In Search of Crispy Smoked Wings

I’m very happy with my smoked briskets and ribs. I’ve done a lot of these meats. Through trial and error and learning from other, these generally turn out delicious.

Not that there’s one right way, but for these, there are some pretty clear guidelines out there that can get you close in short order. For ribs, there’s the classic 3-2-1 method, for brisket Aaron Franklin’s Method provides a methodical approach that makes for outstanding brisket.

For chicken wings, the picture isn’t as clear. I posed the question on Twitter, and walked away with some great ideas. In fact… lots of ideas. The path to the perfect smoke wing, varies, just like a lot of smoked weeks, but I’ll say, I think there may be more and more varied paths on this meat as compared to some others.

This post is a chronicle of my journey to get a great wing off my smoker.

Attempt 2

This cook is a side by side comparison… rub+olive oil and rub+powder soda.  Adding a little bit of baking powder is supposed to help the crisping process.

The chicken!  I made half of these. That amounted to about 20 wings total, 15 per method.This cook is a side by side comparison… rub+olive oil and rub+baking powder. I used 1/2 tsp of baking powder per lb.The wings on a baking sheet rack in the refrigerator. The theory here is that dampness causes some steaming and leads to rubbery skin. The rack allows excess liquids to drip off while the cool, dry air of the refrigerator helps to dry the wings. The top are the wings+baking powder, bottom are naked wings at this point.Most of the time I use my own rub recipe. For this test, I decided to use a known-factor…. Butt Rub. This is a favorite of mine because I like the taste and I like the fact that it’s not chock full of sugar. Sugar is dandy but it’s also cheap. Some rubs can be expensive and when you’re getting half sugar, the actual value goes down even more. I’ve used this for ribs and brisket and… add my own sugar when it makes sense.  Top are rub+baking powder bottom are rub+olive oil.On my Recteq RT-700 – Right side is rub+baking powder left side is rub+olive oil.  I smoked at 225 deg F for about an hour.After the first hour I increased the temp to 400 deg F until they looked done. Approximately 20 minutes.A look at the finished product. Right is baking powder+rub. Left is olive oil+rub.  The baking powder wings are noticeably darker.  I was quite surprised by this.Close up of the olive oil wingsClose up of the baking powder wings

Conclusions

This was take 2 of this side by side comparison. Results were much better. The baking powder treated wings were much crispier. Clearly applying baking powder helps with the crisping and browning process. They were the best wings that have ever come off my smoker.

I’ll be making one tweak the next time around. I felt like 400 deg F was a little too high. The wings got done very quickly after the increase in temperature. I think a slight decrease would work a little better.

My Process for Crispy Smoked Wings

  1. Pat wings dry
  2. Apply baking powder, 1/2 tsp per lb. Thoroughly mix to evenly cover
  3. Place wings on rack/baking sheet uncovered in refrigerator for two hours
  4. Apply rub/seasoning as desired
  5. Smoke for 1 hour at 225 deg F
  6. Increase temp to 375 to 400 deg F until crispy. Approximately 20 minutes.

Attempt 1

If you’re curious about the development of my process and past attempts…

The chicken!  I made half of these. That amounted to about 28 wings total, 14 per method.The wings on a baking sheet rack in the refrigerator. The theory here is that dampness causes some steaming and leads to rubbery skin. The rack allows excess liquids to drip off while the cool, dry air of the refrigerator helps to dry the wings.

Just a few hours in the fridge made a visible difference.Most of the time I use my own rub recipes. For this test, I decided to use a known-factor…. Butt Rub. This is a favorite of mine because I like the taste and I like the fact that it’s not chock full of sugar. Sugar is dandy but it’s also cheap. Some rubs can be expensive and when you’re getting half sugar, the actual value goes down even more. I’ve used this for ribs and brisket and… add my own sugar when it makes sense.  This is 3 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon of.. baking soda. More on that to come.This cook is a side by side comparison… rub+olive oil and rub+baking soda.  Adding a little bit of baking soda is said to help the crisping process. Bon Appétit says… “Baking soda is alkaline, so it raises the pH level of chicken skin, breaking down the peptide bonds and jumpstarting the browning process, meaning the wings got browner and crispier faster than they would on their own.”.  Top is rub+baking soda, bottom is rub+olive oil.On my Recteq RT700. Right is rub+olive oil left is rub+baking soda. I went with two cook temps – an hour at 225 to get smoke flavor and then a ramp up to 400 to theoretically get crispiness.Toward the end of the cookThese are now consolidated down to a quarter size sheet pan. Left is rub+olive oil right is rub+baking soda.

Conclusions

Both had a great taste and had what I would call passable skin.  Crispy?  No.  The olive oil turned out a little crispier but neither were what I would call crispy.  This cook had a problem and that’s… too much rub.  Normally I would apply rub by eye. Apply it until it looks right. I think that’s the right way to do it. For this side by side test I did not do that. Trying to treat both sides of the test the same, I measured the rub and it was too much. Especially for the baking soda side of the test. This caused the rub to start to burn and in no way helped with crispiness.

This article will be the repository for my journey, connect with me to stay in the loop for the next revision.

Changes For test two…

  • Although baking soda and baking powder are both used to aid in crispiness. In spite of Bon Appétit advocating for soda, it seems the consensus is that baking powder works better.
  • Less rub, maybe 1 TB rub + 1/2 tsp baking powder.

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