These Are A Few Of My Favorite Wings
With the opening Sunday of the 2017 NFL season comes my quasi-annual list of favorite smoked wings, this time at 13 different barbecue joints in New York and New England.
In order to make this list, the wings have to be smoked, they have to be offered regularly and I had to have tried them within the last two years. In many of the cases, the smoked wings are the best thing at the restaurant and a quantum leap up from the remainder of the 'cue.
Remember, this is called a Favorite list, not a Best list, for two reasons: 1) unless I try 'em all, I'm not in a position to say best; and 2) every palate is different. You'll quickly get an idea, though, of what appeals to my palate: whether sweet or savory, what I look for most in a wing is contrast (both in flavor and texture), fragrant smoke and strong chicken flavor prevailing regardless of the additions.
Also unlike most lists, mine comes with companion lists of honorable mentions, places that didn't make the cut, and places I wished I could have tried (the point being that you don't have to guess whether a particular joint missed due to performance or simply not being tried).
There were 46 different joints tried for this list, so that's a lot of wings. While in a perfect world there'd be a near-even number of honorees from each state, that's not how it works here; it's merit that counts most. Six of the top 13 from the last list fell off, replaced by hot upstarts or returnees, and a few repeaters changed position significantly. An unquestioned winner emerged, but what's unusual about this year's rankings is that slots #2 through #5 are virtually interchangeable, slots #6 through #8 are virtually interchangeable, and there's very little separation between slot #9 and all fifteen of the honorable mentions. It was a good couple of years for smoked wings.
13. Swingbellys, Long Beach NY
Here we have a returning honoree that's back on the list again after dropping off: Hurricane Sandy dropped enough destruction to close them down, then I got too busy to make it back, then they had an off day when I did. The most recent visit saw a return to former glory: whole wings with no sacrifice in size, plenty of smoke, crackly crispness and bursting skins revealing juicy flesh. There are many flavors, all served on the side, but I'm still a fan of the chipotle honey, a sticky-sweet-with-gentle-heat number where honey shows up in more than just the name. www.swingbellysbbq.com
12. Binga's Stadium, Portland ME
After some mighty showings, including a title and a runner-up, Binga's has taken a bit of a slide in recent years, but it's a perennial contender and one that still makes this list. Although the wings aren't always smoker fresh, the flavors are still inventive and always bold. These are good sized wings with a smoke component that varies depending on which sauce or dry rub you add. If smoke isn't your thing, they also have traditional fried. But if football is your thing, take advantage of individual mini TVs in every booth. www.bingasstadium.com
11. Hometown BBQ, Brooklyn NY
Last time I praised Hometown's wings for their improvement in size and crispness, but they've taken a step back due to a format change: instead of six large individual pieces, you get three diminutive whole wings. That's impacted the cripness a bit, but the flavor is still as irrestistable as ever: Sriracha, sesame seeds and scallions are the backdrop for intense chickeny flavor with plenty of juiciness. www.hometownbarbque.com
10. Mighty Quinn's Barbeque, NYC
It makes sense that the two most similar wings in this list come back-to-back in the rankings. Another of New York's best barbecue joints, Mighty Quinn's also takes an Asian approach with sesame seeds, scallions and a spicy sauce that strikes a midpoint between classic Buffalo and Sriracha. Crispness is decent and smoke is high. Pickled celery on the side is not only a great palate cleanser but another nod to the traditional Buffalo wing accompaniments. www.mightyquinnsbbq.com
9. Smoke Shack Blues, Port Jefferson NY
The first newcomer to the list is from what might now be the best barbecue joint on Long Island. The wings at Smoke Shack Blues are jumbo, and while some wings rely on the sauce, it's what's under the sauce here that does most of the talking: crisp texture, tenderness further down, and smoky flavor all the way through. Flavors are sweet sticky glaze and habanero; going naked is another option that won't leavy you dry. www.smokeshackblues.com
8. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, NYC & Stamford CT