Wings to get: Buffalo, Lemon Pepper, and Jamaican Jerk
In a state with culinary tradition as diverse as Alabama's, there is no consensus on what makes a good wing. Fried wings, smoked wings, Jamaican jerk chicken ... there's a lot to process. Former Miami Dolphins nose tackle Bob Baumhower brought the Buffalo wing to this state in 1981, but his Baumhower's restaurants offer perhaps the broadest sampling of Alabama's wing repertoire.
Wings to get: Flame or Lemongrass
Alaska doesn't have a whole lot of options when it comes to wings, nor is it particularly known for its chicken dishes. However, 907 Wingman gets a bit more experimental than the rest of the state by emphasizing heat, varying its milder sauces, and enhancing the menu at its tiny spot with smoothies, teas, and other meaty offerings. It also has a classic wing-joint gimmick in which customers can win $500 by eating 15 of its hottest "Explosive" wings in seven minutes.
Wings to get: ATL Style
Arizona has an incredibly diverse array of wing options, with heavy emphasis on Asian styles. However, when it came to finding consensus on the state's trademark wing, the ATL Wings mini chain came through. You're going to see a lot of sauces on this list, but the ATL Style wings with their dry rub, crispy skin, and unique blend of spices is best enjoyed with no sauce at all.
Wings to get: Acid Rain and Habañero Sweet BBQ
There are now four locations of this wing-centric chain along I-49, but Foghorn's roots as a sports bar catering to University of Arkansas students and fans still comes through. The televisions are big, the chain gives off a kind of Hooters-lite vibe, but the wings and their 50 accompanying sauces remain. If the Razorbacks don't put up much of a fight, the fiery, flavorful wing offerings will.
Wings to get: Double-Fried Ginger or Tangy
If you want Southern fried wings, Buffalo hot wings, sweet Korean wings, briny Thai wings, or just about any other wing you can imagine, L.A. can accommodate you. However, Nguyen and Thi Tran's vintage arcade and eatery Button Mash on Sunset Boulevard is a whole lot to take in. The ginger-and-soy-sauce wings are great fuel for marathon sessions of Burgertime or Kiss pinball, but the "gochujang" (Korean pepper paste), rice vinegar, honey-and-lemon wings make it worth seeing that "Game Over" screen.
Wings to get: Tiger Wings
Colorado has an abundance of hot wings, barbecue wings, and sweet Asian-influenced wings, but Ace Eat Serve's triple-fried wings with sweet-and-salty fish sauce tilted the axis of Colorado's wing world. The kitchen-sink cocktails are an nice compliment, but we can't recommend them if you're going to attempt the $10-an-hour happy hour ping pong. The table tennis gets awfully serious here.
Wings to get: Buffalo Dirt Wings
The building dates back to 1789, it's been a tavern since 1795, and it's been in its current incarnation since 1985. However, its "Dirt Wing" method of frying its wings, saucing them, frying them and saucing them again breathed new life into the Buffalo wing and keeps it a standout even as J. Timothy's remaining wing menu drifts toward teriyaki and Thai chili. With reserved beer taps for nearby Beer'd, Relic, Firefly Hollow, and New England Brewing as well as multiple televisions for folks sitting in the gray area between Yankees and Red Sox country, J. Timothy's has given Buffalo's wings a decidedly Nutmeg State flavor.
Wings to get: Triple Threat and PB&J
Founded as a catering company in 2004 Tuesday, 2 Fat Guys American Grill expanded to three locations on the back of its steak burgers, ribs, and wings. Sure, there's spicy Buffalo sauce in the mix, but when you combine its mild version with a bourbon barbecue sauce and a poached pear and molasses barbecue sauce, you get the Triple Threat. As for the PB&J, don't get too grossed out: Grape jelly finds its way into some of the better barbecue sauces (including this one), while the peanut butter simply evens it all out.
Wings to get: Jerk
Florida is a massive state with no dearth of wings, but Miami is absolutely saturated with wing joints. The best of the bunch lean heavily on a crisp, charred exterior and house sauces and dry rubs, but House of Wings has been throwing everything it has at its wings since 2003. Its sauce menu features dozens of dry rubs (lemon pepper, Cajun), barbecue sauces (honey hickory smoke, habanero mango), sweet sauces (sweet and sour, Jamaican wine), savory sauces (mumbo sauce, bourbon) and hot sauces. However, this combination of jerk seasonings and Buffalo sauce stands out from the pack.
Wings to get: Buffalo or Lemon Pepper
For 23 years, Jamal's operated out of an actual shack in the shadow of the Georgia Dome. Last year, Jamal's Buffalo Wings left its old location for a larger, full-service restaurant, but the foil trays of spicy Buffalo wings, crispy (but not overly salty) lemon-pepper wings, and crinkle-cut fries remain. The Falcons' first season in their new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is over, as is their playoff run, but they and Jamal's have begun a new era together.
Wings to get: Stuffed Chicken Wings
Hale Vietnam makes exactly one chicken wing, but it chose well. Based on a recipe the chef encountered in Vietnam more than 30 years ago, these wings are deboned and then stuffed with ground pork, carrots, and long-grain rice before being lightly breaded and pan-fried. They're served with fish sauce, but a peanut satay is also available.
Wings to get: Hibachi Wings
Wings are a tough proposition in Idaho. When you aren't being pointed toward a national chain, you're being told about pub's wings that are billed on the menu as "Buffalo's Anchor Bar Wings." Boise is a long way from Buffalo, but the Latin/South American fusion restaurant Barbacoa will actually bring you wings on a tiny hibachi grill on a board accompanied by polenta logs and "Latin dipping sauce." It's the most unique wing option in a state that doesn't have many.
Wings to get: Buffalo or Applewood Smoked
Any sports bar in Chicago can get people in to stare at a Blackhawks or Bulls game, drink Goose Island, and stick around for the DJ set. The Fifty/50 built a 13-restaurant group on the belief that better food leads to a better time for everybody. The Buffalo sauce ages three months and takes on a hint of honey, while the hormone-free wings' breading is composed of whole-wheat flour, cracker meal and a custom spice mix. The Applewood Smoked wings are brined in maple and cinnamon and served with maple-bourbon barbecue glaze or sweet chili cilantro. All that effort gave a three-story sports bar the best wing in Chicago despite plenty of competition. Somehow, that seems as it should.
Wings to get: The Hermanaki Wings
This wasn't really close. Ale Emporium has become synonymous with Indiana wings, reducing the 65 beers on tap (including nearly two dozen beers from Indiana brewers such as Three Floyds, Sun King, and Bier) to a footnote. So what do the locals eat while watching the Pacers, Colts, or March Madness? The Hemanaki wings, named after the owner and involving dry rub and a final grilling after a trip through the fryer.
Wings to get: Original BBQ
There's a reason that this place has three locations and no other Iowa wing joint (outside of a national chain) comes close. Taking the barbecue approach, Jimmy Jack's coats its wings in house rub, smokes them for 2½ hours over hickory, and fries them once they're ordered. You can get a Buffalo-style sauce if you'd like, but the tangy, vinegar-based original just feels more appropriate.
Wings to get: Bigg Buffalo Wings
Situated just outside of the University of Kansas and teeming with big basketball-tuned TVs, Bigg's Ribs puts its smoker on display outside and lets customers know just how it's going to go down. The wings here are massive, treated with Bigg's own rub and smoked before getting their sauce. Barbecue sauce isn't even offered as an option, so you're getting a take on Buffalo wings that's specific to Jayhawks country.
Wings to get: Spicy Party Wings
It isn't that Louisville and Kentucky in general don't have a lot of chicken options, but the state that lent KFC its name is swamped with chicken chains. Chicken King has Buffalo wings, but just as you wouldn't go to Buffalo to sample their fried chicken, it's kind of odd to come to Kentucky and bypass the chicken that the state made famous. Chicken King isn't the biggest chicken place in the state, but its wealth of spices and huge portions make it hard to miss.
Wings to get: Shack and Arizona
Given the myriad other things you could be eating during your time in New Orleans, chicken wings seem as if they should be pretty low on the list. However, Wing Snack and its Wing Snack Express location make it worth the trip with 19 flavors of wings, ranch fries, crab cakes, hush puppies, and mugs filled with sweet peach tea and punch.
Wings to get: Black Fly Stout BBQ or Salt and Vinegar Dry Rub
Founders Ed Stebbins and Richard Pfeffer opened their first brewpub in Portland in 1988 and watched the city turn into a beer mecca all its own. While Gritty McDuff's may not get the same beer-geek love as its neighbors at Allagash or Bissell Brothers, it's been steadily cranking out its Best Bitter and Black Fly Stout for 30 years while not-so-secretly making the best wings in the state. Now expanded to three locations in Maine, Gritty's treats its customers to wings tossed in Buffalo, Thai chili, teriyaki, "berry me slowly" extra hot sauce and cinnamon chipotle or Cajun dry rubs. We're still partial to the beer in the barbecue sauce and the simplicity of a salt-and-vinegar rub.
Wings to get: Honey Old Bay
Putting the Mid-Atlantic's favorite crab seasoning on wings in a state synonymous with blue crab was a stroke of genius, but we give Kislings Tavern even more credit for just flat-out using "BaltimoresBestWings.com" as its website. Kislings thinks enough of its standard sauce to bottle it, but its master stroke was taking the red pepper flake, paprika, and celery salt of Old Bay seasoning, cutting it with honey and applying it to wings. A more than 20-year-old wing joint doesn't stay around that long by missing the simple connections, and that was a big one to make in this region.
Wings to get: Jet Fuel and Sweet Chili
We know about the locations in Greenfield and Westfield. But any UMass student who's ever ordered 60-wing B-17s with their friends, played in the arcade, or ordered a pint from the in-house brewery Amherst Brewing knows why generations of alumni love The Hangar. It launched dozens of Wings Over pickup and delivery locations across the country, but there's still nothing like the occasional homecoming.
Wings to get: Sweetwater Wings
There's rarely consensus about a state's best wing, but just about every ranking within Michigan and outside of it puts Sweetwater Wings at the top of the pile. The reason is simple: Using chicken from the Eastern Market, Sweetwater Tavern bathes its wings in a secret sauce for 24 hours before dousing them in spice and frying them up. All of the ingredients above leach deep into the wings that make it into your table, leaving hints of spice and vinegar. They'll offer you celery and blue cheese, but you won't need the latter. This is just barbecue technique executed to perfection.
Wings to get: Polynesian Wings or Dry Rub Wings
A sprawling complex of faithfully replicated Tiki theme bars, Psycho Suzi's would have every right to be more focused on decor and potent drinks served in bowls than on the food menu. However, the brown sugar and nutmeg dry rub and the sweet Polynesian sauce with green onions make for some of the more creative wing entries on this list. You can try them alone and forget you're in Minnesota for a while, or have the Dry Rub Wings as part of a pu pu platter of cheese curds, pickle roll-ups, cocktail smokies, and tater tots to remind yourself just how far from the islands you are.
Wings to get: Seasoned or Honey Hot
Southaven has multiple wing joints, but Supreme Hot Wings points out that there's one downside to making wings in Mississippi: They often share a fryer with catfish. This is why Supreme Hot Wings puts its chicken, fries, and catfish in separate fryers and feels confident enough to offer a sauce-free version of its wings. Made with only its house-concocted seasoning, those wings stand out among a lineup of sauce options that can easily be found elsewhere.
Wings to get: Buffalo
The Peanut likes to remind people that it's been around since 1933 and has the oldest liquor license in Kansas City, but its wings are a somewhat newer development. Their massive wings are peppered, deep fried, and dipped in a house-made sauce. Those wings are then served with house-made blue cheese that, like the sauce, is available to take home. In the barbecue-heavy state of Missouri, The Peanut gives tremendous respect to the Buffalo wing.
Wings to get: Spicy Hot
Montana is not exactly wing country. You can count the number of the state's independent wing joints on your hands, and few of them would resemble anything a visitor from the South or Northeast would have seen at home. Yet the Double Front, which was built in 1909 and may have been home to a bootlegging operation before selling its first chicken in 1935, offers its own take on wings. It cooks everything to order and uses house-made batter on all of its wings. It is not a quick process but, if you get impatient, there's an underground bar through the Double Front's second entrance where you can kill time.
Wings to get: Hot or Hot Ranch
Omaha has its own approach to wings. The "char-buffed" method at the city's eateries involves frying the wings, dipping them in sauce, grilling them and, in some cases, dipping them again. Addy's, for example, will char-buff your wings for free, but will charge you 50 cents to dip them again. In a packed sports bar with the Cornhuskers game on, we can't recommend making that big a stink about the sauce.
Wings to get: Sweet Chili Jerk and Brown Sugar BBQ Dry Rub
With exactly 100 sauces, dry rubs and "fusion" combinations to choose from, Wing King has easily the most diverse array of offerings on this list. Sure, there's Raspberry Cheesecake sauce and a rub that mimics Cool Ranch Doritos, but the Buffalo and barbecue basics are also here for those easily overwhelmed in Sin City.
Wings to get: Southern Style
There are about 30 sauces to choose from here, but we aren't going to recommend any of them. Instead, we're going to suggest you get your wings fried up extra crispy and see if you can taste the difference a fresh chicken makes. Since 2007, Wing-Itz has butchered its own antibiotic-free, hormone-free chickens and cut its wings fresh daily.
Wings to get: Hot or Chili Lime
New Jersey has a wealth of wings, but it keeps them obscured from view. Tucked in a sprawling New York City suburb just off the spaghetti-bowl intersection of three major roadways, Sharky's is a neighborhood place that will lets its wings go for as little as 60 cents apiece and will encourage patrons to wash them down with $2 lagers. It's also a steal, as Sharky's makes a broad spectrum of its own wing sauces including Old Bay, Pineapple Habañero and Salt & Vinegar. During a year when Sharky's Giants and Jets fans didn't have a whole lot to watch, those wing options came in handy.
Wings to get: Bangkok
New Mexico's wealth of spicy chiles makes it an ideal place to cook up some wings. Big D's Downtown Dive, just outside of Area 51 in Roswell, uses location to its advantage when fusing Southwest flavors from its chipotle dipping sauce with honey, lime, Sriracha, soy, sesame, basil and cilantro. It's refreshing update of Thai chili flavor that's been run into the ground by wing makers a little too eager to drift away from Buffalo heat.
Wings to get: Between Mild and Medium Hot
If you go to Buffalo, you'll be reminded at the airport and in the city about how the Anchor Bar bestowed the butter-and-Franks-Red-Hot-slathered Buffalo wing upon the world in 1964. What you'll likely hear more of, if you listen carefully to the locals, is pitched debate over which is better: Anchor Bar's wings or Duff's, which made its first wings just north of Buffalo in Amherst, N.Y., in 1969. We're going to side with the meatier, similarly spicy Duff's. Now the official wing partner of the Buffalo Bills, Duff's has expanded to several locations in New York, as well as outposts in Texas and Georgia -- where Buffalo's snowbird retirees have welcomed it to warmer climates.
Wings to get: Uncle Donnie's Famous Blackened Wings and Hemo-Goblins
There is no room for complacency when making wings in Charlotte. A North Carolina address is no guarantee that customers will like your barbecue, while introducing a Korean, Thai or Vietnamese take on your menu will only bring the crowds if you execute it correctly. Moosehead Grill deftly walks that line by sticking to its regional legacy with blackened chicken and chipotle barbecue, but bringing new flavors into the mix like miso and honey or blood orange and ghost pepper.
Wings to get: Jameson Sauce and Kickin' Bourbon
The original Sickies Garage in Bismarck looks like an actual garage and gas station, while the other four locations in East Grand Forks, Fargo, Rapid City and Sioux Falls look as if they've taken over vacant Ruby Tuesdays or Carrabba's locations. Yet the aesthetics matter little once wing-craving patrons see the more than 20-deep list of wing varieties. Just about everyone is doing Thai Peanut, Teriyaki and Barbecue, but spiking wing sauce with booze like Jameson, Fireball, and an unnamed bourbon is a bold move for this growing chain.
Wings to get: Fat Head's Dry Rub and Fat Head's Original Buffalo
This Great Lakes brewpub chain shuttered a location in Portland, Oregon, but only because that market wasn't as enthusiastic about its menu as fans in the Cleveland-area (where they're adding another location). While known at all its locations for a solid lineup of German-style beers and more U.S.-friendly experimental batches, Fat Head's wins hearts and minds in its home region by making massive portions of everything from sandwiches to wings. Be warned that a little garlic-parm or honey chipotle goes a long way on Fat Head's chicken-sized wings.
Wings to get: Teri-Que and Honey Love
It's an Oklahoma City staple as of 2015, but this wing spot was founded in Washington, D.C., by two Howard University students almost 30 years ago. The fact that Old Bay remains a menu option despite blue crabs being a half a continent away suggests the transition isn't quite finished at Wing Supreme. But is it really so bad to give Oklahoma a taste of D.C.'s wings-and-sides combo culture? Apparently not, as Oklahoma City seems quite content with its Teri-Que wings and helpings of macaroni and cheese.
Wings to get: Ike's Fish Sauce Wings
Stop waiting in line for Pok Pok's sweet-yet-briny wings. There are three other locations in Portland, including one dedicated solely to wings, and another in Brooklyn. There's also a restaurant right across the street from the original location, Whiskey Soda Lounge, that is under the same ownership that serves the same wings.
Wings to get: Coyote (ranch and cayenne rub) and Lou-Q (barbecue and bourbon)
Bigham Tavern has more than 30 sauces for its wings, but about 10 of them are some variation on "hot." While this is a great thing for eaters who love ascending the Scoville scale, it also leaves plenty of offerings for folks who might want more subtlety. Bigham Tavern takes great pride in mixing and matching its flavors to come up with combinations that work for different palates and is at its best when it brings a flavor like the balanced Coyote into existence.
Wings to get: Pink Vodka and Chicken Parmigiana
Setting up shop in an Italian-American club, Tomaselli's doesn't fit a wing-joint mold. There's Buffalo sauce, barbecue sauce, and other familiar wing standards on the menu, but there are also some strong deviations. The French Toast and Bourbon Teriyaki wings are a fine start, but using Caesar dressing, balsamic vinegar, garlic parmigiana, red pepper relish, and other familiar Italian-American culinary fixtures gives this wing joint and identity and sense of place that dozens of other places emulating Buffalo will never have.
Wings to get: Dry Rub
Hubee D's won't be rushed, but will give you some options. Their wings are smoked for hours over hickory until they are ready to fall off of the bone. Then they are served dry-rub style with nothing but celery sticks, ranch or blue cheese. It's worth the wait, but for those who just can't stand the sight of a naked wing, Hubee D's offers Low-Country Buffalo, Old Edisto Honey Barbecue, Black Tie Bourbon, and Wadmalaw Island Jerk sauces.
Wings to get: Gold or Sweet Heat Dry Rub
Just outside of Sioux Falls is this gem of a race-day bar. Packed with 17 screens that are accounted for during the racing season and teeming with video lottery, video games, and a digital jukebox, 212 Boiling Point is less of an event space than a neighborhood hangout. That explains the dedication to the wings, whose complement of 10 sauces is bolstered by dry rubs using Frank's Red Hot and a mixture of parmesan and garlic.
Wings to get: 3 Whole Wings
Thorton Prince is credited with creating Nashville Hot Chicken during the Depression, and his namesake Prince's Hot Chicken eateries are still in family hands. The spicy dry-rubbed, battered, and fried chicken that's become a Nashville calling card (even for some Kentucky-born chicken chains) scorches unwitting eaters with a blend of paprika and cayenne, which means Prince's customers have to use their slice of bread and pickles judiciously.
Wings to get: Jacob and Funnel Cake
All of the examples so far show just how many options wing places have used just to distance themselves from competitors and stay relevant. Wayne's Wings somehow managed to find the ones they missed. While still using Buffalo, barbecue, garlic, parmesan, lemon pepper, and other go-to wing sauces and spices, Wayne's manages to blend Sriracha, cilantro, and lime into a palatable wing, while giving other wings the state fair treatment with funnel-cake batter and powdered sugar. By chasing flavor rather than pure kick or burn, Wayne's found a way to bring new elements into the wing shop without evicting its essence.
Salt Lake City
Wings to get: Loco Lime and Peanut Curry
It's just a little strip-mall wing shop with two-top tables and not a whole lot of ambience, but that's where some of the great wings on this list have been made. The greatness of Wing Coop lies in the things it didn't have to do. It doesn't have to use fresh pineapple and Sriracha in its Spicy Teriyaki sauce, it doesn't have to use actual chipotle peppers in its Raspberry Chipotle, and it could have refrained from using coconut milk in the Peanut Curry. That it does this indicates just how much potential this place has.
Wings to get: General Tso's and Curry Ginger Dry Rub
Reuben James, a sports bar with 11 televisions (including one roughly the size of the bar), trivia, bands, and drink specials, so a simple lineup of Buffalo and barbecue wing sauces likely would've gotten the job done here. But it also offers garlic, Thai chili, jerk and Szechuan sauces, as well as Cajun, Memphis barbecue, and Aztec dry rub. Combine that with the 10 beers on tap from Zero Gravity, Fiddlehead, Long Trail, Drop-In, Switchback, and other Vermont breweries, and you have a sports bar with a kitchen that's playing well over its head.
Wings to get: Buffalo
It's a bit of Buffalo in Virginia without moving a Duff's or some lake-effect snow into the area. Jimmy, Maureen, and Kelsey Cirrito first opened this place more than 20 years ago, with Jimmy using the wing sauce recipe from the Anchor Bar in his native Buffalo. Not only did it take off, but Jimmy's Old Town Tavern had to expand into a large adjacent space just to keep up with demand. Is it a Virginia wing? No, but when you draw enough Buffalo folks to sell that many wings and become a Buffalo Bills bar, there's no reason to change course.
Wings to get: Fried Butter Garlic Wings
Hue Ki Mi Gia would likely still be living a quiet existence as a Chinese-Vietnamese noodle house if not for the Seattle Seahawks introducing these "crack wings" at CenturyLink Field a few years back. Crunchy and meaty with salty bits of scallion and chiles mixed in, these are the wings Hue Ki Mi Gia was never supposed to be known for. We're glad the secret is out.
Wings to get: Sweet Peach BBQ or Taco Dry Rub
Every college town needs a good wing spot, but it's nice to see a wing place that knows it needs college kids just as much. Some hot butter coating from 1995 just isn't going to cut it anymore, which makes offerings like Clutch Wing Shop's multiple Korean barbecue sauces, Sriracha sweet chili, and Old Bay a welcome departure from the standard. Even the Old Bay and Cinnamon Chipotle dry rubs show a bit of natural curiosity in the kitchen. The Mountaineers faithful are fortunate.
Wings to get: Dry Rub Wings
On a country road just outside of Madison, this little bar has been packing in the customers based largely on its dry rub wings. The dry rub contains 23 ingredients and has been so popular that customers have asked for it on their fries and tater tots. This is a cash-only establishment whose online presence is restricted to a Yelp page and a glowing review on Madison.com, whose sides still (thankfully) include cheese curds and whose publicity has all come from word of mouth. It's a minor miracle with major wait times.
Wings to get: Buffalo or Honey Chili Garlic
In a bustling resort town that's quickly outgrowing its blue-collar beginnings, Eleanor's is a comforting, reliable standby. "Stan's Famous Jumbo Wings" have all of six sauces and are still regularly named the best wing in town despite some strong, artisanal competition. On a down-to-earth menu where all of one item costs $16, a $5 plate of six wings is right at home.