You can grill, roast, fry, or bake chicken wings -- but for wings with the most wood-fired flavor, smoking is the way to go.
What's the difference between grilled chicken wings and smoked chicken wings? It can be a little confusing.
In general, when people talk about grilled chicken wings, they usually mean wings that were cooked over relatively high heat for a short period of time. The high heat usually gives the wings crispy skin.
When people talk about smoked chicken wings, they usually mean wings that were cooked over lower heat, for a longer amount of time. The skin isn't likely to crisp up, but you can fix that with a last-minute sear.
The difference in cooking time between grilling and smoking isn't that big. Because chicken wings aren't very large, you wouldn't want to cook them for several hours -- that's good for large cuts of meat like pork shoulder or brisket, but chicken wings would dry out if cooked for that long. So while "grilled" wings might be cooked for 20 to 25 minutes, "smoked" wings might be cooked only an hour.
But there are no hard and fast rules. You should feel free to experiment with times and temperatures to get your wings how you like them.
Because chicken wings are usually cooked with the bone in, they are less prone to drying out than, say, chicken breast. But smoked chicken wings can sometimes turn out a little less juicy than grilled chicken wings. There are ways to combat this result, such as brining the chicken wings before smoking, which we'll discuss below.
The most common ways of seasoning chicken wings for smoking are brines, marinades, dry rubs, and glazes.
Brines are a mixture of salt, water, and aromatics like herbs. They work by allowing salt to seep into the skin and meat, helping to flavor the wings, and to keep them moist during cooking. Typically, chicken is refrigerated in a brine overnight.
Because smoked wings stay on the grill for an hour or more, brining may help them retain moisture. You do not have to brine your wings before smoking. It is a completely optional step, and you can still make delicious, juicy wings without brining.
A smoked chicken marinade will typically include a sweet element, a spicy element, some sort of liquid, and a binding element (like oil) to help the marinade adhere to the wings.
Marinades work by seeping into the cracks and crevices of chicken wings, helping to flavor the skin and the meat. They also serve as a barrier between the heat and the chicken to prevent the wings from drying out.
You can refrigerate chicken wings in a marinade from 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
Dry rubs are all about flavor. Most dry rubs are a combination of herbs and spices, usually with a spicy component. Nearly all dry rubs contain salt, which helps lock in moisture and deepen the flavor of the wings.
Dry rubs can be applied immediately before cooking, or applied to the wings and refrigerated overnight.
Glazes are usually a mixture of sweet and hot elements. They add extra flavor and appetizing color to wings. A glaze must be somewhat thick and sticky so it adheres to the wings.
A glaze is usually applied in the final 10 to 15 minutes of cooking when finishing wings over high heat. The high heat will cook the glaze into the wings.
We recommend smoking wings until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you smoke wings at 225 degrees, it should take about one hour.
But the size of wings can vary. Larger wings will take longer to get an internal temperature of 165 degrees, smaller wings won't take quite as long.
If you don't have a thermometer, there's another way to test internal temperature. If the meat starts to pull away from the bone, that's a sign that the wings are fully cooked.
The best way to get crispy wings is to sear them at the end of the cooking process. One way to do this is to cook them to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit at a low temperature (180-225 degrees), then remove them, turn up your grill to a higher temperature (375 degrees), and sear them until the skin is crispy.
If your smoked wings have rubbery skin, try this searing method to crisp them.
Here is our tried-and-true method for smoking chicken wings. We combine marinating, dry rub, glazing, smoking, and searing for crispy, flavorful wings.
For smoked wings, sauce is typically served after cooking, as a dipping sauce.
For other methods of cooking wings like grilling, you may toss the wings in the sauce and then cook them -- in addition to serving extra sauce on the side. But because smoked wings cook for so much longer, sauce added at the start of cooking might discolor or burn.
Here are two sauces recommended by BBQ competition winner Chad Ward. Simply mix and serve.
Chicken wings are traditionally served with something cool and crunchy like celery and carrot sticks. They are a good contrast with the heat of smoked chicken wings, and can also be dipped in the sauce.
If you want to serve something heartier, the tanginess and texture of this smoked bean salad might make for a good pairing.
To reheat smoked chicken wings, take the cooked wings out of the fridge and preheat your Traeger (or oven) to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the wings on a sheet pan lined with foil. The wings will get closer to room temperature as the Traeger preheats.
Once the preheating is complete, place the sheet pan in the oven and close the lid. Allow the wings to heat up for 5 to 6 minutes, then turn them over and allow them to heat for 5 to 6 minutes more.
This unique reverse sear, smoke, and sear method starts with the wings at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, before smoking them slowly at 225 degrees, then an application of a savory mustard-based sauce and a final sear.
Cook time: 55 minutes
1/2 cup spicy brown mustard
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon miso
1/2 cup molasses
5 pounds chicken wings
1/4 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper
Brined, then smoked, then sauced -- these wings have the flavor of authentic Korean street food.
Cook time: 1 hour
1 gallon water
1 cup sea salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, halved
4 sprigs thyme
3 pounds chicken wings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Gochujang Hot Pepper Paste #1
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
This method is for those who like to sauce their wings after cooking. After brining, the wings are tossed in a dry rub, then smoked slowly until a final sear to crisp the skin.
Cook time: 1 hour
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds chicken wings
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon ancho or chipotle chile pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon Traeger Rub
These wings get a dry rub the night before cooking, and a slow smoke before a final roast. Then they're tossed in a spicy, savory butter sauce.
Cook time: 1 hour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 pounds chicken wings, flats and drumettes separated
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup Louisiana-style hot sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce