Chicken wings are a superb choice for grill night. They cook quickly, they’re exceedingly popular with crowds, and they’re easy to buy in bulk. The question is, are chicken wings healthy, or should they be classified as junk food?
Are Chicken Wings Healthy?
Chicken wings are relatively lean and contain plenty of protein, so they can be a healthy option for the buffet table. However, wings are traditionally deep-fried, which significantly increases their fat content. To cut back on fat and calories, try baking the wings—or better yet, putting them on the grill or smoker.
About Chicken Wings
Chicken wings are available in three different styles: whole wings, flats, and drumettes.
The drumettes are the pieces that resemble miniature drumsticks, while the flats are oval-shaped. When they’re sold whole, they look distinctly like a bird’s wing—it’s easy to envision them still attached to the chicken.
Drumettes have plenty of eye appeal, but flats have more surface area, which means a higher ratio of crispy skin. Both are a lot of fun to eat, especially when coated in Buffalo or barbecue sauce.
Before whole wings are packaged for sale, they have a sizable tip attached. These are usually carved off to give the wings a more attractive shape.
Are Chicken Wings White or Dark Meat?
This is an interesting question. On a chicken, the dark meat is darker because it contains more myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to working muscles.
For the most part, when you’re dealing with poultry, the breast is considered the only white meat on the bird. When you compare the breast to the leg or thigh, the difference is obvious. There isn’t as much meat on the wings, so the color can be hard to discern.
However, chickens don’t fly much, especially the ones that are raised for commercial purposes. Since wings don’t get as much exercise as the muscles that work the legs, they’re technically made up of white meat as well.
Where To Buy Chicken Wings
You can find chicken wings in most supermarkets, where they’ve often been split into drumettes and flats. If you have your heart set on whole wings, you might need to contact your local butcher to make sure they have some in stock.
The next time you’re visiting a farmer’s market, check to see if there are any pasture-raised chicken wings available. These will be leaner and yet more flavorful than the commercially-sold variety, since the birds get plenty of exercise during their lives.
How To Store Chicken Wings
You can also freeze the wings for up to 2 months. It might be possible to store them in the freezer for longer than that, but if you do, they won’t be as moist when it’s time to defrost them.
Are Chicken Wings Healthy or Not?
You probably aren’t accustomed to thinking of chicken wings as a healthy food. After all, they’re synonymous with parties and drinking, especially during football season.
Even so, chicken wings are packed with protein, which makes them a more nutritious option than french fries or other bar staples. Since they’re classified as white meat, they’re also fairly lean, although they are juicier and more succulent than the breast meat.
Whether chicken wings are healthy or not depends largely on the preparation method. That’s part of what we’re here to discuss.
Baked Chicken Wings
Baking is one of the healthiest options you’ll find. You don’t have to add a ton of fat to make the wings taste delicious, and some of the natural fat from the skin will be left behind on the baking sheet.
To begin, choose a low-sodium barbecue sauce. North Carolina-style sauce eschews the usual rich ketchup base, opting instead for tangy vinegar and hot pepper flakes. The version from South Carolina relies on mustard to give it a savory kick.
Alternatively, you can make your own sauce to give you better control over the ingredients. Try combining rice wine vinegar with Dijon mustard, minced garlic, and hot pepper flakes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then place a wire baking rack on top of the lined sheet. Lightly grease the baking rack with canola or another neutral oil.
Place the wings on the rack and bake until they’ve cooked to an internal temperature of around 150 degrees, or about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and coat in the sauce of your choice, then return to the oven. Bake until the wings have cooked to 165 degrees.
Let the wings rest for about 5 minutes. Serve with additional sauce on the side, if desired.
Grilled Chicken Wings
In terms of healthiness, this technique is similar to baking in that it allows the excess fat to drip off the wings as they cook. It also gives them a more pronounced flavor, thanks to the kiss of smoke from the grill.
Choose your sauce and add it to a medium-sized bowl. If you’d rather use a dry rub, pat the wings dry with paper towels, then add the spice mixture. Set the wings aside to let the seasoning blend adhere while you prepare the grill.
Start a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or set a gas grill to medium-high. If you’re using a pellet grill, set the temperature to 400 degrees. Coat a wire rack with cooking spray and set it about 5-6 inches away from the heat source.
When the grill is hot enough, add the wings to the wire rack in a single layer. Take care not to let any of them touch, or the skin might not crisp up properly.
Let the wings cook undisturbed for 20 minutes, then flip them over. Cook for another 20 minutes or until they’ve achieved an internal temp of 150 degrees. At this point, you can add the sauce, if desired. The wings are done when they’ve cooked to 165 degrees.
Set the wings aside to rest for 5 minutes, then serve as desired.
Smoked Chicken Wings
If you really want to ramp up the flavor, try smoking the wings using cherry wood pellets or wood chips. In addition to being mouthwateringly delicious, they’ll take on a lovely crimson hue from the wood.
To begin, make an Italian marinade using olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, and black pepper. Add wings and marinade to a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 12 hours, or overnight.
When you’re ready to start cooking, set the smoker to 225 degrees. Remove the wings from the marinade and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Add the dry rub of your choice, or just use a simple blend of salt and pepper.
Place the wings on the cooking grate in a single layer. Smoke until they’ve achieved an internal temperature of 155-160 degrees Fahrenheit, about 1 hour.
At this point, take the wings off the heat and crank the smoker up to 375 degrees. Toss the wings in barbecue or Buffalo sauce, if desired.
When the smoker has heated to 375, put the wings back on the cooking grate. Continue to grill, turning frequently to prevent them from burning, until they’ve cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the wings from the heat and set aside to rest for 5 minutes before serving with additional sauce on the side.
Fried Chicken Wings
Are chicken wings healthy? Not as much so when you use this cooking method, which enrobes the meat in a starchy coating before bathing it in fat. Naturally, these wings are delicious, but we would save this technique for a day when you’re not counting calories.
Heat 5 to 6 cups of canola or other neutral oil in a deep fryer, Dutch oven, or other large pot. Line a baking sheet with paper towels, or set a wire rack over the baking sheet. Season about 2 pounds of wings with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
In a large bowl, mix together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Whisk to combine, then add the wings and toss until well coated.
When the oil has heated to 365 degrees, add about 1/3 of the wings to the oil and fry about 6-8 minutes, or until the coating is golden and crisp. Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and set aside on the baking sheet. Repeat with the other 2 batches.
Let the last batch of wings cool for about 5 minutes before serving. If you’d like, you can toss them in Buffalo or barbecue sauce while they’re still hot. Serve with carrot and celery sticks, along with blue cheese or ranch dressing.
The Bottom Line
If you’re hoping to cut back on fat and calories, try grilling or smoking the wings instead of deep-frying them. That way, they’ll lose some of their natural fat while taking on a major hit of flavor.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!