Wings frying high: Sauces give family appeal to bar favorite
Let's face it: Chicken wings and sporting events are a popular pairing. But who needs a game to enjoy these bite-sized delights? Wings are also growing in popularity as a fun dinner for the family.
John Laramie, owner of Buffalo Wings and Beer in Frederick for nearly four years, has had a passion for chicken wings since high school. He grew up just a mile from the first Buffalo Wings and Beer location on Snauffer School Road in Gaithersburg. He was a regular there, and enjoyed eating wings while watching the baseball games.
Years passed and Laramie continued enjoying wings at his boyhood hangout. One day, BWB founder Ira Levy proposed the idea to Laramie about opening his own location, Laramie said.
Likening BWB to a "Cheers-type environment," Laramie liked the idea of running a small, more neighborhood-friendly sports bar that draws sports fans and families alike. Laramie recently renovated the restaurant to remove some pool tables and add more televisions.
Once Laramie had the idea to open his own location, he began training for a year to learn everything he could about wings and sauces from Levy.
BWB only uses Purdue wings that are on the larger side -- totaling six or seven wings per pound. "We found them to be the best quality," Laramie said. "We've tried others, but that's the highest quality you can get."
As for technique, the standard way to cook the wings is in a fryer for a minimum of 10 minutes. Laramie, however, prefers a crispier wing, so he lets them cook a few minutes longer. "Everyone wants them crispy and well-done," he said. "I've never had someone want them undercooked," he joked.
The next step is what makes or breaks a chicken wing -- the sauce.
The traditional Buffalo sauce may be the most well-known, but flavors like teriyaki, Thai peanut, sweet and tangy and more are growing in popularity as well. Applying the sauce is a simple process of putting the cooked wings in a bowl and tossing them until they are coated.
Tim Delaney, owner of the Frederick location of WOW Café and Wingery, agrees that the sauce is the key element. Delaney was also a big fan of wings before getting into the restaurant business.
Using only fresh wings -- and on average selling 800 pounds a week -- WOW Café has 17 different sauce variations to choose from, said Delaney. Some of the sauces are freshly made on site, and others are proprietary blends from the franchise.
Acclaimed chef Paul Prudhomme partnered with the originators of the franchise in New Orleans to create the spices and sauces, Delaney said.
BWB also has its own blends of proprietary sauces, offering varying grades of a spicy sauce, roasted garlic, Cajun and other sauces. The most popular for adults, according to Laramie, is the Rooster sauce, which is a mid-level of heat. Kids tend toward the roasted garlic and sweet and tangy wings, he said. Customers can even ask to mix a couple of sauces together to create their own favorites, said Laramie.
"It's our sauce that makes our wings good," said Levy, who creates the sauces himself for the franchise. His inspiration comes from tasting the fare at other restaurants, and then garnering input from friends.
Similarly, WOW Café offers a number of varieties including Jamaican jerk, Asian teriyaki and a Bombay coconut curry.
Delaney said his cooks coat the wings with spices and let them sit overnight to allow the flavors infuse the meat. For those who are interested in trying out a number of different sauces, Delaney recommends to his customers that they order the wings as is out of the fryer and have the sauces on the side. The most popular sauces at WOW Café are the Kansas City, Texas, Jamaican jerk and the Asian teriyaki, he said.
Both franchises have won awards at the annual Buffalo Chicken Wing Competition in Buffalo, N.Y. In addition, Levy learned recently that their wings were named America's Favorite Wings by MJGuide.com.
All wing masters agree that the best way for a home cook to make wings is to cook them in a fryer for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees with an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Delaney also recommended purchasing a larger wing because the meat will stay juicier. Baking wings is not recommended because the wings cannot achieve the same crispiness as they do in a fryer, he said.
Chicken wings continue to be a popular item for both restaurants, especially on weekends when the sporting events are on television. "I think this year (wings) are going to take over pizza for Super Bowl Sunday," said Levy. "That's how strong it is."
One last note: Don't forget the accompaniments with the wings, said Delaney. Blue cheese and ranch dressings are popular choices, often served with celery.
Sometimes, the real winners aren't the teams on television: They are the people gathered with their family and friends for good times over great food.