Food & Drink

Why Every Pizza Chain Serves Wings

The classic pairing has continued to gain popularity since it was introduced in the ‘90s.


Some things just go together. There’s peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, and the ultimate delivery combination: pizza and wings. They’re a mandatory pair at every Super Bowl party and an optimal duo for lazy Sunday night dinners. But when, why, and how did this couple come to be? Though the pairing seems ubiquitous now, who decided chicken and pizza should just go together?

La Nova Pizza, a Buffalo pizza parlor that’s been slinging pies since 1957, claims they were among the first to introduce chicken wings alongside pizza to the masses. The buffalo wings started as a common side order that La Nova would include in pizza party packs back in the ‘90s. Since then, La Nova has turned into a separate buffalo wing conglomerate, catering wholesale, oven-baked buffalo wings to national pizza chains. According to Maria Merlino, the national sales and marketing director of La Nova Wings Inc., Don Tyson -- the former CEO of Tyson Foods -- “never would have been able to sell the chicken wing idea to Domino’s and Pizza Hut [if it weren’t for La Nova].” Merlino added that since the brand started selling pizza combos with wings, the brand has sold billions of wings.

It makes sense; both items are hand held while delivering big on salty, greasy, and savory flavors. Saucy, spicy wings are welcomed between bites of melty, cheesy pizza -- and both pair great with cooler sauces, like ranch or bleu cheese. And though traditionally deep-fried, wings, like pizza, can also be baked -- making it an easy addition to pizza parlors that already have functioning ovens everywhere. It’s a match made in pizza heaven.

The irony is that a mere 50 years ago, wings were considered a throwaway cut from the chicken, used to either make stock or just tossed out. According to the New Yorker, wings were “parts of a chicken that most people do not consider even good enough to give away to bar flies.” But with the invention of Buffalo wings in 1964 from Buffalo’s famed Anchor Bar, everything changed. Not only did the reputation of the wing do a complete turn around, the cut is so popular that there have even been chicken wing shortages in the states.


Domino’s was among the first to jump into the pizza and wing game when they launched bone-in wings in 1994, followed by boneless chicken in 2002. The oven baked chicken has remained a staple on the chain's menu, and has even been transformed and dressed into their Specialty Chicken -- boneless chicken wings smothered with cheese, sauce, and various toppings, like bacon, jalapeño, and pineapple -- that launched in 2014.

Little Caesar’s was also quick to add wings as a permanent fixture on their menu. Their Hot-N-Ready wings were also released in 1994 and they currently come in a choice of BBQ, buffalo, oven-roasted, or garlic parmesan. “Both foods are shareable and customizable, and their flavors compliment each other. Pizza and wings are the perfect hassle-free and delicious handheld foods,” said Jill Proctor, a spokesperson for Little Caesars.

Pizza Hut added wings in 2003, when they were introducing a new concept: a Pizza Hut Wingstreet combination store. Pizza Hut also differed from the other chains because at the time, they were the only establishment serving fried chicken rather than baked ones. To any wing connoisseur, the difference between a baked and fried wing is palpable.
 
Pizza Hut took that distinction and ran with it, eventually opening up Pizza Hut and Wingstreet concept stores nationwide in 2014. “Not surprisingly, some of our most loyal pizza lovers also double as wing aficionados -- over a quarter of our customers add our Wingstreet wings to their pizza order,” Marianne Radley, the chief brand officer of Pizza Hut, said. Radley added that this past Super Bowl Sunday, Pizza Hut delivered over six million chicken wings, in addition to all the pies that were served.
 
There are some food combinations in life only our taste buds can insist upon. Sometimes they’re breakfast staples, like cereal and milk. Others deviate from the norm, like the controversial peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. But there is one combination that most Americans can agree on: a stacked pile of saucy wings alongside several slices of pizza.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Eatmail for more food coverage, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Kat Thompson is a staff food writer at Thrillist who likes to dunk both her pizza and wings in ranch. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.