Cooking Tips

Hot Take: Smoked Wings Are Better Than Fried

(But hopefully no one ever makes you choose.)

Published May 24, 2022.

Don’t get me wrong, I can eat my fair share of fried buffalo chicken wings. But take chicken wings and slowly smoke them on a grill and—when done well—the result is a whole other level of awesomeness. You hit a balance of crisp, rendered skin around juicy, tender meat. And even better, the chicken soaks up smoky flavor that mingles with a bold spice rub to create wings that are simply sublime. Now you’re cooking with gas (or charcoal). 

Sign up for the Cook's Country Dinner Tonight newsletter

10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.

That said, to do it well, you need the right combination of technique, heat, and time. 

Brine the Wings

Contrary to popular belief, the meat in chicken wings is white meat, not dark meat. So it’s better to treat them a little like chicken breasts to avoid drying them out (the biggest difference is that wings have a higher ratio of skin to meat, which gives them that signature juiciness). 

Brine the wings by soaking them in a mixture of sugar, salt, and water for an hour before grilling to help keep them moist and tender.

400+ Grilling Recipes!

Master of the Grill

Whether you’re new to grilling or consider yourself a genuine pit master, Master of the Grill is perfect for you. We've divided this book into three sections (The Basics, The Easy Upgrades, and Serious Projects) to help you find recipes that suit your level of grilling.
Save 42% Right Now

Make a Wood Chip Foil Packet

To give the wings plenty of smoky flavor on either a charcoal or a gas grill, soak wood chips in water (so that they burn more slowly and produce more smoke), and then wrap them in a packet of aluminum foil. Cut two slits in the foil so that smoke can escape and fill the grill. 

Making A Foil Packet

Use a Half-Grill Fire

A half-grill fire is set up to have two cooking zones: one that is intensely hot and another that is comparatively cool. 

For a Charcoal Grill: Place the foil packet on one side of the grill. Then pour the lit coals on top of the foil packet over half the grill, piling them in an even layer. Leave the other half of the grill free of coals.

Placing A Foil Packet On Half The Grill
Pouring Coals On Half The Grill

For a Gas Grill: Place the foil packet over the primary burner and turn all burners to high to preheat. Once the grill is preheated, leave the primary burner on but turn off the other burners.

Start Cool, Finish Hot 

Start the wings on the cooler side (with plenty of smoke rolling over them). This gives time for the fat to get rendered and the wings to absorb just the right amount of flavorful smoke. Then finish them right over the heat for char, color, and crispiness.

Charring Chicken Wings

Don’t Be Shy with Flavor

Use a barbecue-inspired spice rub of paprika, chili powder, dried oregano, and cayenne for a harmonious blend of heat and aromatic complexity. 

To give the char-kissed wings a beautiful sheen and even more flavor, toss them in a combination of melted butter, cider vinegar, and ketchup.

Tossing Smoked Chicken Wings In A Bowl

Smoked Chicken Wings

Don't just wing it—follow our method for perfectly tender, juicy, char-kissed smoked chicken wings.
Get the Recipe

This is a members' feature.