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How to make chicken wings — fried, air-fried or baked — with sauces to match

(Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Marie Ostrosky for The Washington Post)
(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Marie Ostrosky for The Washington Post)
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Served whole or cut into sections; deep-fried (battered or naked), air-fried, baked or grilled; flavored with any of myriad sauces and/or spice blends — chicken wings have range.

Ask any connoisseur of this poultry part about their ideal wing, and you’ll get an assortment of answers as to the “right” way to prepare them. Whether you count yourself in that group and want tips to enhance your tried-and-true method or you are looking to join the wing club for the first time, here are three indoor cooking methods and an equal number of sauces that you can mix and match as a starting point on the road to wing heaven.

Choose your wing or alternative

The wing process begins with purchasing. If possible, buy air-chilled chicken because there is less moisture, which means crispier skin. You should still pat them with paper towels to get them as dry as possible before seasoning and cooking, but air-chilled poultry means you’ll create less waste.

Winning Super Bowl party recipes for dips, wings, chili and all the game-day essentials

Unfortunately, the beloved ingredient might be out of reach for some. The chicken wing shortage we faced last year just ahead of the Super Bowl caused by interruptions in the supply chain continues to create grocery shortages. In that case, there are still options to enjoy your favorite wing sauces without having to drink them straight.

Whole wings vs. sections. The wing recipes here call for them cut into sections — flats and drumettes — which you can buy prefabricated or cut yourself. (It’s up to you if you want to leave the tip attached to the flat or save it for another use, such as stock.) Alternatively, you can leave the wings whole; they might be easier to find that way and don’t require extra prep.

Other parts of the chicken. Drumsticks and thighs are an option for those who can’t procure wings. Even chicken chain Wingstop — where “wing” is literally part of the name — embraced thighs following the price increase of its namesake product. The one thing to note with dark meat is that it will likely take longer, depending on the method, to cook them.

Vegetarian and vegan alternatives. For all of the non-meat-eaters of the world, you can experiment with cauliflower florets, tofu or plant-based nuggets instead.

Choose your cooking style

This decision depends on the amount of time and effort you want to dedicate to the process and the desired level of crispiness. Each of the following methods has its pros and cons.

Bake. Low in effort but requiring an investment in time, baking can give you crispy wings with the help of a little science and baking powder. The technique, which we’ve written about before, was popularized by J. Kenji López-Alt in an article for Serious Eats. He later recommended adding cornstarch into the mix for even more crispiness, which you are certainly welcome to do, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results I achieved without it. However, if crispiness is truly what you’re after, let them rest in the refrigerator overnight before baking, for maximum crunch.

Make the recipe: Lemon Pepper Chicken Wings

Deep-fry. Though it’s perhaps considered blasphemous when it comes to wings, if you’re going to deep-fry chicken, it should be breaded. A coating of potato starch (or cornstarch if that’s all you have) and two trips to the fryer are the keys to creating the crispiest wings I’ve ever made — and I’ve fried a lot of chicken in my lifetime. Make sure to let them rest for at least 5 minutes between frying sessions to get rid of as much moisture as possible and end up with crunchy, craggy skin that will hold up much better when sauced than chicken that has been fried only once. The main downside to this method is the effort required to fry all of the wings and then deal with the leftover oil.

Make the recipe: Buffalo Wings

Air-fry. I don’t own an air fryer, but people really love them for ease and convenience. And if I were to ever find myself in possession of one, chicken wings are at the top of the list of dishes I’d make. Similar to the techniques above, this method, adapted from Tanya Harris’s My Forking Life blog, calls for a pure starch (cornstarch in this instance) to help create a crisp exterior (though not the crispiest of the three options). However, it’s quicker than baking and neater than deep-frying — a win-win.

Make the recipe: Air Fryer Korean-Style Chicken Wings

Choose your sauce

This is where things get interesting. Sure, you could buy a bottle of your favorite barbecue (or other) sauce and call it a day, but the possibilities are practically limitless when it comes to flavor combinations. Here are three sauce options, or you could let your imagination run wild! (And if saucy wings aren’t your thing, another option is to toss the chicken with a spice blend once cooked — sazón chicken wings, anyone?)

Buffalo sauce. This is a classic for a reason. Sure, you could grab a premixed bottle of sauce from the store, but it’s just as simple to make at home by mixing Cajun pepper sauce and butter (which is often a component of wing sauces). Making Buffalo sauce from scratch comes with the bonus that you can adjust it to your liking by adding some honey or molasses to balance the heat, or by seasoning it with your favorite spices.

Get the recipe: Buffalo wing sauce

Gochujang-honey sauce. This Korean-style sauce stars gochujang, a fermented pepper paste that’s fairly mild, savory and has a hint of sweetness. (It’s a favorite condiment of mine.) Honey and brown sugar help bring the sauce squarely into the sweet category, while soy sauce, garlic and ginger provide added complexity and dimension. Wings tossed in this sauce will leave you with sticky fingers that you’ll be more than happy to lick clean.

Get the recipe: Gochujang-honey wing sauce

Lemon-pepper sauce. Consisting of just three ingredients (not including salt), this lemon-pepper butter sauce would go great on anything. Black pepper is the standard, but a blend of peppercorns (black, white, pink and/or green) adds intrigue. Regardless of what kind of pepper you choose, grind it yourself for maximum flavor, and feel free to increase the amount called for in the recipe for extra kick.

Get the recipe: Lemon pepper wing sauce

However you choose to cook and flavor your chicken wings, just make sure to serve them hot and fresh for maximum enjoyment. A container of ranch or blue cheese dressing on the side for dipping is always welcome, and throw in a few celery sticks or carrots to make it a meal.

More wing recipes to try from Voraciously:

Chicken Wings With Shishito Peppers

La Brea Tar Pit Chicken Wings

Irresistible Wings

Crème Fraîche Chicken Wings

Peppery Chicken Wings

Joan’s Chicken Wings