These Are A Few Of My Favorite Wings
The 2011 NFL season is underway and the Patriots kick off their schedule tonight against the Dolphins. Monday Night Football snacks mean different things to different people, but it should go without argument that the go-to meat snack is the almighty wing. Here's my latest list of favorite smoked wings at a baker's dozen different barbecue joints in New York and New England.
13. Little Red Smokehouse, Carver MA
Carver is cranberry country, so it's fitting that the only sauced barbecue item on the Little Red Smokehouse menu brings the flavor of cranberry. This is a wing with a high smoke level, but it's countered with the sweet tartness of the native fruit. These wings are probably more of a novelty than a regular go-to item, but they're as good as they are different.www.littleredsmokehouse.com
12. Virgil's, NYC
The joint that gets no respect gets my respect for their full flavored wings, whose bulk, smokiness and heat are all in play. The sauce also offers a light hit of citrus, which is intriguing at first but has the potential of overstaying its welcome if you're having more than a couple. This is one of several examples that would rank higher if the skin were crispier, but they're very good.
11. SoulFire, Allston MA
If you like your wings to pack just a little more sweet than heat, SoulFire's spicy honey wings are what you're looking for. These smoked-then-fried wings bear light smoke, crispy skin and a perfect coating of tangy accent. I don't order these as often as they warrant, because I'm so smitten with SoulFire's Southern fried wings that they're my defacto first course. You can try a few different flavors, including an experimental flavor of the night, at SoulFire's all-you-can-eat wings special every Monday. www.soulfirebbq.com
10. Bison County, Waltham MA
This one's probably the biggest surprise of the list, because a quick look at the current review for Bison County doesn't exactly reveal glowing praise. About that: I've hit them a few times since the review was written, and while I'm by no means making them one of my favorites, the 'cue has improved to the point where it's at least serviceable. As for the wings, they've been solid all along. The smokiness varies from visit to visit, but the crispness and tenderness are reliable and the flavor is good. There are a few different options, but the ones you gotta get, Danny, are the South Carolina hot wings. Their mustard sauce combines heat and sweet in a tasty fashion where neither flavor pushes the other out of the way. It's also a sauce I always ask for more of, whether to use on my entree or to take home for later. www.bisoncounty.com
9. Blackstrap BBQ, Winthrop MA
"Big flavors" is an overused phrase, but it's more than fitting for the food at metro Boston's newest full fledged barbecue joint. Though size and crispness can vary, the flavor component of the wings (and everything else) at Blackstrap is never in doubt. Heavy on smoke, heavy on rub and tossed in a well executed Buffalo or barbecue sauce that never overwhelms the chicken, these wings are a must on every visit. www.blackstrapbbq.com
8. Mrs Jones, Dorchester MA
It would be tempting to call Mrs Jones a soul food joint rather than a barbecue joint, but that notion fades as soon as the blast of invigorating smoke fills the kitchen when the doors of the Southern Pride smoker open. It would also be tempting to order the fried chicken, but that would not only be typecasting, it would be a big mistake. Instead, go for the superior smoked wings that deliver that same invigoration into your mouth, along with borderline crispy skin, better than borderline rub presence and a slurpy, caramel-like chewiness inside.
7. Swingbellys, Long Beach NY
For years my favorite Long Island joint, Swingbellys makes a repeat appearance not for overwhelming dominance in any one trait, but for covering all of the bases and covering them well. Size? One of the biggest, and you get whole wings. Smokiness? More than just noticeable. Crisp exterior? Flawless. Moistness inside? Almost guaranteed. Flavorful sauces? It's here that Swingbellys really shines, because there are even more choices now (over a dozen), and every one I've tried gets high marks. The highest goes to the chipotle honey, a sticky sweet with gentle heat rendition that actually tastes and feels like there's boatloads of real honey in there. www.swingbellysbbq.com
6. Binga's Stadium, Portland ME
If you're a barbecue lover who loves wings and loves sports, Binga's is an appealing triple threat with wings as its top priority. Throw in some ribs and pulled pork, a respectable array of local and craft beer selections, TV sets on every wall and in every booth, a few different bar rooms, a game room with pool tables and some hot looking servers, and you've got the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon during football season. But back to the wings: there are more flavors here than at just about any barbecue joint that does wings, and the wings can be had smoked-then-fried or breaded-then-fried. I only went with two flavors of the smoked, and was very pleased with the size, texture, tenderness and flavor—especially the mango habanero, which had plenty of pizzaz in the lappable sauce and in the chicken itself. www.bingasstadium.com
5. Chili Head BBQ, W. Bridgewater MA
Although I'm less enamored with the overall 'cue now than when I wrote the current review, I'm still in love with ChiliHead's superb wings (and surprisingly good burger, but that's a subject for another day). The largest wing I ever hoisted is smoked for 8 hours, lightly fried and tossed in one of several sauce options: "Buffalo" (a thick, mildly spicy brown sauce that's not quite Buffalo, but good), "Diablo" (much, much hotter than you think) and some recently-added varieties such as honey mustard, teriaki, tequila, wasabi ginger (not listed on their latest menu) and Caribbean. It's the Caribbean that may have less heat than the Diablo, but endless streams of flavor. They're served dry but liberally covered with a coarse Jamaican style dry rub whose flavor penetrates deep into the succulent meat without obstructing the smoke. Even the sauced wings maintain their crispness. ChiliHead often stacks the plate such that the entire order is comprised of meaty drumette pieces.
4. Pit Stop Smokehouse, Westmoreland NH
The hefty wings at this racing-themed barbecuery are among the smokiest I've encountered, tempered with a sweet barbecue sauce and a natural "chickeniness" that can't be denied. If they were just a shade more moist and a shade less smoky, I'd probably rank these wings more than a shade higher, but I'm more than happy with how they are now. I've always considered "foliage trips" a crock, but if the one I have planned a few weeks down the road gets me to Pit Stop, I'll eat my words and an awful lot of their wings. www.pitstopsmokehouse.com
3. RUB, NYC
The holder of the #1 slot in the previous wings rankings, RUB's offering still might boast the most complex flavor arsenal of any of the contenders. First, the smoke: it's instantly recognizable and it hits you from two different angles, with a fragrant component and a grungy component (and I mean that in the best possible way). The rub can be felt and tasted in every bite. The sauce is part barbecue, part Asian and part Buffalo, yet has a flavor distinctly original. These wings are given a quick bath in the deep fryer to add some crispness, but the borderline-only crispness on the last few tries kept them from repeating as champion. www.rubbbq.com
2. Wildwood, NYC
For years, pitmaster "Big Lou" Elrose has been trying to get Wildwood's chili on my Favorite Chili list, but it's his excellent wings that are far more worthy. I've always enjoyed the wings at Wildwood, but until relatively recently none of them were smoked, so they were excluded from the list on a technicality. For a little over a year, a Jamaican Jerk wing appetizer has graced the Wildwood menu; they're smoked and they're spectacular. Rubbed with both dry and fresh ingredients, these wings are not necessarily dead-on Jamaican, but are very flavorful, very smoky, very crisp, very juicy and very delicious. How delicious? After years of hearing pork compared to chicken, Wildwood's wings struck me as the first time chicken tasted supremely porky, and that's the highest compliment I can give. www.wildwoodbbq.com
1. Scratch Kitchen, Salem MA
This downtown Salem joint is part high end sandwich shop and part smokehouse, but despite the inclusions of pulled pork (decent) and brisket (excellent), you won't see the word "BBQ" anywhere on the doors or menu. That's just fine, because it's the smoke in their addictive wings that's barbecue enough for me. And when I say smoke, I don't mean bitter and sooty, but rather a smoke that's simultaneously strong and downright fragrant, a hard combination to beat. Add to that a pre-smoke curing that flavors them even more, a crisp exterior, a tender/juicy interior and a thin coating of the simplest yet mindblowingly delicious sweet chili glaze, and you've got my favorite wings in the region. www.scratchkitchensalem.com
There were numerous wing representratives that were in the running but just missed the cut.
In some cases it was a matter of being edged out by an upstart; in other cases, a sup-par wings order or two took them out of contention. These near-misses include:
BT's Smokehouse, Sturbridge MA
Big Bubba's BBQ, Uncasville CT
Commonwealth BBQ, Wrentham MA
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, NYC
Firefly's, Marlboro MA and Framingham MA
Hill Country, NYC
RW's BBQ, Brookfield CT
Smoke Joint, Brooklyn NY
Smokestack Urban BBQ, Worcester MA
United BBQ, Providence RI