The Best Wings in Every State in America
The chicken wing is the perfect storm of American snacking ingenuity, a bar food forged from the ideal that, no, we will not relegate the flapping appendages of a flightless bird to a stock pot. We will, in fact, put them in a fryer and feed them to the teeming masses that like their meat tender and their hands messy.
It's a food so delicious that Sir Paul McCartney named his post-Beatles band after it (source needed). But who makes the best versions of this delicious staple of bars across the country? Well. Let us tell you. These are the best wings in every one of these United States. Some are in tiny Korean restaurants. Some are in dive bars and high-end eateries. But they're all guaranteed to leave you with dirty fingers and a very happy belly. Bring a towelette.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q
The four generations of family behind Big Bob Gibson's take their barbecue as seriously as Alabama jewel Nick Saban takes his football. And with 10 world championships, the Big Bob Gibson Competition Cooking team -- formed specifically for BBQ-battling purposes -- has earned the place its rep as one of America's best BBQ joints. That signature smoked chicken with white sauce, then, makes it very, very easy to overlook Bob's excellent smoked wings. Giant, crispy, and available in sticky piles of five, 10, 20, or 40, they serve as the perfect vehicle for the rest of Gibson's blue-ribbon barbecue sauces and come tossed in your choice of mild or spicy. Obviously, they're perfect for tailgating, as is the 'Bama way. But they're just as good if you just, you know, eat them in the parking lot before you take a full platter of the other stuff home.
Alaska isn't exactly known for its wings. Probably because fish -- even the flying ones -- don't have any. But Winky's has local carnivores' needs covered with a diverse menu featuring cheesesteaks, gyros, Cajun food, and the real star of the show: the short-and-sweet selection of flavor-packed wings. Boneless (no!) or bone-in (yep!), they're pure comfort in their familiarity, with sauces running the gamut from garlic Parmesan to teriyaki, BBQ, lemon pepper, and Buffalo. Hot and crispy as hell, the deep-fried wings are available in heat grades ranging from an everyman's mild to the tongue-scorching Inferno option, which is totally the second-most enjoyable way to warm up during a brutal Alaskan winter. You don't want to know the first way.
Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon and the honey hot wings from Teakwoods Tavern – the, um, Grand Canyon of flavor. OK, maybe not quite, but the wings are damn good. The joint self-identifies as a casual neighborhood bar and grill, but the wing selection is anything but casual. There are 12 options -- including cactus-flavored wings made with a prickly pear sauce -- but make a beeline straight for an order of the Honey Hots. The deep-fried wings are coated in a sticky-sweet sauce loaded with honey but also plenty of heat. No, seriously. Teakwoods warns on its menu to order them at your own risk, but the only real risk is that you won't be able to stop eating.
While the pies might be the namesake of this Rogers-based eatery, the wings -- as an appetizer or a meaty main course -- are the delicious draw, and are available in Parmesan marinara, Louisiana Hot Sauce, alfredo, garlic Parm, spicy BBQ, and Thai flavors. The Rail also offers a token tongue-scorching option for the masochists among us, the hallmark of any wing joint worth its crispy skin. This particular brand of pain is called Bring the Rain, and the while the menu instructs you to ask your waiter about it, watching this kid take the taste bullet (video involves a lot of sweating, moaning, and the repetition of the phrase "This is so bad!") might be warning enough. Godspeed! And maybe go garlic Parm.
San Francisco's Sunset neighborhood is thronged with nondescript casual Chinese joints, but do not --repeat, do not -- accept any substitutes for San Tung, even if the lunch and dinner lines looks daunting. There's a damn good reason that people queue up, and while the noodles are all fine and dandy, the wings are the draw. You can get them swimming in the sweet-and-spicy signature sauce loaded up with peppers and shoots, but don't. Get them dry. The batter that encases the wings gives a satisfying crunch as a precursor to the immaculately tender meat inside, and it all comes together in a beautiful symphony of ginger and garlic. When you've got a wing this well-honed, sauce is merely a distraction. You didn't wait in line for sauce, after all.
The best wings are not typically found in fine-dining restaurants. But when fancy-as-heck ChoLon opened in Denver, its SE Asian-inspired wings were a hit. It's an odd sensation to have sticky hands at a nice dinner, so it didn't last. A few years later, chef/co-owner Lon Symensma opened a more casual sister restaurant called Cho77 with a friend. It was the kind of restaurant where wings could… fly. (Sorry.) There, Symensma's pal/exec chef/co-owner Ryan Gorby was inspired to create a Vietnamese version of everyone's favorite bar snack based on the fish sauce-doused version that's typically served in a clay pot. First, it's a large confit wing (one where the drumstick and wing are connected) that's transferred to the grill to get a fantastic char flavor before getting that caramel fish sauce. It's a sweet, savory wing with burnt sugar, caramel, fish sauce, and chili powder all commingled. And the best news is that after you're done finishing off a plate of these, you'll be in a place where it's not weird to wipe your hands on your pants.
The dirt on J. Timothy's is dirt. Dirt Wings, specifically. That's what this Connecticut institution calls its signature fried-sauced-fried-again preparation, allegedly named after the oldest player on a softball team of bar regulars. The result is delicious: That double-deep-fried shell finishes a few shades darker than hot-sauce orange and delivers super-crisp bites. The dirtying process puts sauce into the fryer, which mucks it up and necessitates frequent oil changes, so you know you're getting the good stuff. Timothy's was founded in 1985, but the building it's in was built in 1789, so it's pretty much as old as dirt, too.
In 2004, before they owned two successful restaurants, the two fat guys behind 2 Fat Guys ran a catering company. Back then, they knew burgers, ribs, and wings were the staples. They still are. But to stand out in a state where popular chain Wings To Go got its start, you gotta do things a little differently. Case in point: One of its most popular wing sauces is the Triple Threat -- a combo of bourbon BBQ, poached pear, and mild. About that unique poached pear sauce: It's scratch-made by, you guessed it, poaching pears, emulsifying them, and mixing with the restaurant's BBQ sauce. Another bestseller is the PB&J sauce with peanut butter, grape jelly, and BBQ sauce, which is essentially school lunch on a wing! Regulars know to ask for the special sauce of the day, as they're often wild ideas for wings that sound like they could fail miserably in the wrong hands. They don't! One winner featured regularly on Valentine's Day is Vampire's Blood, made with cinnamon Red Hots candy and Atomic Fireballs. But one stand-out wing that pops up as a special frequently is the Yuengwing, made with, yup, Yuengling. It's all the flavor of that classic lager without having to get up to go to the fridge and open one. No surprise that it'll likely be promoted to a regular menu item soon.
Though every dude who moves to South Beach for a winter and changes his Facebook hometown to "Miami" claims to be a 305 local, no one can truly claim that title until they've spent an entire Sunday crushing wings at Sports Grill. Each of the upscale sports bar's seven locations serves up these South Dade staples that are flame-grilled and THEN fried, giving the little fall-off-the-bone suckers a savory flavor unmatched anywhere in South Florida. The must-order sauce is the sweet-and-spicy Dale sauce, an addictive flavor combination of chilies and barbecue sauce named after a longtime Sports Grill regular named Dale (though most would assume it's pronounced "DAH-lay," after Mr. 305 himself).
In 1982 a guy named Paul Juliano opened a rickety chicken wing joint in Midtown Atlanta, not far from Georgia Tech. He named it J.R. Crickets, and like any true visionary would, he branded it with a logo of an upright Caucasian peanut pretending to be a cricket in a tux jacket and no pants. Thirty-five years later Juliano's crispy-fried wings are the stuff of legend, having earned (no pun intended) a mention on Donald Glover's Atlanta for a mythical flavor called "lemon pepper wet." The classic Buffalo are unfailing, the fries are nice and salty without overkill. The skin holds up to the sauces, whether it's the thick BBQ, wet teriyaki, or lemon pepper dry (rubbed). Sure, you might find wings you like anywhere in Georgia, but it’s hard to say that anybody in this state has done it better.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think Hale Vietnam's absolutely enormous chicken wings were chicken tenders. This wing was inspired by a dish the chef had in Vietnam, and ever since '86 the kitchen's been frying 'em up. First, the big-ass wing is deboned and stuffed with ground pork, vegetables like carrots and onions, and long-grain rice. Then it's lightly breaded in panko and deep-fried, and finally served with fish sauce. You can also ask for a Vietnamese peanut sauce. And because you're going to want a beer with these wings (and a bowl of pho, if you're smart), you could have a Tsingtao or Singha. But our recommendation is to go local and order a Kona Longboard -- a beer brewed on the Big Island, a mere seven miles away.
Idaho isn't exactly synonymous with chicken wings, let alone ultra-swank Latin-fusion restaurants. So it's kind of crazy-surprising that the best wings in the state aren't served in a basket as an afterthought at a cowboy bar, but rather on a board with a tiny little hibachi grill. That's right. Taken on their own, the tender, plump wings are remarkably balanced in their sweet/spicy pop. But get frisky with that mug-sized grill, and you can make them your own. Add a little smoke. Or a lot of char. Or let the sauce caramelize and melt into the skin, creating extra crunch. Just don't, you know, put them on then get up to go the bathroom. Burning these things is a crime against all that is delicious.
The satisfying skin on the Korean-inspired, double-fried wings at this tiny temple to the art of fried poultry has managed to win over even the most ardent Buffalo wing devotees. Actually, Buffalo fans are still in luck at this modest North Side counter-service joint, as the wing sauce it employs from legendary hot dog stand Budacki's is reliably on point. That said, you'd really be missing out if you passed over their BBQ, kind of a hybrid American-Korean style amped up with red chili paste (they'll happily turn up the spice factor if you ask). The milder ginger-garlic-soy Seoul Sassy is also a must-order, and not just because it's super-fun to say. Fortunately this place is accustomed to mixed orders for the decision-challenged.
No disrespect to the quality of its beer list, but this Indianapolis favorite might want to update its name to the Ale & Wing Emporium given the reverence Hoosiers express for the wing artistry here. With a wood-paneled, brass-railed neighborhood vibe, the place is a prime spot for live music and sports. But the chicken steals the most attention. While it has a sizable arsenal of your standard sauce options and heat levels, you're getting the Hermanaki wings -- a closely guarded secret recipe named for the owner that involves an addictive dry rub and a finishing stint on the grill following the fryer. Sometimes when an establishment touts a dish as "world famous" it induces skepticism. These will make you a believer.
The ribs may be the namesake specialty at this beloved Iowa City smokehouse, but unlike some of its barbecue brethren, Jimmy Jack's really does its wings justice. The assorted tools and farm implements decking the brick-red walls let you know you're about to do some work with your hands, though not involving an ax (hopefully). First thoroughly coated in the house rub before a 2.5-hour smoking session over hickory wood, they're then placed on standby until they're fried to order and sauced up. The original sauce packs just the right balance of sweet, heat, and vinegar to make for the optimal pairing among the quartet of BBQ-centric sauce options, but it also offers a Buffalo option spiced to your liking, which marries nicely with the smoke for an upgrade over your standard hot wing.
Hot Basil doesn't necessarily look like an establishment where you'd be driven to go primal on a plate of wings, what with the white tablecloths, soothing green hues, and delicate floral prints. But all concerns about decorum go out the window when you’re confronted with a plate of wings at this family-run Thai restaurant. The perpetually in-demand wings are a family recipe that starts with a trip to the deep fryer before getting tossed to the wok, where they're finished in a sauce deep with garlic, Thai basil (naturally), and a hit of Sriracha. The visible flecks of basil make you feel like you can pretty much count it as a salad, though you're more likely to be thinking about whether it'd look weird to put in a second order. It won't. Just do it.
Top Chef vet Edward Lee’s made quite the name for himself with his seamless melding of Southern and Asian flavors, and you probably shouldn’t pass through Louisville without enjoying some of his food. May we recommend the wings at MilkWood, the still-sleek but more casual sibling to his much-acclaimed 610 Magnolia? You'll spot an array of animal skulls and antlers adorning the white brick walls, but soon enough the only animal remnants capturing your attention will be chicken wings stripped of every morsel of meat as you wonder what just happened? Here's what happened: They were tenderly smoked before getting crisped up and tossed in some chili-lime sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions, drizzled with Alabama white BBQ sauce, and brought to your table where you tore through them like a maniac. Nice work.
Last year, tiny 25-seat pan-Asian/southern fine-dining spot Kin ditched the fancy stuff and dedicated its open kitchen to atypical ramen incorporating everything from oxtail to crawdads. Chefs Hieu Than and Nate Nguyen also decided to celebrate the glories of the chicken wing with two different variations that change daily under the banner of General Meow's chicken wings. They could be honey-coated and flecked with rosemary, shimmering with garlic and chilies, or kicked up with traditional five spice. The only thing you can expect -- aside from a line -- is that the wings will have a crispy skin, tender meat, and explosive flavors. Order both offerings. Maybe two of each.
This typically crowded and comfortably no-frills neighborhood spot offers patio seating and an extensive menu featuring every type of bar snack you can imagine. That said, don't be seduced by the nachos or caught up in the sweet siren song of the calzone, because, despite the inherent tastiness of both, the wings are the reason you're here. The offering is mostly straightforward -- served naked or tossed in Buffalo, sweet Thai chili, or BBQ sauce -- but if you want to do it big, opt for the twice-fried Dirty wings, one of the most rightfully raved-about menu items. For the full experience, we recommend putting on something with an elastic waistband and swinging by on Wednesday or Thursday night when the wings are only 50 cents each from 5 'til close. Just remember that Samuel’s is open until 1am, so, uh, pace yourself accordingly.
Let's just get this out of the way -- of course a huge, 170-plus-seat, wood-paneled neighborhood tavern in Baltimore sells Old Bay wings. And of course its customers pair those wings with Natty Boh and Heavy Seas beers. But that's obvious: It's like telling someone from Maryland that Cal Ripken played a couple games in a row for the O's. Duh. What might not be obvious is that Kisling's has been churning out its wings for 20+ years on the back of an owner who cooked up its original, mildly spicy wing sauce that's so popular he started bottling it. It's hot but still enjoyable, so there's no need to cry for your mom and drink a gallon of milk. You can also go straight-up Buffalo with the sauce, or opt for the honey Old Bay sauce, which builds on the classic crab seasoning with a hit of honey to sweeten the proceedings, all while retaining those delicious flavors from the Old Bay. If you're one of those people who doesn't know what the hell a Cal Ripken is, Old Bay is made mostly of red pepper flakes, paprika, and celery salt. And it's damn good on wings.
Fans of classic Buffalo-style chicken wings won't be disappointed with the canonical version at this wood-paneled watering hole plastered with sports memorabilia and even more plastered BC students. Buff's slings the best in the state. But the right move here is the joint's Honey Hots. Like the Buffalo style, they are fried until juicy and crisp-tender, then doused in Frank's RedHot. Instead of the traditional butter, they are laced with honey (duh), giving the clunkers a sticky sweet-spicy glaze. Just the right thing to tear into in sweatpants while watching Tom "I never eat sugar" Brady throw touchdown passes into his 80s.
A Bricktown institution housed in one of the Motor City's oldest buildings (well, at least the original location is… it's got four now), Sweetwater ditches the practice of offering a bajillion different sauce options to specialize in only one, and it's frankly heralded as Michigan's best wing. Using meat straight from the Eastern Market, each wing takes a 24-hour bath in a top-secret sauce before getting dredged in spices and fried. They arrive at your table wet but not too saucy, with spice, salt, and vinegar permeating every bite. It's Detroit soul and BBQ at its finest, an institution built on the power of the wing that also happens to be one of Motown's finest classic bars.
Now, the Monte Caaaarlo might sound like the kind of joint that serves its wings boneless, stuffed with foie, and sprinkled with gold dust, a folded cloth napkin on the side, but of course. But at this landmark chophouse, a North Loop fixture since 1906, the only fussiness with its beloved dry-rubbed Beijing wings is the expertly balanced, 18-ingredient secret spice mixture. Tucked in a decidedly unfancy paper napkin-lined woven basket, the righteously crackling-crispy wings -- dry-rubbed, fried, and then dusted in more spice mixture -- betray hints of cinnamon, cumin, onion powder, and celery salt. Beats lame, upright-pinky resort food any day of the week.
You'd be forgiven for seeing some red flags when approaching American Wings & Cafe. It's got a strip-mall look that seems better suited for a joint that sells pre-paid cellphones, which are admittedly not delicious. It's lit like a hospital (though a hospital that smells like fried food). And it's got one of those menus that features everything from cheesesteaks to shrimp and gyros. Indeed, those items are questionable. But what is unquestioned is the dominance of these old-school wings. On first inspection, they look like any old chicken wings you'd see in a bar. And yet the secret here is in the sauces, which are house-made. That includes teriyaki/garlic pepper and garlic Parm in addition to lemon pepper BBQ and an incendiary hot sauce that's like Frank's way funner cousin. It might just be among the best in Mississippi. And Mississippi isn’t exactly sleeping on the hot sauce game, either.
All too often poultry is the forgotten stepchild of the BBQ menu, but if you did a good job learning your animal sounds as a child you probably guessed that isn't the case at Gobble STOP Smokehouse. OK, fine, "gobble" is turkey and "cluck" is chicken, but whatever. Point is this place really does right by birds. Owner DeMarco Howard doesn’t even offer pork at his strip-mall shop outside St. Louis. What he DOES offer is some seriously addictive chicken wings among many other fine poultry options, dry-rubbed before a date with some smoldering hickory wood that leaves them with the kind of smoky juiciness that'll make you glad you have those slices of bread to make sure nothing's left behind.
While this old-school Missoula spot sort of resembles a log cabin from the outside, the interior is jam-packed with 32 HD TVs, making it the perfect spot to post up and watch the game… every game. And the best fuel for your fanaticism is, of course, the self-proclaimed King of Wings' specialty. Grab a cold beer and a pile of the meaty, crispy-skinned Buffalo-style wings that earned this bar the best-wings-in-town crown several years running. Just keep in mind when ordering that Despo's takes the "hot" part of hot wings pretty seriously, so you shouldn't be that ashamed if you play it safe with the Sissy Sauce… We hear the Tavern is totally a no-judgment zone. Sissy.
While the phrase "char-buffed" might sound like the name of tanning salon for overly muscular bros, it's actually the technique used to cook the best chicken wings in Nebraska. At West Omaha's Oscar's, the kitchen fries each wing, dips it in sauce, and grills it until, well, it develops a nice char. It's all in the name, ya know? And if you like your wings extra saucy to the point where you have no choice but to use your shirt as a napkin, ask for them double-dipped. The wings will get another sauce bath after a stint on the grill. And if you really like to live life on the spicy-and-saucy edge, get your order made with Oscar's Kujo sauce, which is just a fancy way of saying "really insanely hot" and has nothing to do with early Stephen King cocaine allegories.
Lots of places have a ton of different sauce options. So what makes this little joint inside the big-ass Shooters Bar & Grill so special, outside of the fact that it's a handy place to eat away your sorrow from losing your kid's college fund on a bad hand of blackjack? The 80 sauces bathing your classic bar-style wings are outstanding. You can go dry with a brown sugar/bourbon rub or one that approximates Cool Ranch Doritos, spicy with everything from curry to jerk (plus Hell Wings, which have a legendary challenge attached to them), or weirdly delicious with a sauce that tastes pretty damn close to strawberry cheesecake with a kick. Even better? This is also the home of pig wings, which are bone-in ham shanks dropped into a fryer for a nice crispy porksplosion. Get them with apple BBQ. That just makes sense… or at least as much sense as pig wings allows.
You might think of New Hampshire as more of a swing state than a wing state, but as New England's only wing butchery, Wing-Itz takes fresh to another level: Every wing is guaranteed to have been cut right off the bird that day. The Portsmouth restaurant has an impressive 30-sauce roster that runs the gamut from sweet to spicy, and no matter how you prefer your hand-breaded wings, we recommend getting them Southern-style for an extra crunch. If you must go boneless, go home… Or get those suckers in wrap or sub form, both of which offer a delicious bread barrier between your fingers and any sticky sauces. And if you're a fan of the fork, you can even get 'em tossed in a salad… though, let's be real, that kinda defeats the whole point.
Despite being closed for the entirety of winter (one of the only downfalls of running a business in the beautiful shore town of Beach Haven), New Jersey's overall wing king is certainly The Chicken or the Egg, most commonly referred to simply as "Chegg" by locals. It opened on Memorial Day weekend -- the official launch of summer on the Jersey Shore -- in 1991, and hasn't really slowed down since. It offers up 16 varieties of sauces, though you'll probably want to try the Ludicrous (as in ludicrously hot) or the spicy honey mash-up of the Killer Bee Sting sauce. The wings are way bigger than your standard offerings and juicy as hell. Oh yeah, and it's open 24/7 in the summer. Which is perfect, because wings are a suitable meal at literally any time. They're as much a part of Jersey Shore culture as the dude who punched Snookie.
With its Tex-Mex aesthetic and checkered tablecloths, the Cowgirl looks like a theme-park version of the kind of bar that Patrick Swayze might be fighting at in the big roadhouse in the sky (RIP, good sir). But the Southern-style BBQ joint proves you don’t have to be Texan to do everything bigger. Case in point, the honkin' wings, which contain a light smoke, crispy skin, and a hell of a lot of heat, even if you get the straight-up house style. You can also go jerk, but come on. Cowgirl up and go with the Wings of Fire, which are tossed in a fiery habanero-based salsa diablo that might be manageable for the weak of heart(burn) were they not so friggin' big. Lucky for you, it also has great margaritas, and you can catch some live country music as you recover. Hell, that's what Dalton would do. Remember: Pain don't hurt.
Oh, you want wings? Well there's not really a better place to go in New York State -- or the entire world, for that matter -- than the Buffalo restaurant where wings as most bars know them were invented. Yes, this is ground zero. It goes like this: On March 4, 1964, Dominic Bellissimo was tending bar at Anchor, his family's restaurant. When a few of his friends stumbled in after a night of libations demanding something to sate their drunched-up appetites, Dominic's doting mother Teressa fried up the wings of a chicken (normally used for stock), then covered them in an impromptu, incredibly hot sauce, and served them up… to rave reviews (obviously). Thus, the first late-night wing moment happened -- and from there, Teressa's creation spread to bars across the nation. Luckily for us in the 21st century, you can still count on an otherworldly spread of wings at Anchor Bar. It even continues to use Teressa's secret sauce, alongside seven new iterations. Sometimes "first" isn't necessarily the best. This is not one of those times.
Despite being open just under a year, Seoul Food Meat Co. has become Charlotte's go-to spot for wings. And they are a refreshing -- if not incredibly hot -- break from the traditional trappings of wing joints, with Southern BBQ and Korean traditions buddying up. The wings are double-fried with a fine, succulent crust that falls apart (in a good way) as soon as you bite into it. These suckers will melt in your mouth. There are only two flavors here: soy garlic and spicy BBQ. Get a split order of the enormous, crispy suckers. Just know that those Korean spices mixed with BBQ flavors are as hot as they are delicious. And they're pretty damn delicious.
Motorcycle-themed Sickies also serves up the best damn burger in NoDak, so we were a little hesitant to also bequeath upon the joint (which, at 50 taps, is also a formidable beer bar) the honor of the Roughrider State's best wings. Actually, no we weren't. Because these suckers are delicious and infinitely customizable. They're traditional pub-style wings at their core, but it's what you do with them that matters. Rubs range from mango habanero to Sriracha, while things really get amped up in the sauces, which include boozy variations like Jameson and Fireball and the ghost pepper-spiked Hells Fury. Go with that one and you're gonna be pretty stoked about that big-ass beer list.
Fat Head's is one of the best breweries in Ohio (and now Oregon and Pennsylvania), and the joint really makes good on its name, offering gigantic sandwiches to pair with Hop JuJu that would make even the most ardent CrossFit trainer grow jowls. Carrying on with that unpleasant joke, the wings, too, seem cut from a hyper-steroidal chicken with a serious addiction to the gym. They're big, is what we're saying. And smoked. And tossed in a special salty/spicy dry rub before getting tossed in sauce. We recommend the tangy/fun-to-say bumble berry, though you'd be a dumbass to not get at least one in garlic Parm. The price point is a little deceptive, too. At $6 for three, it sounds a little expensive. Then you pull a muscle lifting the plate, and those concerns will be gone. Again, they're big is what we're saying.
Established in the nation's capital, Wing Supreme eventually made the move from DC to OKC, and took its secret blend of 11 spices with it. The restaurant's wing savants don't miss any opportunity to add flavor throughout the preparation process, and take an inside-out approach, frying the flavor into the wing itself rather than just slapping some sauce on afterwards. There are 16 sauce options, among them the standout Cajun and Honey Love. Regardless of what you get, they’ll be crisp and piping-hot. Whether you have the willpower to wait for them to cool, however, is between you and the burn ward.
Chef Andy Ricker helped put PDX on the food map by introducing the masses to Northern Thai food. He toured Thailand with Bourdain, and even starred in his own documentary. But most importantly, he unleashed upon America Ike's Fish Sauce Wings. Prepped using a recipe from a Vietnamese street vendor, they laid the foundation for Pok Pok's expansion to New York and LA and even led the chef to open a wings-only outpost in Portland. They're basically meat candy. Giant, full-wing meat candy. After marinating in fish sauce and sugar, these Vietnamese wings get a dose of garlic after the fry, coating the crispy, caramelized skin with an explosion of flavor unlike anything you've ever had. Get them with a frozen jelly beer or Pok Pok's signature tamarind whiskey sour, and don't plan on sharing with the rest of the table.
This Philadelphia pub might share a name with Sherlock Holmes' arch-nemesis (asshole!), but trust us, this establishment is way more a friend than a foe. This classic Irish drinking hole knows how to pour a pint of Guinness and make some of the goddamn tastiest wings in America. Moriarty's epitomizes less is more and only has one seriously unfussy wing option on the menu. The chicken is deep-fried and tossed in a tangy sauce made with plenty of Frank's which generously coats the enormous Buffalo-style beauts. Boom. Simple perfection. It might sound straightforward, but trust us, the reason why Moriarty's keeps winning awards for its wings comes down to more than just the luck of the Irish. Also, can we talk about that Sherlock finale???
A Kickstarter success story, Boneheads was started by four friends with zero real restaurant experience who honed the original recipes in their own homes on NFL Sundays. Fast-forward a few years, and the award-winning restaurant now pumps out 1 ton of extra-crispy wings every week and boasts 56 wet sauces and 25 dry rubs -- plus unique quarterly releases -- in both conventional flavors and more unusual options (peanut butter/Fluff, for instance). The restaurant's rock 'n' roll theme is not only reflected in the decor -- which features autographed memorabilia, concert posters, and famous guitar signs -- but on the menu, where each sauce is cleverly named for a song. For a cranberry-habanero kick, try Zombie; Pump Up the Jam with the PB&J flavor; or opt for a bestseller like the maple-bacon magic that is Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which tastes like the most important meal of the day slapped onto a wing. Or maybe just hit shuffle on your iPod and order accordingly.
With its five locations, you don't have to travel too far across the state to find one of these outposts, which is good news, as the restaurant's wings have been voted the best in multiple cities. Now for the method to the delicious madness: Both the certified jumbo and the bite-sized boneless wings start off in the fryer before being transferred to the pan, where they're sautéed in one of 24 sauces. These range from the pleasantly mild teriyaki to the significantly hotter Fire Island and all the way up to the oh-my-God-why-would-you-do-this-to-yourself-Greg?!?! Beyond Blistering, which -- at 600,000 Scoville units -- is rated a Weeknd-esque "I can't feel my face!!" on the Carolina Wings heat scale. If you'd like to be able to taste anything in the foreseeable future, maybe pass on the that one.
The Fish is a weird and wonderful town, one where cowboy culture meets college town and that's annually overrun with hundreds of thousands of bikers spilling over from Sturgis. All will find something to love at the this dining hall-style steakhouse, which also happens to enjoy having three-ways with chicken wings. Wait, that sounded bad. What we mean is the wings (bone-in or boneless… never do the latter) are first hickory-smoked, then fried, then sautéed with sauces like Thai chili or chipotle bacon. That means you're basically getting all three classic wing preps, and at a place where you can pair them with a locally sourced steak or chicken-fried bacon. For real. We weren’t joking when we called SoDak underrated as hell.
When you visit Nashville, you go to Prince's or Hattie B's or, these days, even fancier spots like Acme, and you get some type of hot chicken -- that spicy dry-rubbed, battered, and deep-fried poultry that is as synonymous with Music City as cowboy hats and sweltering humidity. But once you've gotten that basic fried bird, move on to Hattie B's platters of mouth-tingling whole wings. After they come out of the deep fryer, the wings bathe in a mixture of oil and a paprika-cayenne-spice explosion. The result? The flavors soak deep into the crispy bird. Order 'em Damn Hot with blue cheese and let your tongue dance with as much of that heat and flavor as you can handle.
The building housing The Tavern turned 100 last year, and the restaurant's sign still proudly advertises air conditioning -- a former luxury that no doubt drew a huge, sweaty crowd during sweltering Austin summers. Now AC is an expectation, but sweaty, hungry Austinites still head in droves to the legendary Downtown bar for daily drink specials, TVs, trivia, and, of course, the unique wings. As The Tavern isn't a wing joint by definition, it doesn't serve standard-issue chicken dredged in your choice of 400 weird flavors. Instead, The Tavern has a singular -- wingular? -- focus that's manifested itself in the "Amazing White Wings" which are wrapped in bacon and jalapeños and covered in house-made hot sauce (there are also traditional Buffalo wings tossed in that sauce, but who are you kidding?). Whether you have to fight the Downtown lunch crowd by day or dodge a whole kickball team's worth of 20-somethings in neon T-shirts by night, these wings are definitely worth it. And, OK, the AC is still pretty nice.
Salt Lake City
In 1999, long before the food truck craze swept the country, the Trolley Wing Company was dippin' and flippin' wings from an old converted trolley car in Salt Lake City. In the 18 years since, it's graduated to a more standard brick-and-mortar setup, but the cooking method -- a unique baked-not-fried technique perfected in the original location -- remains the same. The restaurant's wings are available in bone-in, boneless, veggie, and vegan variations, in four levels of heat, and can be bathed in any combo of 18 available sauces, among them raspberry habanero and the best-selling Jamaican honey garlic. That makes for 4,194,304 possible flavor combinations, and with a new sauce flavor rotating in temporarily each month – previous faves included jalapeño and bourbon peach -- there’s no chance your taste buds will ever get bored.
Contrary to popular belief, not everything you eat in Vermont involves maple syrup. Exhibit A: these chicken wings, which are available in 21 rubs and sauces. While both the hand-breaded boneless chicken bites and chicken tenders share space on the menu, the Essex eatery's house specialty is, of course, the Wicked Wings, for which the chicken is first fried, seasoned, and sauced, and then finished over an open flame. No matter what poultry product you pick, if you opt for "Melt Your Face!" -- the hottest on the five-level heat spectrum -- do yourself a favor and order a hand-spun milkshake on the side. We're pretty sure that levels everything out.
Not only is Mama J's the best spot to snag wings in the Old Dominion state, it's one of the best soul food restaurants in the entire country. J's has been a force in the Richmond food scene since it opened in 2009, when Mama J (Velma Johnson, a born-and-bred Richmond resident) and her eldest son Lester made their long-held desire to open up a soul food joint in the city's historic Jackson Ward neighborhood a spicy-hot reality. And much of their success stems from the restaurant's consistent ability to deliver quality "chicken wingettes" deep-fried to perfection. There aren't a ton of flavors to choose from (two, actually: plain or sauced), but that's part of the beauty here. Above all, they nail that crispy, savory crunch every chicken wing skin needs. Mama J, we could kiss you. But we won't. That would be rude.
You gotta love a lauded chef who sticks with what he loves. Prolific James Beard winner (and actual beard wearer) Tom Douglas clearly loves wings, as the hot pepper ones at his famed Palace Kitchen have long been considered Seattle's best. But he's topped them at his TanakaSan restaurant, where the Asian-inspired wings come in two flavors (salty caramel, serrano & garlic; and smoked chili with kimchee ketchup) and are fried about the same number of times you actually watched Wings: twice. Come on. You thought we were gonna get through this whole list without a shout-out to Steven Weber's glory days?
DC wing devotees rightly hail their outpost of Korean import Bonchon for its excellent Korean-style wings, but those in the know have come to appreciate the attention-demanding chicken achievements coming out of this less flashy Shaw corner joint. You can opt for wings, drums, or a combo -- a flexibility that's much appreciated given the impressive meat quotient found here. But no matter which route you go, you're getting a perfectly fried exterior rich with nooks and crannies for collecting more sauce -- the hot honey spicy is the favorite among the trio available, having been accused unironically of possibly containing narcotics.
Clutch does a different wing special every week, supplementing its normal offerings with outside-the-basket wing flavors like Sriracha sweet chili Buffalo, honey Cholula, and the incendiary Ghost Riders sauced with those spooky peppers and topped with bacon (no Nic Cage, alas). This illustrates the main selling point of this Morgantown chicken joint: creative and rotating flavor combinations spicing up wings of the bone-in, boneless, and even tofu variety. And as Clutch is a delivery and takeout spot, it's the perfect option for those who prefer to enjoy their wings the way nature intended: on the couch, sans pants.
The former owner of this pub describes its wings as an accident -- a successful cooking style discovered when leftover Hooters wings were reheated on a gas grill one spring break. (Note: This is the only good accident in spring break history.) Fast-forward a few decades, and this unique method is what earned Points East's wings bragging rights as Milwaukee's best signature bar food. The 2,200lb of wings cooked up each week make it to your plate courtesy of a three-part process: They're first deep-fried, then dipped in the pub's hand-mixed signature spicy BBQ sauce, (the recipe for which hasn't changed in 22 years), and then finally slow-grilled to fully develop the flavor as the sauce permeates the meat. It's worth warning that wait times can be long (slow-grilled is not just a clever name), but given the impressive craft beer selection at Points East, we imagine you'll be able to entertain yourself. And if you can't, hey, maybe just reheat some Hooters leftovers.
Namesake Elmer Lovejoy was like Wyoming's Henry Ford, having worked tirelessly to make the first horseless carriage west of the Mississippi and the garage-door opener. But more importantly, unlike overrated Henry Ford, his namesake old-timey saloon makes perhaps the best damn no-frills wings in cattle country. Which is to say, get a steak (and a garage). But before that, get these immaculate wings, a paragon of no-frills bar food tossed preferably in sweet/spicy sauce, though the Thai chili version is also a thing of beauty. On Tuesdays they come by the bucket for $6 alongside the other special, a gravy-soaked poutine. Between the Canadian fries and the Thai chili, it's as international as you're gonna get in Wyoming on a weekday.
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Andy Kryza is a senior editor at Thrillist. His all-time favorite Wing is the off-overlooked Henry McCullough, who totally shreds on "Live and Let Die." Suck it, Slash! Follow him to synth-based dad jokes @apkryza.
Sam Sumpter worked at a wing place one summer. She still considers herself a BONEa fide expert (sorry). Follow her for equally awful puns @sam_sumpta.