Mmmm…. Chicken wings on the grill… irresistible and magical. Magical because they tend to disappear in the blink of an eye. This is probably the only food over which we fight in our family. I kid you not. Any leftovers are closely watched by every family member. They are pre-divided and claimed. An uneven number of leftover wings results in passionate disputes over who gets to get an extra wing.
For a long time I’ve been a fan of smoked wings. You soak them in brine (check out my How To Brine Chicken post for details), then you smoke them low and slow for an hour an a half or so. They always come out perfectly juicy and flavorful. The smoky flavor added by cherry wood chunks is mind blowing. I salivate as soon as I smell the smoke. When I preheat my smoker and wait for the smoke to turn thin and blue, my neighbors say: Mmm… something smells so good… what are you cooking? They get very surprised when I tell them that it’s only the smoke and the meat is not on the grill yet.
Grilled chicken wings are something else. Marinated and properly cooked they turn out just as juicy as the smoked wings. If you throw in a couple of chunks of cherry wood just before you load chicken wings on the grill you will get some of that smoky flavor too. And the beautiful dark red color. But there is more. Grilled chicken wings come out crispy-skinned, with beautifully caramelized surface.
The marinade is important. If it tastes great, the wings will do too. I recently experimented with Bulgogi-Style Marinated Chicken Wings and loved the results. Bad marinade will kill the taste. Sugary marinade will make it very hard to grill the wings without burning them. Keep sugars to a minimum or don’t use at all.
My preference is to grill on a charcoal grill. I think it gives me more flavor and a crispier skin. If I want some smoky flavor I will just throw a couple of wood chunks on each side of the fire pit. That’s my subjective opinion. Objectively speaking, both charcoal and gas grills are capable of producing a very good product. You can get the same smoky flavor on a gas grill using something like an A-MAZE-N Amazen Pellet Smoker or it’s sibling A-MAZE-N Pellet Tube Smoker.
I’ve been using one of these in my vertical gas smoker for many years and it does the trick really well. Here are a few tips on using these smoke generators based on my experience:
Use a propane torch with a Pencil Flame Propane Torch Head to get the smoke going. You can pick it up on Amazon or most local hardware stores.
Use good quality pellets. I know, it goes without saying, but how do you tell good quality from bad? I made a mistake of buying pellets without properly reading what they are made of and it was a waste of money. If you are buying cherry wood pellets, my favorite flavor, then make sure you are buying pellets made from 100% cherry wood, and that there are no binders or fillers are added. I once purchased cherry wood pellets and only later realized that they were made mostly of oak and maple wood with only about 30% cherry wood. Needless to say, I was not happy with the flavor of the smoke. BBQrs Delight Wood Pellets are one example of very good quality wood pellets.
A small amount of pellets is enough for grilling wings. Full A-MAZE-N smoker will generate smoke for about 10-12 hours, so take that into account. A 2-3 inch strip of pellets will be enough. To increase the amount of smoke, start the smoke from both sides of the pellet strip.
When grilling on a charcoal grill, make sure there is no flame, only red-hot glowing coals. That’s critical to getting beautiful caramelization and crispiness without charring the meat.
- 3 lbs chicken wings, separated into wingettes and drummettes, tips discarded
- For the marinade:
- ¼ cup light soy sauce (see notes)
- ⅓ cup dark soy sauce (see notes)
- 3 Tbsp vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)
- 2 tsp each of granulated onions and dried oregano
- 1 tsp each of kosher salt, granulated garlic, dried parsley, and black pepper
- ¼ tsp each of dried thyme and dried basil
- ½ tsp (or more for a stronger kick) cayenne pepper (optional) (see notes)
- Combine all ingredients for the marinade in a large Ziploc bag. Close the bag and shake really well.
- Add the chicken wings, close the bag and massage the wings really well to ensure good coverage. Expel as much air as you can, close bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat an outdoor grill to about 350F-400F.
- Remove the chicken wings from the marinade and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Brush the preheated grill grate with cooking oil to prevent sticking. I give it a quick wipe with a piece of paper towel soaked in vegetable oil. The grill is hot so be very careful and wear a heat resistant glove.
- Cook the chicken wings on the preheated grill, lid closed, for about 10-15 minutes on each side, until the meat is nicely browned and the juices run clear (see my notes). You may want to use an instant read thermometer is not sure. The wings are ready when the temperature in the thickest parts registers at least 165F.
Grilling - Some cooks prefer grilling chicken wings turning them frequently, until they are done. My preferred method that works really well for me is as follows:
1. Load the wings on the pre-heated grill and close the lid
2. Grill on one side for 10-15 minutes
3. Open the lid, flips the wings on the other side. If your grill has hot spots, rearrange the wings by moving more browned wings to a less hot area of the grill. Close the lid
4. Continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes
5. Remove from the grill and enjoy
I like grilling chicken wings this way because it requires less tending and the temperature stays stable. Cooking on a charcoal grill this way also lets me avoid flareups and temperature fluctuations.
On my Big Green Egg grill the wings are ready after 20 minutes of grilling, 10 minutes per side. I do, however, like extending the grilling time to about 12-15 minutes per side. This way the wings come out more crispy, and the meat inside becomes more fall-off-the-bone tender. The meat is, perhaps, slightly less juicy, just a bit, but that does not really impact the taste as chicken wings are much more forgiving to overcooking.
Hot sauce - Instead of cayenne pepper, you may want to toss fully cooked chicken wings in this Buffalo wing sauce:
Classic Buffalo Hot Sauce
1/2 cup melted salted butter
2 cloves minced or pressed garlic
1/2 cup Frank's Original Redhot Sauce
Just as good: