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What Are Buffalo Chicken Wings?

By C. Mitchell
Updated May 16, 2024
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Buffalo chicken wings are a chiefly American food consisting of chicken wing pieces that have been deep fried and slathered in a spicy hot sauce. They are generally served alongside celery stalks and blue cheese dip as a finger food, and are popular in bars and casual restaurants. The dish is ubiquitous throughout the United States, and its popularity has spread to many other countries, as well. For many years, however, it was known only in the upstate New York region, particularly around the city of Buffalo, from which it derives its name.

There is some controversy to nailing down when exactly the first buffalo chicken wings were served, but all accounts credit Buffalo, New York as the wings’ birth place. One restaurant in that city, known as the Anchor Bar, is widely credited as having created the version now known as the original sometime in the mid-1960s. It was at this bar that the wings are believed to have been first served with celery and blue cheese, for instance. The bar's main cook is also credited with first splitting the wings in half, which remains the most common preparation.

Chicken wings are often rather large and can be awkward to eat without a fork and knife. Buffalo chicken wings are always served as a finger food. As such, for Buffalo wings, the wings are usually snapped in half before cooking. This yields two chicken pieces per wing: one shaped like a little drumstick and one that more closely resembles a wing.

Once snapped in half, the pieces are generally deep-fried. Wings following the traditional preparation are always fried without coating, but different cooks make different tweaks. It is not uncommon to find Buffalo chicken wings that have been coated in breading or spices before frying or that have been baked or broiled, not fried at all. Cooking chicken is essential, but how that cooking is accomplished is often a matter of personal taste.

Hot sauce is one of the most characteristic parts of Buffalo chicken wings. Wings typically come in three varieties, each corresponding to sauce spiciness: mild, medium, and hot. While much depends on individual cooks, it is generally true that even the “mild” version carries with it a great deal of heat.

In most cases, the sauce is made with butter, red peppers, and standard hot sauce, with commercial preparations often containing additional ingredients and preservatives. Cooked wings must be tossed in the sauce such that they are coated completely. They are served “wet,” usually immediately after the sauce has been added. This makes the snack one of the messier chicken dishes, but in large part this messiness is part of its fame.

Celery and blue cheese are staple accompaniments largely because of their ability to absorb and neutralize the heat of the sauce. Blue cheese, as a dairy product, contains milk enzymes that naturally “cool” the tongue’s spice receptors. Celery’s neutral, water-based flavor is also typically refreshing. Beer is by far the most popular beverage served alongside Buffalo chicken wings, though the dish can be served with any sort of drink. Owing to the heat of the dish, colder drinks are usually preferred.

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Discussion Comments

By Hazali — On Aug 15, 2014

Has anyone ever been daring enough to try some of the spicier variations of chicken wings? Even though I haven't, I was once watching a video on YouTube where someone was eating the hottest wings in the world. The catch here is that you have to sign a waiver before eating them, in case something were to happen. Overall, it was very interesting to watch.

On another note, one thing I find to be interesting about buffalo chicken wings is that they originated in America, Buffalo New York to be exact. This intrigues me because there are many dishes in the U.S. that aren't even from there, if that makes sense. Most originated from different countries, and then after spreading around the world, became introduced to us. Due to this, unless one does their research, it may lead them to believe that most of what they eat originated in America. The omelet is a perfect example of this.

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