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The Magic of Roasted Chicken Wings

Forget frying. After a stint in the oven, the best part of the bird emerges fall-off-the-bone tender, with exceptionally savory, golden-brown skin.
By Published Jan. 19, 2022

Professional cooks learn early to taste as they work, checking a dish at various points for balance and seasoning. It’s a critical skill. We also come to understand that some morsels of food are best kept as a secret treat. My favorite solo snack? The chicken wings plucked from a freshly roasted bird.  

These small packages deliver the very essence of poultry—rich, succulent meat wrapped in bronzed, well-rendered skin—in a couple glorious bites. That’s because the bony appendages peek out just enough from under the body of the bird to turn deliciously brown and savory in the heat of the oven. Too bad there are only two per chicken.  

Wouldn’t it be great if you could produce an entire platterful of wings that tasted just like two delectable noshes snuck from a whole bird? I thought so too, so I set out to develop a recipe that would allow me to enjoy the roasted wing experience at the table with my guests instead of in secrecy.

The Tastiest Part of a Roast Chicken

Wings have a fat content similar to that of dark meat: They contain about 3.5 percent fat, while thighs contain nearly 4 percent; breast meat, on the other hand, contains a mere 1.25 percent. Wings’ large amounts of connective tissue and high skin-to-meat ratio mean that they’re loaded with collagen, so wings roasted on a whole chicken become incredibly tender and juicy. In the heat of the oven, the fat is slowly rendered from their abundant skin, leaving it lightly crisp and attractively browned. As they roast, the wings are also basted in the golden, savory jus that comes off the body of the bird, which adds even more umami richness.

Winging it

As a starting point, I cribbed the roasting time and oven temperature from one of our standard whole roast chicken recipes. I halved 4 pounds of wings (enough to serve four) at the joint to separate the meaty drumettes from the slim flats; lopped off and discarded the pointy wingtips; and then tossed the parts with oil, salt, and pepper. I spread the parts out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and slid them into a 400-degree oven for about an hour.

Disappointingly, the wings’ abundant skin browned unevenly, and only some of the fat was rendered, leaving a slew of flabby, pallid spots. 

How To Cut Up Chicken Wings

1. Using your fingertip, locate joint between wingtip and flat. Place blade of sharp chef’s knife on joint, between bones; using palm of your nonknife hand, press down on blade to cut through skin and tendon. 

2. Find joint between flat and drumette and repeat process to cut through skin and joint. Reserve wingtips.

A Weighty Decision

I suspected that two factors make wings pulled from a whole bird superior to the ones I had just prepared, and both revolve around the anatomy of a chicken. 

First, I speculated that the heft of a 4-pound chicken is enough to pin the wings against a hot roasting pan, helping render the chicken fat and brown the skin. Second, I posited that the drippings from the body of the bird bathe the wings with umami‑rich juices as they roast. Without that period of self‑basting, my wings were pretty lackluster in flavor.

To explore the weight question, I started by arranging the thicker drumettes along the long edges of a baking sheet, which tend to run the hottest, and then scattered the more slender flats in the middle. I set a second baking sheet on top, pressed down lightly, and then roasted the assembly the same way I had roasted the first batch.  

Wings like the Ones You Sneak from a Whole Bird (and a Lot of ’em)

To produce a full 4 pounds of golden-brown, well-rendered wings—just like the two delicacies you might nibble on while carving a whole roasted bird—we strategically arrange the flats, drumettes, and wingtips on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. The thicker drumettes go on the outside edges of the sheet, which we found heated more quickly. The thinner flats occupy the center, with the collagen-rich wingtips (added to boost the flavor of the jus) filling in any empty spots. To promote even, deep browning and to encourage fat and juices to render, we weigh the parts down with a second baking sheet (after laying a sheet of parchment on top to prevent sticking).

What a difference. The top sheet encouraged better contact with the bottom sheet, enhancing browning and rendering on the undersides of the wings. It also conducted heat more efficiently than the air in the oven, which improved browning and rendering on their top sides. Unfortunately, sandwiching the parts between two pans caused skin-tearing sticking. Oil didn’t fully resolve the issue, but placing sheets of parchment paper under and over the wings did the trick.  

I evolved my method to roasting the weighted wings for 45 minutes before removing the top baking sheet, pouring off any excess juices, flipping each piece, and then briefly popping the sheet under the broiler for a final skin-browning blast of heat. 

Self-Basting Wings?

At this point, the skin was tawny brown, the fat amply rendered, and the meat moist and tender. Yet the chicken still lacked concentrated poultry flavor. To mimic the taste-enhancing basting action that happens on a whole bird, I tried coating the raw wings in melted butter, thinking that the milk solids would add depth as they browned. Sadly, the extra fat made the wings slick with grease. Next, I braised the wings in a shallow layer of chicken broth, hoping it would reduce and coat the skin as it evaporated. No such luck. The additional liquid simply turned the wings soggy.

Then it occurred to me: Without thinking, I’d been draining off the incredibly tasty drippings released by the wings during roasting. Instead of abandoning those precious liquids, what if I captured them and reintroduced them as a glaze? The skin on chicken wings is full of collagen that turns to gelatin during cooking, so I hoped to produce something with real cling.

For my next batch, I proceeded as before, but this time instead of getting rid of the wingtips, I nestled the tiny bundles of skin, bone, and cartilage in among the drumettes and flats to yield as much umami- and collagen-rich jus as possible. After the parts had roasted for 45 minutes, I tipped the corner of the baking sheet over a fat separator to pour off every drop of the golden liquid. I removed the fat and then reduced the drippings to a thick glaze that I brushed onto the wings after they emerged from the broiler.      

As I’d hoped, the gelatinous reduction clung beautifully to the skin, which emerged glistening and slightly tacky, just like wings you pull from a whole bird. How did they taste? Awesome. The glaze was a real breakthrough, supercharging the wings with savory flavor.  

My wing-hoarding days are officially over. I now have more than enough finger-licking, chicken-y goodness to share with everyone who joins me at the table.  

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.