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The Saucy Rise of America’s Obsession With Chicken Wings

Believe it or not, America’s love for chicken wings hasn’t always been as deep seated as it is today.  There was once a time where the wings were the least desired and cheapest cut of chicken available at the grocery store.

Then it glowed up.

Like the “hot chick” that’s ignoring you now because you called her ugly and nerdy in high school, the chicken wing got a saucy makeover that made her everyone’s WCW (Wing Crush Wednesday).

The concept of drowning chicken wings in hot sauce happened how most delicious creations happen: by accidental experimentation.

The widely accepted story of Buffalo hot wings is that in 1964, Teresa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, put together leftover wings and hot sauce for her son and his friends as a late night snack while they enjoyed a few beers.  The shareable snack became such a huge hit that they decided to make it a permanent item on their menu the very next day, marking the beginning of the legend of the ‘Buffalo Wings.’

It wasn’t long before the dish gained enough popularity that it ceased from being a regional New York dish, spreading its wings to become a nationwide staple. All pun intended. By the 90’s, countless other bars had wings on their menu, Domino’s and Pizza Hut added it to complement pizza orders, and brick and mortar ‘wing only’ chains like Wingstop and Buffalo Wild Wings broke through as mainstream chains.

Fast forward to today and you’ll find that the range of sauces you could douse your wings in has grown tenfold.  We’re talking lemon pepper, bbq, garlic parmesan, teriyaki, sweet soy, gochujang… the list just keeps growing.  While wing popularity grew largely due to its dexterity as a shareable bar food snack, the ingenuity of chefs have refined it into a more diverse dish, featuring flavors unique to different types of cuisines and regions.  Restaurants like Pok Pok in Portland, Button Mash in Los Angeles, and Turntable Chicken Jazz in New York City innovated the concept by expanding on different cultural takes on wings.

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It seems crazy to say that the ‘hot wings’ concept has only been around for a little over 50 years because it seems like the appetizer has been around as long as television has.  Go to any bar and you can probably order a 10-piece with your beer. You may even see it in most restaurant menus under the “appetizer” section, too.

Wings have really become a staple in American culture, and have become so seductive to our tastebuds where you can’t have just one.  So the next time you’re at your favorite wing joint sucking down all that glorious meat off the bone, pay homage to its humble beginnings… by ordering another 10-piece (and a beer).

By Raphael Madrid

Raphael is a lot better at eating than he is cooking. He also opts for the al pastor over the carne asada in his tacos and burritos. Mild in the streets, picante in the sheets. Vegeta > Vegetables.