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Grilled Chicken Wings


Chris Amirault
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Dave the Cook's post here about chicken wings got me thinking. I've always loved a good grilled wing but have been annoyed at ones that have flavor only on the charred outside. So his method -- brine, dry, smoke, rub, and roast -- seems to have applications that could be tweaked for grilling.

For my first attempt, I brined the wings in a basic salt and sugar brine, and I also added thyme, bay, black pepper, and some toasted dehydrated onion from Penzey's. I overnighted 'em, which allowed the flavorings to permeate nicely, but it also oversalted them. I grilled them very simply -- no rub -- and they turned out very good indeed.

I'm wondering what some other approaches are. Ideally, this would be something that could be done in one evening, but that's pushing it if you want good wings, I think. I'm currently thinking about creating a brining solution at work so that I can do that deed after a quick lunch-break shopping trip, then carry the drained wings home to finish. Finally, I'm game for saucing ideas.

Chris Amirault

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We make some pretty infamous jerk wings around here, that's all flavor, meaty, chickeny, spicy, smoky, right down to the bone. It's not in one evening, exactly, but if you plan ahead, it could be. The paste, we make up ahead in huge batches, and it keeps for 6 months. Sometimes, we trim and prepare the wings when we get them, and freeze them with the paste, allowing them to thaw slowly in the fridge, overnight.

I make a homemade jerk paste, for starters, and I think that's important. Just about any pastes or wet rubs you buy will be mostly salt. Plus, with the amount I use, the cost for the jarred stuff would be prohibitive.

So, I take about 5 lbs of wings, and trim them, and slash each wing crosswise once through the skin, down to the bone. For the marinade/rub I use about 2 cups of my jerk paste, add a few glugs of rum, about a quarter cup of brown sugar, about half a cup of some neutral oil, and the juice of a lime or two. We marinate the wings in this thick liquid, more like a very wet rub, in ziploc bags for 24-48 hours, flipping and massaging the bag a few times, to evenly distribute the paste. We've even had them accidentally sit for 3 days, and they were damn good.

For the cooking, I suppose it's kind of like a hot smoking. I cook them up high over a very low wood fire, with a layer of briquettes in there for stability. Mostly smoky low heat, it takes about 30 minutes to cook them through. If I'm cooking for a crowd who likes it hot, I'll smear some more jerk paste on them as they're cooking. You could speed it along, by just grilling them faster, but the wood adds a lot, so I wouldn't skimp on that, at least.

Sometimes, I use a huge spoonful of jerk paste and a glug of rum to a standard homemade barbecue sauce, and glaze them, right before taking them off the heat. It's a nice, non-authentic touch, if you're in the mood for a stickyish barbecue experience.

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Both sound like interesting approaches!

So, I take about 5 lbs of wings, and trim them, and slash each wing crosswise once through the skin, down to the bone. 

Why the slashes? I'm direction-impaired: do you mean from joint to joint on the non-drum part? Or perpendicular to the bones? And why do you do this?

We do a marinade in soy sauce and garlic.  Lots of garlic.  You can do it in an evening because the flavor really penetrates and makes a great wing.

Does it penetrate the meat as a brine does, or does it just penetrate the skin? For how long do you marinade them?

Chris Amirault

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I slash it, because it takes the marinade right down to the bone. Skin is a tough barrier. By design, it keeps stuff out. Besides brining, it takes a lot to get that flavor in there.

I used to do it without, and came up with puzzling very subtly flavored wings. I got the idea from our Indian place, when they do tandoori chicken, they slash it right to the bone, before cooking it. I tried it, and it works to get the flavorings past the skin. I feel like it makes the skin crispier too.

Generally it's sort of a diagonal slash, across the meatiest part of the drum, or across both bones of the flat. Not exactly from joint to joint, but not directly perpendicular, either.

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Regulars may be sick of hearing about our favorite recipe for wings: grilled five-spice chicken from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (clicky). With suitable adjustments in cooking time, the recipe works nicely for wings, thighs, or drumsticks.

The key is to grill the chicken over medium to low-medium heat. Marinating overnight yields down-to-the-bone flavor, but a shorter marinating time still yields tasty chicken. Slashing the wings is a good idea if you choose not to marinate overnight.

Picture and description (click) from the Vietnamese Food thread.

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When I want to make sure the meat is flavored, I slash the wings just like Lilija. Otherwise you just flavor the skin. I thought everybody does that. The soy works a lot like brining, but for quick deep flavor, always slash.

Ellen

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That's where brining is so fantastic. I didn't season those wings at all after the brining, and we all could taste very powerful flavors throughout the wings. They're such slender things that you can get very deep penetration in a short time.

Chris Amirault

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I totally agree, I love brining, I brine wings a lot, chicken breasts, drumsticks, whatever, but sometimes I want more, I want something really slow cooked and deep seasoned.

Brining is my fast and dirty route to a superb grilled weeknight chicken. Outside of slashing, or deliberately rubbing stuff beneath the skin (how tedious would that be, with wings, wow....) brining is the most direct way to flavor em right through. You can do a lot with the flavor combos, too. Brining, drying and grilling, then finishing with a simple bbq sauce is a nice fast option, too.

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We make some pretty infamous jerk wings around here, that's all flavor, meaty, chickeny, spicy, smoky, right down to the bone.  It's not in one evening, exactly, but if you plan ahead, it could be.  The paste, we make up ahead in huge batches, and it keeps for 6 months.  Sometimes, we trim and prepare the wings when we get them, and freeze them with the paste, allowing them to thaw slowly in the fridge, overnight.

I make a homemade jerk paste, for starters, and I think that's important. Just about any pastes or wet rubs you buy will be mostly salt.  Plus, with the amount I use, the cost for the jarred stuff would be prohibitive.

Might we learn how to make this paste?

I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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  • 11 months later...

I just made a brine based on Dave's above for grilled wings this weekend. It's got some flavoring in addition to salt, which I dialed down a bit, and I added some sugar to boot. For each quart of water:

50 g salt

30 g sugar

5 g black pepper

2 g crushed red pepper

15 g shallot, chopped roughly

5 g garlic, smashed

I'll report back on the results after an air-dry, a hickory & apple smoke, and grilling.

Chris Amirault

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I tried a method I've never used before, basically dumping the entire six pounds on a high-heat grill at once and devoting a good 20 minutes to shuffling the pile around. Got a good, crispy sear on each, but since they weren't in touch with the flames every moment, they didn't overcook. 30 guests and I thought that they were excellent.

Chris Amirault

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I make a lot of buffalo-style wings on the grill. I just grill the wings straight out of the butcher paper or freezer until they are nice and crispy and then I toss them in a hot buffalo wing style sauce made with olive oil, hot sauce, more hot sauce, vinegar, salt, and pepper. I then usually serve them with a blue cheese sauce made with yogurt and, of course, blue cheese.

They tend to turn out pretty well even without any brining, marinating, or rub. Not that I'm opposed to any of it, but I usually end up doing this on a whim and whatnot.

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