Bella Vista eatery Le Viet, even though wings are not really a Vietnamese classic, says Cao, a huge football fan himself.
"Asians like the two-bone-part, not the drumette," Cao says, adding that Asian food stores such as the H Mart in Upper Darby and Elkins Park sell packets of only the two-bone portion.
Pop's Wings soak in a brine of fish sauce, garlic, habanero, and honey for 24 hours before being fried and tossed in a secret hoisin-based sauce that is sweet, but with depth.
Federal Donuts, the South Philly doughnut shop known for its Korean fried chicken, is helmed by an Israeli by way of Pittsburgh. Chef Michael Solomonov batters and double-fries his Taiwanese-style wings, before they meet a chili-garlic glaze. "The batter makes it super, super crispy," the chef says. "It's also light, and steams the inside while it cooks." (His batter is a mixture of flour, sweet potato starch, and water; he seasons the wings with salt and Chinese five-spice first.)
As any french-fry aficionado will tell you, twice-frying, with the potato spears resting in between, produces a creamy, soft interior with a snappy outer shell. Solomonov, like many chefs, applies the same technique to chicken. The first fry is at a lower temperature, about 300 degrees; the second is quicker and hotter. He lets his wings rest in the fridge in between, and says some cooks even freeze the flappers between fryings.
While the Four Seasons didn't build its rep on chicken wings, the kitchen staff there turns out a mean batch, which is on the menu and also served as a staff meal by the hardworking ladies in the banquet department. They also use Asian flavors including ginger and oyster sauce for an overnight marinade, then pop them in the oven before the finishing fry. "It keeps the meat more tender, and allows the marinade to meld with the wings better," says chef Joe Drago, adding that if you skip this step, the marinade can come off in the fryer.
Oven-roasting is a great technique to use at home, especially when entertaining, as it gets most of the prep work wrapped up before kickoff.
After their turn in the oven, the wings are dusted with flour and cornstarch before getting a quick fry. (Pan-frying also works; see the accompanying recipe.)
Not all rely on Asian ingredients. At Memphis Taproom in Fishtown, it often seems that every table has an order of the pilsner-brined wings on it. Chef Jesse Kimball uses beer, oranges, sugar, jalapeños, and cinnamon, to name a few things, to impart flavor to the meat. "The marinade means they won't dry out or get overcooked," he says.
Bomb Bomb BBQ Grill made its name on the surprisingly symbiotic melding of barbecue and Italian flavors that it serves at South Philly and South Jersey locations. Their wings are in the chicken cutlet tradition, dredged in flour, egg, and Italian bread crumbs with secret seasoning before being fried. "People like things that are coated," says co-owner Deb Barbato. "And it helps hold the sauce on."
By special order, Bomb Bomb also makes a rather simple braised version, in which wings are submerged in BBQ sauce and slow-cooked, uncovered, in a 325-degree oven for two hours. "They get really nice and brown and fall off the bone."
Some chefs go for fancier techniques. At R2L, Daniel Stern uses liquid smoke in a cure, and confits wings in chicken fat to achieve a delicate texture.
At the Corner, chef John Taus also confits his wings to get their signature fall-apart texture. And wanting to keep his customers spick-and-span, he frenches the bone for a keep-clean finger-food bite.
Once the technique is down, it's all about what's on top. At Memphis Taproom, Kimball lets his marinade shine by keeping the rest simple and classic: Wings are tossed with only hot sauce and butter. (Although his buttermilk-blue cheese side sauce is equally memorable.)
When flying into wing territory at home, start with the basics: Get the freshest, meatiest wings available. Kimball refuses to use anything that has ever been frozen. Your best bet? Shop during the week. "There's a big wing shortage this time of year," Kimball says. "Everyone wants them."
Four Seasons Chicken Wings
Makes 6-8 servings
12 jalapeño peppers, rough chopped
4 plum tomatoes, rough chopped
1 sweet onion, rough chopped
10 garlic cloves
6 whole shallots, rough chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 ounces fresh ginger
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup oyster sauce
Juice from 4 lemons
3 dozen chicken wings
1 pound flour (about 4 cups)
1 pound cornstarch (about 4 cups)
Vegetable oil, for frying
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine jalapeño peppers, plum tomatoes, sweet onion, garlic, shallots, coriander, and ginger in a mixing bowl with a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Place in a roasting pan and roast for 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Puree ingredients in food processor. Mix in the remaining olive oil, oyster sauce, and lemon juice. Place wings in a container, top with marinade, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake wings for 15 minutes. Let cool. Drain excess moisture. When ready to serve, add a few inches of vegetable oil to a high-sided pan. Heat over medium-high heat until oil temperature is about 325 degrees. Combine flour and cornstarch and coat wings. Fry, in batches, flipping wings over if necessary, until skin is golden brown and crispy. Serve immediately or toss with your favorite sauce.
- Adapted from Four Seasons Philadelphia
Per serving: 1,378 calories, 94 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 95 grams fat, 428 milligrams cholesterol, 1,655 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Blue-Cheese Buttermilk Sauce
Makes 1 quart
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1 sprig thyme, picked
8 ounces sour cream
2 cups mayonnaise
½ pound blue cheese, crumbled
1 shallot, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
1. In a blender, combine buttermilk, hot sauce, and thyme. Add sour cream and mayo and combine well. Remove from blender. Fold in blue cheese and shallots. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
- From Memphis Taproom
Per serving (based on 16 servings): 196 calories, 4 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 440 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups or glaze for 20 wings
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup warm water
11/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon white or tamari soy sauce
12 ounces chili garlic sauce
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar and warm water, whisking thoroughly until the sugar is dissolved into a simple syrup. Mix in remaining ingredients.
2. After frying, dip hot wings into the glaze to coat thoroughly.
- Adapted from Federal Donuts
Per serving (based on 4 servings): 154 calories, 4 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams sugar, 1 gram fat, zero cholesterol, 4,054 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Pan-Roasted Chicken Wings
Makes 4 servings
For cure and confit
11/2 pounds kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon molasses
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 plus 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 plus 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon Herbsaint or Pernod Garlic powder, to taste
2 dozen chicken wings
Vegetable oil or chicken fat
3½ ounces white vinegar
3½ ounces cane vinegar (or use 7 ounces white vinegar)
3½ ounces soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped
1 tablespoon sliced garlic
2 tablespoons sliced shallots 1¾ ounces grapeseed oil
Canola oil, for frying
1 tablespoon butter
3 scallions, chopped, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. For the optional cure and confit, combine all ingredients. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of cure for each pound of wings. (Remaining cure can hold for months.) Let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse wings and place them in an ovenproof pan so they fit snugly. Cover with oil or fat. Heat on stovetop until oil begins to bubble, then transfer, uncovered, to oven. Roast until cooked through, about 11/2 hours. Remove wings from fat and cool completely. At this point, you can store wings in the fridge until ready to use.
2. Combine all sauce ingredients except grapeseed oil and butter in a saucepan. Simmer and mix until well combined. Transfer to a blender and combine until smooth. Strain and remove any pieces. Using a whisk, slowly stream in grapeseed oil. (Sauce can be made ahead and reheated.)
3. Heat about 1/4 inch of canola oil in a high-sided pan over medium-high heat until it reaches about 350 degrees. Fry wings, turning regularly until golden brown and heated through. Remove from oil and let drain on paper towels. Toss with sauce and butter. Garnish with scallions. Serve immediately.
- Adapted from R2L
Per serving: 757 calories, 57 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 grams sugar, 55 grams fat, 179 milligrams cholesterol, 1590 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
Contact staff writer Ashley Primis at 215-854-2244, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ashleyprimis on Twitter.