We’ve all had chicken wings that were too dry, too soggy, too rubbery, the list goes on and on. Prepping and grilling wings properly — and especially using a wood pellet grill — will give you homemade wings that beat any you could get at the local bar. Follow our guide to unlock all the secrets you need to know for grilling the ultimate chicken wings.
Grilling chicken wings is simple, but there’s more to it than just throwing wings on the grill like you would a burger.
The first secret to perfectly crispy wings is quality chicken. Set yourself up for success and make sure you buy fresh wings, not frozen. The problem with frozen wings is that there’s a lot of moisture locked inside even after defrosting. Steam escaping from previously frozen wings leads to rubbery meat and soggy skin as opposed to a tender inside with that irresistible crispy skin on the outside.
Another reason to buy fresh is that whole wings give you more bang for your buck. There are three parts: drumettes, wingettes, and tips. Simply separate the sections with a knife so they cook more easily on the grill. You’ll want to ditch the tips though, as they’re mostly skin, bone, and cartilage. We recommend saving them to make chicken stock or for adding extra flavor to sauces.
Next, dehydrate the wings. Getting rid of excess moisture will help grilled chicken wings get crispy and prevent them from steaming as they cook. Place the wings uncovered in your refrigerator for a few hours to dehydrate. If you don't have that kind of time, patting the wings dry with a paper towel will also help remove moisture in a pinch.
Smoke chicken wings for about 1 to 2 hours at 225 °F until the wings are cooked to at least 165 °F. Then crank up the heat to 375 °F and give the wings a final sear on both sides. This combination of time and temperature will give you the ultimate crisp finish.
Grilling time for wings is about 10 to 15 minutes per side on a grill at 350℉, and cooked to 170 to 180℉ internal temperature. After your wings are cooked, toss them in your sauce or rub. Let the wings rest for about 10 minutes before serving so the flavor infuses and the internal juices distribute for a moist bite.
Like many other meat dishes, the secret often lies in the brine, rubs, or a combination of both, but when it comes to grilled chicken wings, it’s all about the sauce.
A well-made sauce takes chicken wings from boring to incredible. You defininitely want to apply a warm sauce to the meat.
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
Here are some popular ideas to get started:
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.
Legend has it this recipe was invented by a woman who wanted to get revenge on her cheating husband by setting his mouth on fire, and ended up making one of Tennessee's most iconic recipes. To make your own hot rub, combine salt, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic, paprika, vinegar, brown sugar, black pepper, and melted butter or lard. Rub this devilish mixture on your wings before and after cooking.
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.
Beer and wings go together so well that some grillers have infused their wings with beer to achieve the incredible flavor of beer wings. The best way to do this is with a brine. Use a few bottles of your favorite beer mixed with ½ cup of kosher salt and seasonings to taste. You can add sweetness with fresh fruit like pineapple or pears, mixed with onions and garlic to balance the sweet with some savory, and any number of herbs, vegetables, or even a light salad dressing.
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.
Jack Daniels and other types of whiskey add unique flavor to any sauce that pairs especially well with sweet and smoke. But don’t use too much of it, you don’t want the burn of the booze to show up in your food.
If you’re making your sauce from scratch, start by sautéing garlic, ginger, and minced onions. Once the onions are translucent, add brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, ⅓ cup of Jack Daniels, tomato paste or ketchup, and cayenne pepper to taste. Simmer until onions are cooked through -- you can even leave it on the grill so that the sauce can take in some of that smoke flavor.
The best part about wings are the variety of flavors to choose from, and going sauceless for some or all of your batch is always a smart option. This way your crowd can pick and choose their favorites based on flavor and heat level preference.
Even if you’re planning on using a sauce later, it doesn’t hurt to sprinkle your wings with a little spice rub before grilling -- even just salt and pepper. You can sauce them later, or you can give them a second coat of dry rub when they’re ready to come off the grill.
There are countless ways to season your grilled chicken wings, but adding cornstarch helps give your grilled chicken wings that extra crispy factor. For 2 to 3 pounds of chicken wings, you'd want about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and 6 ounces of chicken rub.
Cornstarch helps the wings get crispy by absorbing moisture while locking in juices and flavor. If you’re going really easy on the dry spices, go equally easy on the cornstarch. Although any rub worth its salt shouldn’t get overpowered.
The best wood to use for smoking is a blend. For example, cut down the strong flavor of hickory by mixing it with cherry wood, or try the winemaker's blend. When it comes to poultry in general, light flavors and fruit woods are best. But because wings are usually made with a powerful sauce, it’s nice to give them a punch of smoke flavor to complement it.
No other cooking method, from deep frying, to cooking on charcoal or gas, can’t compete with the natural smoke flavor that comes from 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 put your wings, or continually flipping them.
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.
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.
Striking that perfect balance of crispy, flavorful, perfectly textured wings takes some practice, but grilling your chicken wings is well worth the effort. Trust your instinct. Trust your signature sauces. Relish those rubs. And check out more recipes for grilled chicken wings so your platters please any and every crowd.
Servings: 4-6 Prep Time: 10 mins. Total Time: 35 mins. Preferred Wood Pellets: Big Game Blend
BBQ Chicken Wings:
6-8 lbs. chicken wings
2 Tbsp. corn starch
6 oz. Traeger Chicken Rub
Franks Red Hot Wing Sauce:
1/4 cup spicy mustard
1/2 cup Franks Red Hot
6 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter
Siracha Wing Sauce:
1/2 cup Sriracha
2 Tbsp. sesame seed oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
When ready to cook, set the Traeger to 375℉ and preheat, lid closed for 15 minutes.
While grill is preheating, dry off chicken wings with a paper towel.
Place wings in a large bowl and sprinkle with cornstarch, Traeger Chicken Rub and salt to taste. Mix to coat both sides of the chicken wings.
When the grill has heated, place the wings on the grill and cook for 35 minutes turning halfway through the cook.
Check the internal temperature of the wings at 35 minutes. The internal temperature should be at least 165℉. However, an internal temperature of 175-180℉ will yield a better texture.
Franks Red Hot Wing Sauce: In a small pot, add the Franks Red Hot, mustard and butter. Whisk to combine and heat through on the stove top. Toss 1/3 of the wings with the Franks Red Hot sauce.
Sriracha Wing Sauce: While the wings are cooking, mix the Sriracha, soy sauce, sesame seed oil and honey. Whisk to combine and heat through on the stove top.
When wings are done, place 1/3 of the wings in a large bowl and toss with warm Sriracha sauce.
Leave the remaining 1/3 of the wings unsauced and season with extra Traeger Chicken Rub if desired.
Place all three kinds of wings on a platter and serve. Enjoy!
*Cook times will vary depending on set and ambient temperatures.
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