When it comes to Super Bowl Sunday, hot and crispy chicken wings are almost as important as the football game itself. But there are so many methods, recipes and sauces to choose from — which one is actually the best?
That all depends on your individual taste buds, of course, but Noah Chaimberg, the founder of Heatonist, a gourmet hot sauce shop in Brooklyn, New York, says there are a few no-fail rules that apply across the board.
Chaimberg, a self-proclaimed hot sauce and wing expert, founded his shop in 2013 and started developing signature bottles for the wildly popular YouTube show "Hot Ones" in 2015. The original show, which is heading into its 11th season this month, has even spawned its own game show in which contestants can win up to $25,000 by answering trivia questions while chowing down on spicy wings. It premieres on TruTV Feb. 18.
Today, Heatonist is the official distributor of "Hot Ones" sauces, and three of the 10 sauces featured during each season are made just for the show.
For Chaimberg, the show has been instrumental in making hot sauce cool.
"Before, there was this kind of subculture of craft, the way that craft beer was 20 years ago, that was happening with hot sauce," Chaimberg said. "The show really did a great job of bringing that to the surface, and getting people more engaged with the topic.”
The cultish popularity of show, said Chaimberg, has helped create a much larger community of hot sauce and wing lovers. He added, “The show kind of brought this to the mainstream where all these people could find each other.”
Ahead of the biggest wing-eating holiday of the year (Americans are expected to put away over 1.4 billion wings on Feb. 2), Chaimberg shared his top tips with TODAY Food.
Order wings extra crispy
If you don't feel like cooking at all, then order your wings extra crispy, Chaimberg advised. The texture of the wings will make a big difference.
“That extra bit of crispiness on the skin really helps the skin to soak up some sauce ... every inch of it," he said. "That's really what makes wings so great.” He always advises ordering wings naked, too, so you can sauce them up later, right before you're about to chow down, which will avoid any sogginess at service time.
To fry or to bake?
Making wings at home all comes down to what you have on hand.
“If you can get access to a deep fryer, that's great,” said Chaimberg. However, he acknowledged those can get little too messy for people. “If somebody uses a deep fryer and puts in their wings before they're defrosted and dried properly, that could really cause serious issues.”
His next favorite method? “I think doing a twice-baked option is good, where you bake them on a lower temperature (first). What that does is it renders out the fat from under the skin so that drips off."
No matter what method you're using, Chaimberg advises adding a bit of salt and baking powder to his wings, then patting them dry which will help remove even more moisture and help the skin crisp nicely.
While grilling might not be easy for everyone this time of year, grilling will yield a wing that has great texture and plenty of flavorful bites. “I think grilled wings are fantastic because you get some of the char on there," said Chaimberg. "If you're doing wings on a grill, you can use a sauce that has some fruit in it, maybe a mango or pineapple.” When the fruit sugars hit the grill and caramelize, your wings will have a beautifully finished exterior.
The best way to sauce wing
To many, the classic way to enjoy wings is Buffalo style, which is a basic hot sauce mixed with butter.
“Personally, I like something with a decent amount of acidity," Chaimberg said, adding that he sometimes adds a little apple cider vinegar to the mix. “I like that because the acidity of the vinegar does a really good job of cutting through the fatty head of the wing and the skin.”
Keep in mind, however, that not every sauce is meant to be mixed with other additives to create a perfect wing coating. Always check out the sauce's recommended uses on a bottle's label. If you're new to sauce shopping, a great starting point is to take a closer look at the list of ingredients, both in terms of what's included and the order in which everything appears. If chili peppers are dead last, it's probably not a great quality sauce.
And when it comes to heat, hotter is definitely not always better. Chaimberg said some people might get daring after watching an episode of "Hot Ones," but going as hot as you think you can handle is probably a recipe for disaster if you're planning to eat a lot of wings.
“I think the biggest mistake people make is starting with something that is too hot for them,” he said. That will scare people off from trying new things in the future if they get literally (and perhaps figuratively) burned. For wings, Chaimberg recommends starting with a mild heat level. Also look for sauces with a mix of other spices like garlic, turmeric, cumin, cilantro and fruit.
Variety is the spice of life for serving
When entertaining, always have various dipping sauces laid out as part of the spread. People are always divided on the big ranch versus blue cheese debate which, like many foodie fights, likely comes down to a location-based preference.
“We've seen it's really a regional thing as people on the East Coast tend to prefer blue cheese and people in the middle part of America tend to go more towards ranch," Chaimberg said.
At the end of the day, you really can't go wrong with both — just make sure your wings are crispy.
"Hot Ones" returns for its 11th season on Thursday, Feb. 6, at 11 a.m. on First We Feast's YouTube channel.