Our Beloved Chicken Wings Were Once Considered Trash

From national chicken wing eating competitions to fast food chains racing to add wings to their menus, chicken wings are a well-established American dish. But before these poultry delicacies were fried and enjoyed on game days, they were once considered discardable leftovers.

Advertisement

Nowadays, the popularity of chicken wings is undeniable. The National Chicken Council projected that Americans would eat 1.45 billion wings while watching the Super Bowl in 2024. Meanwhile, Popeyes' addition of wings to its menu led to major success for the brand, increasing the chain's digital and delivery sales.

However, it wasn't until the 1960s that chicken wings as we most often recognize them — deep fried and sauced up — were first served in Buffalo, New York. Prior to the debut of Buffalo wings as we know them, chicken wings were mostly used for making soup stock or otherwise thrown out. Who is responsible for the creation of Buffalo wings (and thus, the popularization of chicken wings as a dish more broadly) is still debated today.

Advertisement

How chicken wings got started

Although the first plate of Buffalo-style chicken wings was served in the '60s in Buffalo, New York (more on that in a minute), there's evidence that chicken wings were served as a dish about a century before that. Keep in mind, they did not look (or likely taste) like the delicious game-day treats we know now. 

Advertisement

The Buffalo History Museum has a menu from July 1, 1857 from the local Clarendon Hotel which lists "Chicken Wings, fried" as one of its entree items. The museum is also in possession of a recipe published by the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser on August 16, 1894 that consists of stewed wings served with a pea puree. This recipe is of course not as drool-worthy as what many bar menus have to offer these days. These recipes and menu items notwithstanding, it wasn't terribly common to eat chicken wings as a standalone dish before the mid-20th century.

The debate around Buffalo wings

Chicken wings did of course find their way onto restaurant menus, but who to credit for that is not so clear. For many years, Frank and Teressa Bellissimo, owners of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, were recognized as the inventors of Buffalo wings. However, even their story has two versions. In one telling, Frank Bellissimo said the bar mistakenly received a delivery of wings instead of the chicken necks that were used to make spaghetti sauce. Bellissimo then asked Teressa to make an appetizer out of the wings so they wouldn't go to waste. Another version of the story, told by Frank and Teressa's son, says that he asked his mother to make something to hand out at midnight Saturday morning to Catholic patrons who couldn't eat meat on Fridays. 

Advertisement

On the other hand, local historians have found that John Young, owner of a restaurant called Wings 'n Things, was serving fried wings around the same time as the Bellissimo family without the same recognition. Young's wings were whole (meaning not the drumstick and flats we're all accustomed to), breaded, fried, and served with a tomato-based mambo sauce

While it still may be unclear who to thank for perfecting chicken wings, we can all be grateful they no longer go to waste. Who knew one person's soup stock add-in could become a major chicken industry profit driver?

Recommended

Advertisement