How to make the best wings at home — no fryer needed

Here are Sohla Sohla El-Waylly's saucy secrets to oven-roasted chicken

Published February 6, 2021 5:26PM (EST)

Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Mark Weinberg / Food52)
Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Mark Weinberg / Food52)

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Every month, in Off-Script With Sohla, pro chef and flavor whisperer Sohla El-Waylly will introduce you to a must-know cooking technique — and then teach you how to detour it toward new adventures.

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I'm the luckiest girl in the world because when we roast a chicken, my husband lets me eat both wings. With the ideal ratio of skin to meat, wings are flavorful, forgiving, and always ready to take on big flavors. And who can forget those bonus bits of crunchy cartilage?

Roasting wings takes time but, aside from a couple of flippy flips and toss-y tosses, my method is mostly hands-off. Today I'll show you all my tips and tricks for tender, juicy chicken wings with glassy, sticky skin — and how to take your next batch off-script.

What's a chicken wing, anyways?

A whole chicken wing has three parts: drumette, flat (aka wingette), and wingtip. Wings aren't white or dark meat, but rather a hybrid of the two. The drumette is attached to the breast, so the meat there is leaner. The flat (my favorite) has much more skin, connective tissue, and rich flavor. The tip is mostly bone and skin, best saved in the freezer for chicken stock (or tossed in your next pot of rice for extra flavor).

If you purchased your wings whole, use a sharp knife to cut through the joints and separate the three parts. This allows the wings to cook evenly and render out more fat — and it's ultimately easier to eat and share.

Now, if you cook these different chicken parts straight from the package, it's easy for the drumettes to get overcooked and dried-out while the flats remain flabby. Luckily, all it takes is a simple brine to bring out the best of both parts of the wing.

Let the brine do the time

I've brought up dry-brining before (in my one-skillet chicken and rice!) because it's the simplest way to guarantee moist, flavorful meat every time.

Here, I toss the wings in a mixture of kosher salt, granulated sugar, baking powder, and MSG. Next, I space out the wings on a wire rack, flipping them once during brining, so I end up 360 degrees of dryness (which means better browning later).

The dry brine draws moisture from the meat to create a solution on the surface that's then pulled back in, drying out the skin, seasoning the meat, denaturing the proteins, and breaking down the fat. All of this happens when you just let the dry brine do its thing.

It takes time — at least six hours but preferably 24 — to make culinary magic happen. The sugar and MSG add flavor to the wings, so you can leave them out if you prefer. But the salt and baking powder transform them: Salt tenderizes and seasons the meat. It also breaks down the fat, so it renders faster and more evenly in the oven. Meaning you can cook the drumettes and flats at the same temperature, for the same amount of time, and still get the best out of both.

Adding baking powder is a trick I learned from J. Kenji Lopez Alt. He found that this ingredient encourages the development of microbubbles on the wing's surface. That craggy exterior holds on to sauce tighter, just like ridged pasta, and results in skin with a delicate crisp.

Start slow and not-so low

After they brine, I roast the wings at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, flipping once during cooking, until the meat pulls away from the bone. This takes about an hour, which allows all the connective tissue to break down while being basted in melting fat. The dry brine keeps the meat moist despite the long cook time, so all the fat can render out and there's no flabby skin. A moderate temperature also ensures that the fat doesn't get too hot and smoke up your kitchen.

Get glossy and saucy

While those bake, I stir up a simple sauce. Here are the big components:

  • Sweetness caramelizes during the second roast, yielding sticky wings. In my fish sauce wings, this is palm sugar or granulated sugar. In my pomegranate wings, it's pomegranate molasses and granulated sugar. Other great picks: maple, honey, brown sugar.
  • Spice cuts through all the schmaltzy richness. You could try slivered Thai chiles as in my fish sauce wings. Or take a cue from the pomegranate wings with pops of cracked black pepper. Or detour toward Calabrian chiles, pickled jalapeños, or gochujang.
  • Acidity balances out all the big flavors. Lime juice levels out the funk and heat. Pomegranate molasses offers a one-two punch of sweet and tart. More acids to play with: rice wine vinegar, hot sauce, or tamarind.

Turn up the heat

I tumble the wings in the sauce before roasting — again — this time at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. By now, the chicken is fully cooked, so the second roast is about creating texture. The sauce reduces on the wing, growing sticky, lightly charred, and caramelized.

Suppose you want to try this method with the classic hot sauce–butter combo? Dose with that mixture after the second roast. Unsweetened sauces will only make the wings soggy unless they're added right before serving.

Add some crunch

An oven-roasted wing will never have the same crispy, crackly skin as one blistered in a deep fryer. But that doesn't mean we have to skip out on the crunch! That sticky glaze is ready to catch toppings, so sprinkle on a final flourish and give the wings — and the people — what they want!

I like to shower fish sauce wings with roasted peanuts and pomegranate wings with toasted walnuts, but anything crisp can up your wing game. Try broken pretzels on honey mustard wings, blitzed BBQ potato chips on brown sugar chipotle wings, or crushed corn nuts on maple miso wings.

There are countless ways to cook a wing — that's why I enjoy playing with them. Now that you've gotten to know my method, I hope you feel empowered to try your own combos and take my recipe off-script.

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Appetizers Chicken Chicken Wings Food Food52 How-to Sohla El-waylly