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Tommy, December 16 2023

Chicken Wings: A Blue-Collar Cuisine?

This morning I’m pondering an interesting question; Are chicken wings considered a low/middle-class, blue-collar cuisine? 

While my intention isn’t necessarily to ruffle feathers (well, maybe literally), these are the kinds of  things that come into my mind as I sit around and think about chicken wings 24 hours a day. Why would I suggest such a thing? Hear me out.

Over our epic Wingaddicts’ journey we’ve noticed some things. First, it seems to be the low/middle-class neighborhood dive bars that have the best wings in any state we examine. Think about this. Name your five favorites. Where are they? 

Second, the big "inner cities" seem to prosper with wings of the fast-food, takeout variety like a Wingstop. In this category, there are certainly outliers but you have to check with the locals who will then direct you to the mostly-hidden dive bars. 

And third, the most-affluent towns and cities - while they do have restaurants that sometimes offer a single-flavor wing appetizer - almost never have what we call actual “wing joints.” Looking at a list of Connecticut’s “14 Riches Towns” we can’t find a single chicken wing destination until we get to #12 (Stamford). The other thirteen simply do not have one. Interesting. Taking it a step further, out of the top fifty most-expensive towns to live in (in Connecticut) only five have what we'd classify as decent wing joint locations.

As I continue to see these ratios prove themselves out over and over again, I ponder the 60-year evolution of the glorious chicken wing. 

In the beginning . . . wings were the most inexpensive (throw away) part of the chicken until they became a “bar food,” in a suburb of Buffalo almost by accident. They weren’t even added to a menu for years as they were considered a free snack item like popcorn, pretzels or tortilla chips. In effect, they also took on the identity of a sporting-event-appetizer specifically for football. 

As they grew in popularity, specials like "ten-cent wings" were created with the intention of bringing beer drinkers to the bar and became extremely popular in northeast college towns. Eventually franchises like Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings made chicken wings an international cuisine.

Today, we’re experiencing the final piece of the wing evolution. Now, virtually the most-expensive part of the bird, wings have become an actual delicacy. The new caviar.  And thanks to some creative chefs and restaurant owners we’re seeing the full bloom of the wing-flavor explosion. No more are we just ordering “hot wings.” Now it’s common to see actual “wing” sections on menus.

But while we are beginning to see the emergence of special and creative wings appearing at higher-end restaurants, the spread into Affluent-America is a slow one. Last summer on Nantucket, I was hard pressed to find wings anywhere. Finally, I found a single wing option at the ACK Tap Room. It was Mexican Street Wings with Cilantro Cotija Aioli. Point made. As I ordered it, I almost felt like Jethro saying "pass the jelly." 

We're confident that chicken wings will continue their ascent to the top of the food pyramid even as the celebrity TV chefs snub their noses. I can picture myself as a contestant on “Beat Bobby Flay” in the final round. 

“Chef Tommy,” says Bobby Flay, “What is your signature dish?” 

Bobby, tonight I challenge you to chicken wings.” 

The crowd ooo’s and ahhh’s. 


Tommy Wyatt is co-founder of Wingaddicts and author of  this “Under the Wingfluence" blog. He can be reached directly by email at 

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