How I learned to stop worrying and love chicken wings

In my late teens and early 20s I worked in various service industry jobs, including a stint as a line cook at a mid-tier franchise restaurant; the sort that typically has a cheap wing night on Tuesdays. 

For much of my early tenure at this mid-tier restaurant I was relegated to “fryers,” which is exactly what it sounds like: I would stand at a deep fryer for hours and oversee the submersion of French fries, mozza sticks, battered haddock, and all manner of beige-brown, fatty shit to be cooked in dirty oil with my only respite being regular cigarette breaks. Fryers was an absolutely shit station and it was roughly one rank above Dish Pig, the entry-level back of the house role in the degenerate world of restaurants upon whom everyone heaped abuse and unpleasant tasks.

On Tuesdays though, the person working fryers would likely happily trade places with any dishwasher and swap out fry baskets for scalding water, clogged sinks, and coked-up, oversexed servers shouting for more clean cutlery. Because on Tuesdays the person working fryers would be tasked with overseeing obscene amounts of chicken wings through their grotesque restaurant life-cycle: From frozen brick of wings, to semi-flaccid and thawing in a big sink of running water, to cold and raw and stored in their own congealed juices in large plastic bins, to baked on forearm-singeing trays, to deep-fried and tossed in sauce.

Working fryers on a cheap wing Tuesday meant becoming really, really intimate with the way low-quality food is stored, prepared, occasionally dropped on the floor and then served — and then going home with sauce in weird places and reeking of fried chicken fat, cigarettes, draught beer, and anxiety. 

And so, for anyone who, like me, has ever worked the deep fryers at a Crabby Joe’s, the prospect of actually eating a chicken wing has long been repulsive on many different levels.

A quick aside, and a memory that always comes to mind whenever I am with someone who had just ordered wings. One busy day when I was working the “pans” station, i.e. preparing pasta and anything that needed to be made on the stovetop, my coworker who was working fryers was saucing a pound of chicken wings by tossing them in a big sticky bowl when a wing got away from him and fell behind the deep fryer into a nasty, rarely-cleaned nether-region between the wall and the cooking equipment, and onto the floor. Because this coworker gave zero fucks, he pulled his tongs from his waistband, bent down, reached back with his tongs and grabbed the wing from the floor and plopped it back into the bowl without breaking stride before serving it up in a basket with some crudité. Order up!

20 minutes later, perhaps because of a conversation about how dirty it must be behind the fryers, we opted to move them and give the area a clean. There, beside the roach traps and among the various franchise-kitchen-floor detritus, we found the actual still-warm wing that my coworker had dropped. Yes, the wing he sauced and served was not the one he dropped but, instead, was a relic of some previous saucing mishap and now, possibly many months past its prime, it was being consumed by some hapless finger-licking shmuck drinking a Rickards Red at the bar.

This wing and the big plastic inserts of rubbery half-thawed wings have, for 20 years, been what I have pictured every time I had the thought of ordering chicken wings in a restaurant.

Recently, however, something in me changed. One day, in the middle of our seemingly unending COVID lockdown and lacking any motivation to cook, my wife and son somehow managed to agree on ordering pizza. For whatever reason I just didn’t feel like pizza and instead, on a whim, opted to order some wings from Pizza Nova.

Fuck it.

A pound of hot wings and a beer.


And then, of course, after a 20ish year hiatus, the hot, sticky, crunchy-but-tender, salty-but-a-little-sweet culinary experience — alongside a cold beer no less — was a fucking revelation. Having exhausted virtually all options for takeout since the pandemic started, I had stumbled onto this basic, tasty, and –sure –a little trashy, dish I’d been neglecting for so long — just at the time I needed it most.

And so I did it again. Dominoes Pizza for the fam and wings for me.

And then again. Let’s try Pizza Hut. And again. Soon I was suggesting pizza just so I could get wings. There are without a doubt degrees of quality when comparing and contrasting the chicken wings from franchise pizza places, but ultimately it’s a deep fried little piece of chicken slathered in sauce. It’s pretty hard to fuck up — though a handful of places definitely still can.

Next I discovered, holy shit, there are takeout places that specialize in wings. Hello Ring-a-Wing. What’s up, Wing Snob? Eventually, I got to a point where we’d get the family fed with actual healthy food and, feigning I wasn’t all that hungry, I’d suggest “Maybe I’ll order something for myself later.”


I knew exactly what I was fucking doing. I was hungry, but I had a plan. I had catching up to do with my sweet, disgusting mistress, Lady Chicken Wing.

The obsession arguably peaked on the night my youngest son was born. It was a cold night in February of 2021 and, after the excitement and adrenaline of delivery had calmed and we were settling in for the night, I realized I hadn’t eaten. And so I got Uber Eats from Wild Wing and had a pound of hot wings with fries and two tall boys of Coors Original delivered to the hospital. It was one of my proudest and, arguably, most shameful days. On my walk back to our recovery room from the lobby, another new dad saw the order and fist-bumped me out of respect.

My discovery that wings are actually delicious wasn’t revelatory, of course. Chicken wings have the highest skin to meat ratio of any part of a chicken, and while it’s disgusting to think about, all that extra skin means the chunk of fowl in your greasy paw is essentially sealed in a crispy pocket of goodness, ensuring a great texture on the outside and moist meat on the inside. It also has a generous surface area to meat ratio given its size meaning that a good percentage of each bite is going to be sauce. So when you consider that you can then drench this little crispy-skinned treasure in virtually any sauce you can think of, it’s basically one of the most delicious things on the planet.

This is something people hitting a bar after softball have known intuitively for years. Something Raptors fans saddling up to the bar at St Louis to watch a game feel instinctively. Something even that hapless bastard 20 years ago at Crabby Joe’s knew — eating a cold and filthy wing a stoned fry cook had picked up off the the floor. Something, I have learned, that a heart-stopping amount of Americans already know. Consider this: An estimated 1.42 billion chicken wings were consumed in the United States during the 2022 Super Bowl weekend ALONE.

And the rate at which we’re shoving baskets of these sauced little fuckers into our maws while we scream at sports is not slowing down.

“Demand for chicken wings has been through the roof since the beginning of the pandemic,” National Chicken Council (NCC) Tom Super noted in the organization’s 2022 Wing Report. “A shift from sit-down restaurants to takeout and quick service has boosted chicken wing consumption. Restaurants like wing joints and pizza places were built around takeout and delivery, and as long as people are sitting around watching TV and maybe drinking a beer, wings will remain in the game.”

A-fucking-men, Mr Super. I feel a little silly having neglected this guilty pleasure for so long, but it’s something you can’t see when you’ve stood at a deep fryer, steeped in sauce, being splattered with boiling oil, eyeing the clock for your next smoke: Wings are fucking delicious. Even shitty wings. Chicken wings are basically the sweatpants of the culinary world. They’re comfortable, familiar, and somehow a little bit reassuring in their trashiness.

And after the past couple years we’ve all had, isn’t that exactly what we all need? Haven’t we all discovered the joy of indulging our baser urges and generally just having less fucks to give? Why was I wearing pants without elastic waistbands so much? Why don’t I let the Office run on repeat on Netflix one more time? Why did I used to think showering was so important?

Why not just order a whole mess of chicken wings for dinner?

Why not, indeed.

Wing facts:

  • Molly Schuyler is the world chicken wing eating record holder for eating 501 wings in 30 minutes (second place was over 100 wings behind her)
  • Laid end to end, the amount of chicken wings Americans ate during the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl LVI game could circle the circumference of the Earth three times.

2 thoughts on “How I learned to stop worrying and love chicken wings

  1. I am throwing out my record of never ever commenting on blogs, news articles or the like by saying this post had me full belly laughing out loud like a lunatic. Thanks for making my day

  2. So it’s kind of funny that on the west coast US, wings aren’t the ubiquitous bar food that I’ve found in other regions. There are plenty of places that have them, but I’ve found that North of the border it is almost unheard of to go to a bar and find they don’t serve wings at all. I went North of the border for college, and that’s the perfect time in life to go for beer and cheap wings. It’s closed now, but I had this bar I frequented in Bellingham, WA that served whole wings… not the two parts separated. They were fantastic giant wings.

    Also, I’m glad I’m not too much an overthinker about the cheap food I’ve gotten over the years…

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