Are Chicken Wings White or Dark Meat?
The answer may surprise you.
Chicken wings evade neat categorization. While their flesh has some of the lighter color and milder flavor of breast meat, it also has the juicy unctuousness of dark meat. When we took an informal poll of our test cooks, we couldn’t come to a consensus: The majority classified wings as dark meat, while a small, but vocal, minority insisted they were white.
Why does this even matter? Because white and dark meat require pretty different approaches in the kitchen. Thanks to their higher concentration of fat and connective tissue, the legs and thighs need to be cooked to a higher temperature, and for longer, than the breast, which is leaner and must be carefully monitored when cooking, lest it turn dry. So, knowing which camp wings belong to is key to knowing the best way to cook them.
Or is it?
CHICKEN WINGS ARE TECHNICALLY WHITE MEAT
All chicken meat contains both white and dark muscle fibers, and the proportion of each is determined by how those muscles are used. Fast-twitch muscles used for small sudden movements are made up mainly of white fibers. Endurance muscles used for prolonged activity are comprised mostly of dark muscle fibers, which get their reddish pigment from myoglobin. Since chickens spend much of their lives standing or walking, the muscle fibers in their legs and thighs are predominantly dark. Because they almost never fly and only in short bursts, the muscle fibers in their wings and breast are mostly white.
EVEN SO, WINGS ARE FATTIER LIKE DARK MEAT
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, wings 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 also have the highest proportion of skin compared to other chicken parts, and that skin is 60-80 percent collagen. When that collagen reaches 135 degrees, it begins to convert into gelatin, the gel-like substance that provides tenderness and moisture-holding capacity in many meats. The collagen helps retain moisture in the meat as it cooks, keeping it more juicy and tender. This is extremely helpful when it comes to cooking wings: This extra gelatin provides the perception of juiciness thanks to its moisture-holding capacity.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR COOKING CHICKEN WINGS
Chicken wings may be technically white meat, but because they are almost as fatty as the legs and thighs and contain a good deal of collagen, they can handle higher temperatures like dark meat. Case in point: To replicate the succulent wings wrapped in bronzed skin plucked from a whole roasted bird, we roasted several pounds of just wings in a hot 400-degree oven, then finished them off under the broiler—the perfect treatment for such fatty, collagen-rich white meat.