Smoked chicken wings are a delicious party snack that can also double as a light meal. If you’ve bought them frozen, or just forgot to take the package out of the freezer, can you cook them off as is, or do you have to thaw them first?
Can You Smoke Frozen Chicken Wings?
Smoking chicken wings from a frozen state is technically harmless, but it does present a couple of problems. First of all, the meat will take longer to cook if you don’t defrost it. Second, the wings won’t be as flavorful, since the frozen exterior will have a hard time absorbing the smoke.
How Long Do Chicken Wings Last in the Freezer?
Since the freezing process halts the growth of bacteria, you should be able to store frozen meat indefinitely. In practice, though, it’s a good idea to take them out of the freezer within 6 months.
As long as the freezer is set at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, the chicken will remain safe to eat. But after 6 months, the exposure to freezing temperatures will start to dry out the meat.
This is something you need to worry about with all cuts of meat, but it’s a particular concern with smaller ones like chicken wings. There’s not a lot of meat on the bone, so you’re bound to notice the dry texture more than you would with a whole chicken.
Can You Smoke Frozen Chicken Wings?
Is it safe to smoke chicken wings from a frozen state? The answer is yes. Is it a good idea? That’s another story.
When you smoke meat without defrosting it, the smoke takes longer to permeate the surface. In essence, it’s thawing out instead of taking on the smoke flavor, so you may be wasting perfectly good wood.
What’s more, it’s better if the chicken wings are thoroughly dry before you add them to the grill or smoker. If the meat is undergoing the defrosting process while they’re already exposed to the heat, the skin won’t be as crispy as you’d like.
Still, because the wings are small, they should be able to reach a safe internal temperature within a reasonable time frame. That’s something you have to worry about more with whole chickens, which might still be frozen in the middle when the outside is done.
Note that this procedure will only work if you’re able to separate the wings into individual pieces. If they’re still frozen in one solid block, you’ll need to thaw them at least partially before you attempt to smoke them.
Finally, be aware that it takes much longer to smoke meat that hasn’t been defrosted. You can expect to tack another 45 to 60 minutes on to the process when you put frozen wings on the smoker.
How Long To Smoke Frozen Chicken Wings
So, you’ve decided to go ahead and smoke the wings from a frozen state. Exactly how long will it take before they’re ready?
Your goal is to get the wings to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. The exact timing may vary, depending on the size and shape of the wings and the temperature and reliability of your smoker.
For optimum results, set the smoker to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. That way, the wings will cook through fairly quickly while still managing to absorb a savory hit of wood smoke. Be sure to oil the cooking grate before adding the meat, especially if it’s frozen.
Some people set the grill to a lower temperature when smoking chicken wings. It’s usually fine to smoke them at 275 or even 250 degrees. However, we wouldn’t recommend this with frozen wings, because the skin might turn rubbery if the heat is too low.
In addition to taking longer to cook, frozen wings are difficult to season properly. Spice rubs have a hard time adhering to frozen meat. Do the best you can to apply a layer of seasoning, or just leave the wings “naked” for a natural smoke flavor.
When the smoker is ready, add the wings to the cooking grate in a single layer. Close the lid and allow the chicken to cook for at least 1 hour undisturbed. Then flip them over and continue the smoke until the wings have cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
At these temperatures, the smoking process usually takes 1-1/2 to 2 hours. But if the wings were frozen to begin with, it could take up to 3 hours. Our advice would be to test the internal temperature after 1-1/2 hours, just to get a rough estimate.
Since wings are so small, you don’t have to let them rest as long as you would a whole chicken, or even a chicken breast. But it’s still a good idea to wait a few minutes before serving them. During this time, you can coat them with a sauce, if desired.
How To Defrost Chicken Wings
Want to wait it out and allow the wings to thaw so you can dry them properly before seasoning them? You have a few options—and some of them will even allow you to smoke the wings on the same day.
Don’t thaw chicken by leaving it on the counter. At room temperature, the types of bacteria that cause illnesses such as salmonella and campylobacter are able to breed rapidly. You want the meat to stay at a temperature below 40 degrees as it defrosts.
Method #1: The Refrigerator
Our favorite way to defrost meat is to keep it on the lower shelf of the refrigerator. Meat defrosts at a rate of 4 to 5 hours for every pound of meat when stored in this fashion, so if you have two pounds of wings, they should thaw in 8 to 10 hours.
Keep the wings in a sealed zip-top plastic bag, and set the bag on a rimmed platter. These precautions will keep the juices from leaking out and contaminating your fridge as the meat thaws.
Make sure your fridge is set to a temperature between 33 and 38 degrees, and keep the chicken wings stored toward the back. They’ll stay colder that way, which helps to ensure food safety.
Once the chicken wings are thawed, you should have 1 to 2 days to cook them, depending on how long they were stored in the fridge before you froze them. If the meat starts to smell “off,” like rotten eggs or ammonia, or if it’s slimy to the touch, discard it.
Method #2: The Cold Water Bath
Chances are, if you were planning on smoking the chicken wings from a frozen state, you’re pressed for time. In this case, the cold water bath may be your best bet.
Again, you’ll want to ensure that the meat is tightly wrapped before you submerge it in the liquid. The chicken will become waterlogged if the package leaks, which will result in skin that’s rubbery instead of crisp.
Fill the sink or a large container with cold—not hot—water. Using cold water is the only way to make sure that the chicken will stay at a safe temperature throughout the process.
Submerge the chicken in the water bath, making sure the package is completely covered. The wings should thaw at a rate of about 1/2 hour per pound, so a 2-pound bag will be defrosted and ready to cook in roughly 1 hour.
You’ll need to cook the chicken right away if you defrosted it using cold water. It’s not safe to put it back in the fridge or freezer afterward, so make sure you’re ready to start cooking as soon as the meat is ready.
Method #3: The Microwave
The microwave represents another suitable thawing technique. You have to keep a close eye on the meat during the process. Otherwise, some of the chicken might start to cook instead of merely defrosting.
Use the microwave’s defrost setting, if it has one. If it doesn’t, set the unit so that it’s running at 25 to 30 percent power.
Place the unwrapped wings on a microwave-safe plate and set the timer for 1 minute. Continue to defrost in 1-minute intervals until the wings are thawed. This should take 4 to 5 minutes total.
Again, when you thaw the chicken this way, it needs to be seasoned and cooked right away. Use the microwave only when you’re in a real hurry and have no other option.
How Long Do Smoked Chicken Wings Keep in the Fridge?
After the chicken wings are cooked, they should keep in the fridge for another 4 days. We would recommend only preparing as many wings as you can enjoy at one time, though, because the skin won’t be as crispy after reheating.
If you do plan to reheat your leftover chicken wings, set them on a baking sheet in a single layer. Then place them in a 350-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until heated through.
The Bottom Line
Many people don’t realize that it’s considered safe to cook chicken wings—and other meat products—without thawing them. While it can be an inconvenience, the issue is lessened if you’re working with smaller cuts.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!