Food & Drink

The 21 Best Chicken Wings in America

Updated On 09/06/2019 at 05:26PM EST Updated On 09/06/2019 at 05:26PM EST
Gertie
Gertie's wings | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Gertie | Cole Saladino/Thrillist
Barbacoa Wings | Laurie Pearman/Thrillist

Barbacoa

Boise, Idaho

You're probably surprised to see Idaho on this list. You're probably even further surprised to see a fancy Latin-fusion joint from Idaho on this list. But hey, when you're serving up tender, plump wings that perfectly straddle sweet and spicy AND providing a tiny little hibachi grill so that patrons can tailor them to your personal smoke/char/crispiness preferences, you're going to surprise some people. Just make sure not to leave your caramelizing wings unattended, lest you start a small fire and leave your fellow patrons unpleasantly surprised. -- Andy Kryza

Bar Bill Tavern

The Bar-Bill Tavern

East Aurora, New York

Bar-Bill in East Aurora has been a staple in the Buffalo area for decades, and one of the few places where you can actually request a full order of flats, because let’s face it… the flats are way better than the drums (fight me on this). They even make their own blue cheese dressing fresh daily, which comes out as some sort of magical whipped version of dipping sauce that has to be tasted to be believed. Flavors range from honey dijon to Sicilian, zesty honey pepper, and more, but the mild or medium are among the best in the city that invented the beloved bar snack (read more about that here), so no need to get fancy. This legacy restaurant is still massively popular with locals and tourists alike. You walk in and the bar is absolutely packed, the TV is blasting the game, and tables packed with locals scarfing down wings coated in creamy, thick Buffalo sauce. Grab a beer or one of their famous, super spicy bloody Marys while you wait to devour your wings while basking in the glow of what is, essentially, Buffalo in tavern form. -- Jessica Kelly

Cho77

Cho77

Denver, Colorado

Truth be told, these magical wings first made their debut at far fancier sibling restaurant ChoLon before they became a mainstay at this offshoot providing a more congruous backdrop for these sticky, finger-licking achievements in poultry. 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 applied. It's a sweet, savory wing with burnt sugar, caramel, fish sauce, and chili powder all commingled. Pair them with cold noodles or bao, or just pair an order with a second order. Such is the magic of that fish sauce. - Lee Breslouer

Flickr/Bing

Crisp

Chicago, Illinois

The name says it all, really. These twice-fried Korean style beauties have a flawlessly textured skin that yields to a juicy interior and thoughts of tearing into another one before you've even finished the one you're presently dispatching. Get them BBQ style (a harmonious marriage of American and Korean flavor profiles) or go for the Seoul Sassy, a symphony of ginger-soy-garlic goodness. And if you're as hopelessly devoted to Buffalo as a poor Bills fan, they borrow their sauce from beloved hot dog stand Budacki's, and you'll find it makes for a hell of a combo with their frying game. The decision-challenged need not worry: they're used to mixed orders. -- ML

Gertie | Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Gertie

Brooklyn, New York

Pinched in a North Brooklyn neighborhood is a laid-back cafe with glass cases brimming with house-made pastries and near-perfect hash browns. Gertie's breakfast offerings are the truth, and dinner makes a statement too. You'll gravitate towards the Poppy's Duck, a $90 whole roasted duck family-style feast, but don't forgot one starter from the menu -- Dollar Wings. No drum part, just a slim non-flying piece of meat and sauce boldly slathered on the chicken's sharp edge tip. A bad boy served with a creamy white sauce that needs no dip. Look for this American classic on the nighttime menu only. Order a dozen or more to go for your solo happy hour at home. If "new" Williamsburg and bygone downtown New York City had a baby, her name would be Gertie. A young girl obsessed with Instagrammable moments, her grandmama, and putting fowl in her mouth. -- NAT

Ale Emporium

Indianapolis, Indiana

This wood-paneled, brass-railed neighborhood joint admirably slings a solid beer list as people flock there for live music and sports (go Hoosiers), but the wings are unquestionably worthy of billing right alongside the ales on the sign. While you'll find an array of 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, a bath in the fryer, and a finishing flourish on the grill. They may not quite be "world famous" as the menu copy suggests, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be. -- Matt Lynch

HaiSous

HaiSous

Chicago, Illinois

Everyone loves a comeback story, but they arguably love an incredible plate of wings even more. Luckily, Vietnamese chef Thai Dang offered both with the 2017 opening of HaiSous, his first restaurant after the actions of an unscrupulous business partner forced the closure of his much-lauded prior restaurant, Embeya, at a tremendous financial cost. But enough about the past. Let's talk wings! These whole wings sit in a garlicky brine before being twice-fried, coated in a sticky, caramelized fish sauce, and topped with even more flavor enhancement in the form of fried garlic and shallots along with some green scallions. You will undoubtedly come back. -- ML

Hat Yai

Hat Yai

Portland, Oregon

Portland chef Earl Ninsom has spent the better part of a decade establishing himself as the star of the city's bustling, legendary Thai scene -- so small feat in the land of Pok Pok. What makes his food so interesting is the wild diversity of his restaurants, from the regionally focused fine dining at Langbaan to the Texas BBQ-meets-Thai comfort food at Eem. Hat Yai, manages to distill Ninsom's complex flavors into something anyone can get behind: The counter-service joint specializes in deeply satisfying curry and fried chicken served with deep-fried roti and sticky rice. And that chicken is a miracle: battered to crispy perfection in rice flour, with a coating of peppercorns and fried shallots stuck to the crunchy exterior bursting with flavor. The whole bird is on the menu, though you're strongly encouraged to go with the jointed whole wings, whose built-in handle makes them perfect for dipping in that curry. They even offer the option of adding extra wings to any dish…  which you should, even if the dish you're adding it to is a plate of wings. -- AK

Sebastian Davis/Thrillist

J.R. Cricket's

Atlanta, Georgia

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 since Paul Juliano opened is rickety chicken joint in midtown Atlanta, his wings remain the stuff of legend. A mention on Donald Glover's Atlanta for a mythical flavor called "lemon pepper wet" only enhanced the profile. 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). -- Mike Jordan

J. Timothy's Taverne

J. Timothy's Taverne

Plainville, Connecticut

The dirt on J. Timothy's is dirt. 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. (That's it for sentences about dirt. Promise.) -- LB

Brian Oh/Thrillist

KoChix

Washington, DC

The DC area was the starting point for Bonchon's American invasion, so they know a thing or two about Korea having a way with wings, and many area chicken connoisseurs call KoChix the best in town. You can opt for wings, drums, or a combo, but no matter what bone structure you opt for you're getting a craggy, perfectly fried exterior that's perfect for soaking up sauce. A note on that front: The hot honey spicy here is not known to actually contain any form of narcotics, but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. -- ML

Courtesy of MilkWood

MilkWood

Louisville, Kentucky

Top Chef vet Edward Lee’s sibling to his much-acclaimed 610 Magnolia sports an array of animal skulls and antlers adorning the white brick walls, but soon enough the only animal remnants capturing your attention will be wing bones. But what happened to the meat? Well, it was 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. You tore through them like a maniac. Then you blacked out. Get another order and try to remember this time, huh? -- ML

American Deli

Atlanta, Georgia

It's hard to resist recognizing this Southern jewel that has mastered the sauce-to-bird ratio. Its first store opened in 1989 at South Dekalb Mall in Atlanta (yep, American Deli is celebrating their 30th anniversary), and the chain has turned into a staple in many cities since then. Get lost in the sauce by getting your wings smothered in BBQ, garlic parmesan, sweet chili sauces, or the Atlanta favorite, "lemon pepper wet." If for some reason flats and drums aren't your jam -- though I don't know why you're reading an article on the best wing spots, if so -- American Deli also serves up Philly steaks, burgers, fried rice, chicken tenders, fish, shrimp, and gyros. But assuming you're here for the wings (seriously, why are you reading this if not?!), don't forget to finish off your 10-piece wing combo with none other than the Peach Punch and congratulations, you are now a true ATLien. -- Kristen Adaway

Points East Pub

Points East Pub

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Getting your wings at this Milwaukee joint takes time… mainly because each batch is prepped to order, and, instead of taking a dip in the fryer, they’re fired up on a grill. Luckily, the place is old-school gritty/charming enough that you won’t care. Order at the bar, snag a few beers, and kick back in the cozy neighborhood joint. In 30 or so minutes, the cook himself will deliver some of the best wings in the Midwest, grill-charred and loaded with flavor thanks to a secret dry-rub that manages to penetrate every fiber of the meat. If the Packers are playing, your wait’s going to be considerably longer. Thank heavens for good company. And Leinenkugel. -- ML

Flickr/thefoodhoe

San Tung

San Francisco, California

The Richmond has long been an East Asian enclave in SF, a place many went after leaving Chinatown and Japantown, which are both closer to the city center. And so you see places like San Tung all over that neighborhood, with Chinese characters in the sign and on the windows and that typical takeout Chinese menu with the numbers. But the wings at San Tung are by no means typical, and you can usually tell by the crowds lining up for lunch and dinner. So do yourself a favor and get the 72: the original dry-fried chicken. They have a wet version as well, but those don’t compare to the simple, ginger and garlic crunch of the dry ones. -- ML

Sweetwater Tavern

Detroit, Michigan

A Bricktown institution housed in one of the Motor City’s oldest buildings (well, at least the original location is… they’ve got four now), Sweetwater ditches the practice of offering a bajillion different sauce options to specialize in only one, and it’s frequently heralded as Michigan’s best wing. Using meat straight from the Eastern Market, each wing takes a 24-hour marinade bath before arriving at your table cooked to perfection: not too saucy, with spice, salt, and vinegar permeating every bite. -- AK

TanakaSan | Joseph Marchesano

TanakaSan

Seattle, Washington

Prolific James Beard winning (and actual beard wearing) chef 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 newish instant classic restaurant, where the Asian-inspired wings come are dubbed "salty caramel," and are kissed with serrano chili and toasted garlic, then  fried about the same number of times you actually watched Wings: twice. Pair them up with sake slushies during happy hour, where you can get them at a deep discount or as part of a "tower of power" platter that also includes General Tso's spareribs, potstickers, and spicy tuna bites. -- ML

The Tavern

Austin, Texas

The building housing The Tavern turned 100 a couple of years back, but in more recent news, the venerable hangout received a bit of a makeover after changing ownership hands earlier this year -- luckily, said new owners knew better than to mess with the wings. 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. -- ML

Wing King

Wing King

Las Vegas, Nevada

When it comes to bingeable bar food, there are few people whose tastes you can trust quite as much as a guy who moonlights as a cannabis chef calling himself The Ganjfather. That's the mind behind Wing King, and boy does he deliver, offering up more than 100 flavors for his wings in the heart of Vegas. Those flavors include brown sugar/bourbon rub; a sauce one that approximates Cool Ranch Doritos; spicy bombs featuring everything from curry to jerk (plus Hell Wings, which have a legendary challenge attached to them); and even weirdly delicious dessert wings that taste like strawberry cheesecake. 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). Still, even the most basic Buffalo-style wings here are superlative. And lest you think that the whole Ganjfather thing is a fluke, they'll even hit your order with a custom CBD oil. That's how you separate the wing kings from the wing dukes. -- AK

Wingnutz

Wingnutz

Buffalo, New York

Operating out of a Knights of Columbus lodge, the relative newcomers at Wingnutz have made a play for supremacy in the land of Duff's and Anchor Bar by doing something few contenders bother to do: Showing a little patience with their poultry. While most joints' wings rest in a gloopy, greasy pool thanks to being taken from fryer to sauce in one fell swoop, Wingnutz slows the roll, letting their jumbo wings rest to maximize crispiness before hitting them with sauce. The meat stays extremely tender and flavorful, while the outside maintains an unbelievable crunch. Even their blue cheese is enhanced with a little splash of white wine and extra blue cheese chunks. Honestly though, you don't even need the blue cheese with the incredible flavor you get from the wings. You’ll never have to ask for extra crispy here. Ever. You just get it. -- JK

Wing Spot

Covington, Georgia

Before you ask, "Where the heck is Covington?" it's right next to Conyers, which is super close to Lithonia, which is also close to Atlanta. You don't need to worry about all of that, but you do need to hit up Wing Spot to experience 22 flavors of biddy sauce-greatness. Garlic pepper, honey mustard, jalapeno bomb -- you name it, they most likely have it. If you like to live on the wild side, give the X-Hot sauce a go and come back to us with a report on how your taste buds are doing. Did we also mention you can get 20 of these bad boys with fries and a soda for less than 15 bucks? Be aware that Wing Spot, tucked inconspicuously away in a shopping center, doesn't have much of an online presence. Your best bet would be to stop by and taste the hype. -- KA