Whether you are rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL championship on February 1, chances are you will be within reach of a platter of delectable, golden-brown chicken wings. The National Chicken Council estimates that more than one billion wing portions will be served during the last football weekend.
As popular as wings are during the “big game,” the weekend actually accounts for less than five percent of annual demand. About 24 billion wing segments will be marketed this year, and that doesn’t count the wings that stay on chickens sold whole, breast portions with wings, or whole chickens cut up.
The tasty appetizer is popular throughout the year at sports bars and family eateries alike, not to mention carryout shops and supermarket delicatessens. The majority of wings are sold through foodservice channels – that is, restaurants of all types. These account for 8.5 billion wings (1.8 billion pounds). Another 3.5 billion wings (750 million pounds), most of them ready to cook rather than already cooked, will be sold in retail grocery stores.
Tasty recipes for home preparation of chicken wings can be found at www.eatchicken.com.
By some accounts, prices are higher than a year ago. The U.S. Department of Agriculture cites an average retail price of $1.93 per pound for ready-to-cook chicken wings featured in grocery circulars, up from $1.52 a year ago. Prices always go up during the run-up to the football spectacular, but this year’s higher prices may be related to industry-wide production cutbacks due to high feed costs and general economic stress.
Wings have always been popular for frying, particularly in the South. The “Buffalo wing” phenomenon of wings cooked in hot sauce was born in the North, however, at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, in 1964. Co-owner Teressa Bellissimo cooked leftover wings in hot sauce as a late-night snack for her son and his friends. The boys liked them so much that the Bellissimos put them on the menu the next day.
Served with celery slices and bleu cheese sauce, “Buffalo Wings” were an instant hit. Dick Winger, who sold hot sauce to the bar, went on the road with Dominic Bellissimo, the owners’ son, to promote the item and sell hot sauce. Buffalo wings gradually caught on with restaurant operators around the country. The concept hit the big time in 1990, when McDonald’s began selling Mighty Wings at some of its restaurants. KFC rolled out Hot Wings a year later, and Domino’s Pizza introduced its own wings in 1994 with a memorable advertising campaign showing flying bison.
Chicken wings have gone on and off the menus of quick-service restaurants, but have become entrenched on the menus of casual dining establishments across the country. Nearly every casual dining concept has wings on the menu, and at least two dozen national or regional restaurant chains specialize in chicken wings.
Several chicken companies make chicken wings, in a dizzying variety of flavors and styles, for sale to foodservice outlets. They are usually shipped fully cooked and frozen and are prepared for the customer in a fryer. Increasingly, ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat wings are showing up in the delicatessen and prepared-foods section of supermarkets. These are the same products that are sold to bars and restaurants.