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Grilling Chicken Wings: The Ultimate Guide

No other cooking method -- from deep frying to cooking on charcoal or gas -- can compete with the natural smoke flavor that comes from grilling wings on a pellet grill. The kiss of smoke adds new layers of texture and flavor to your wings. One of the best parts of using a pellet grill is the smoke and heat are well-circulated so you don’t have to worry about where you place the wings or continually flipping them.

How To Grill Wings

  1. Set your pellet grill to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat with the lid closed for about 15 minutes.
  2. Prepare the wings using your favorite seasoning method (see below).
  3. Place on the grill and cook for about 35 minutes, turning the wings halfway through the cooking time. The minimal internal temperature for chicken is 165 degrees, but most people prefer a more cooked-through texture, so aim for 175 to 180 degrees.
  4. Toss in sauce or extra rub, and let ‘em rest for about 10 minutes before digging in.

How to Season Grilled Chicken Wings

The three most popular options for seasoning chicken wings are brines, dry rubs, and sauces. You should use at least one of these methods to give your grilled wings the best flavor. You can also use them in combination.

Brine

A brine is a mixture of salt and water. The standard ratio is one cup of salt for every 16 cups of water. Soaking chicken wings in salty water causes the meat to retain more moisture during cooking. You're less likely to end up with dry meat if you brine the wings.

You can also add aromatics such as garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns to the brine. This will give the meat and skin a hint of additional flavor.

Make enough brine to completely cover the wings, then refrigerate them for up to 24 hours. Soaking for more than 24 hours may cause the meat to take on an unpleasantly mushy texture.

Another brine option is the dry brine. Here, you apply the salt directly to the wings, then let them sit on a rack in the refrigerator overnight with a cookie sheet below to catch any drippings. The salt will melt into the meat while the circulating air dries the surface of the wings.

Brining is optional, you can make perfectly juicy wings without it.

Dry Rub

A dry rub is a mix of spices, seasonings, and aromatics applied to the surface of the wings before cooking. Rubs almost always contain salt to flavor the meat and help it retain moisture during cooking.

Usually rubs have a spicy or peppery element, whether it's basic ground black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder or others. The bright color of the ground pepper gives the wings a more appealing presentation. For instance, our Traeger Chicken Rub contains black pepper and chile powder.

Pat the wings dry with a paper towel before applying a dry rub. This step will help the rub stick.

Even if they don't use a dry rub with multiple ingredients, almost all cooks dust wings with salt before cooking.

Sauce

Like a dry rub, a sauce usually includes salty and spicy ingredients. The difference is these ingredients are in liquid form, such as soy sauce (salty) or hot sauce (spicy).

Chicken wings sauce often includes butter or oil which helps the sauce stick to the wings.

The sauce can be used in one of three ways.

  1. Brush the sauce on the wings near the end of the grilling process. With this method, the sauce will bake onto the wings as a glaze. This works best with thicker, stickier sauces.
  2. Toss the wings in the sauce after they are cooked through. Add cooked wings to a large bowl, pour the sauce over them, toss with tongs, and serve.
  3. Serve the sauce on the side for dipping. This is a good method if you have multiple sauces (or picky eaters). Your guests can decide which sauces they want, how much they want, or if they want sauce at all.

How Long To Grill Wings

We recommend grilling chicken wings at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes, turning them halfway through the process. The safe internal temperature for chicken is 165 degrees, but most people like their wings cooked to a higher temperature (175 to 180 degrees). You can use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature of the wings, but because wings don't have a lot of meat, it can be difficult to get a reading. If the meat starts to pull away from the bone, it's a sign the wings are fully cooked.

How to Make Crispy Chicken Wings

Wings taste pretty good no matter how you cook them, but achieving perfectly crisp skin is a sign of grilling mastery.

The original recipe for Buffalo wings calls for deep-frying, and this method is perfect for getting crispy skin.

When grilling wings, getting crispy skin is more of a challenge. Here are our top tips for getting crispy chicken wings.

Fully Dry the Wings Before Grilling

When you want crisp wings, moisture is the main enemy. Everything you do will be about reducing the amount of moisture on the skin.

The first method is dry brining. One day before cooking, generously salt the wings, then place them on a rack that's above the surface of a baking sheet. Air from the refrigerator will dry the skin of the wings while the meat absorbs the salt.

If you plan to cook the same day, pat the wings dry with paper towels. This can be a dull and lengthy process as wings have a lot of moisture. But the drier you get them, the crispier the skin will be.

Grill Directly on Grates

Wings can be cooked on a baking sheet or in an oven-safe dish, but then they'll be swimming in their own moisture. Grilling wings directly on the grates gives the moisture a place to drip. Also, air flowing freely around all surfaces of the wings will help dry the skin.

Add a Light Coating of Cornstarch or Baking Powder

Many cooks have experimented with adding cornstarch or baking powder to their dry rub as a method of getting crispier wings.

Cornstarch is used to give a crispy coating to fried chicken, and it works with wings as well. Baking powder -- which has cornstarch in it -- adds the extra component of a chemical reaction that creates small bubbles within the coating that crisp during cooking. There is no clear consensus, so it may be worth trying both methods and seeing what you prefer.

Use a teaspoon of cornstarch or baking powder per pound of wings.

You definitely want to apply a warm sauce to the meat. You can also add a little butter to any sauce and once it is heated it will make it thinner and give it a nice sheen. - Chad Ward

What's the Best Wood to Grill Chicken Wings?

Since chicken wings are usually paired with strongly-flavored, spicy sauces, we recommend using strong-flavored woods like mesquite and hickory. But the ideal match is our Big Game Blend of pellets. The strong-flavored blend is designed to match the powerful flavor of game meats, but stands up to chicken wing sauce, too.

Chicken Wings Recipes

Here are some popular ideas to get started:

CLASSIC BUFFALO WINGS

Buffalo wings actually have nothing to do with the animal; they’re named after their birth city, Buffalo, New York. To make your own Buffalo sauce, all you need is hot sauce, butter, and mustard (optional). Simply whisk the ingredients together over your grill or stove until warm and well mixed. For extra heat, add red pepper flakes or chili powder.

ICY HOT SWEET SRIRACHA WINGS

Some like it hot, some like it cold. These Sriracha wings can be served both ways. (If you’re thinking of enjoying the cold version, it’s best to have a light smoke flavor by using alder or oak wood pellets.)

For the sauce, use butter as the base. Mix in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, lime, cilantro, brown sugar, and sriracha sauce, to your desired heat level.

Rather than tossing your wings in the sauce, give them a good brush when they’re warm and reserve the rest of the sauce for dipping. You can serve immediately or after chilling in the fridge for a bit.

PARMESAN GARLIC WINGS

For Parmesan Garlic wings, simply melt butter and parmesan cheese, then stir in dried herbs like oregano, basil, and a generous amount of powdered, minced, or finely chopped garlic. (Or keep it simple by using Traeger Chicken Rub). You can also use olive oil in addition to or instead of butter. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes to turn up the heat.

How To Grill Chicken Wings On A Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills can get tricky for chicken wings because they’re really designed to give you a hot fire for meats like burgers, dogs, and steaks. If you cook chicken wings too hot and too fast, they’ll become meat croutons.

The key is setting up indirect heat and keeping the temperature as close to 375 degrees as possible, so all your wings cook the way you want them to inside and out. Keep an eye on them, and adjust the vents and coals as needed. Rotate the wings so that the ones closest to the flames have time to cook farther away. Make sure every one reaches that minimum 165°F internal temperature.

How To Grill Chicken Wings On A Gas Grill

To cook chicken wings on a gas grill, you’ll also need to set up indirect heat. To do this, leave the burners off on one side and place the chicken wings above those burners. Be sure to rotate your wings so that each one spends roughly the same amount of time close to and far away from the flames.