Hot wings are a beloved appetizer and bar food, with a cult-like following amongst spicy food enthusiasts. The basic elements of hot wings are straightforward – chicken wings, tossed in a spicy sauce. However, there is an ongoing debate around whether or not hot wings should be breaded before frying and saucing. Proponents argue that breading helps seal in moisture and provides a crispy texture, while purists believe breading detracts from the true chicken wing experience. Let’s take a deeper look at the arguments on both sides of this hot debate.
The case for breaded hot wings
Those in favor of breaded hot wings put forth several arguments:
Breading acts as a protective seal around the chicken wing, keeping the interior juicy and tender even after frying. Non-breaded wings can sometimes end up overcooked and dry on the inside. The breading helps prevent moisture loss.
The breading on hot wings provides extra crunch and crispness, giving you that satisfying contrast between the crunchy exterior and the soft, juicy interior. The breading gets fried to a golden brown, with a pleasing crispy texture.
Breading can help the flavors of the hot sauce permeate into the chicken better. As the breaded wings soak up the sauce, you get more flavor in every bite. The sauce caramelizes slightly on the crunchy breading as well.
Breaded hot wings tend to look more appetizing, with their golden brown fried coating contrasting against the vibrant red hot sauce. The extra visual interest makes them more tempting and attractive.
Surprisingly, breaded wings can sometimes be lower in calories than naked wings. The breading adds volume and weight, meaning you can use less chicken underneath while still getting big, satisfying wings.
The case against breaded hot wings
However, breaded wings have their detractors as well, who present counter arguments like:
Masks true flavor
The crispy breading can overpower and mask the real star of the show – the spicy, savory hot sauce. A thick bready coating dominates the flavor profile instead of highlighting the sauce and chicken.
While admittedly crunchier, the breading changes the mouthfeel of a chicken wing. Purists argue that the joy of hot wings comes from the tender, pull-apart texture of the chicken itself rather than a fried exterior.
Breading adds extra fat and calories that some consider unnecessary for what should be a simple chicken wing. Those watching their waistlines might prefer wings without the carbs and fat of a coating.
The crispy fried breading imparts a flavor that is inherently artificial compared to just well-seasoned chicken wings. To some, it tastes too processed.
Classic Buffalo style chicken wings are nude, the way they have been prepared for decades. Breaded wings veer away from the tried-and-true traditional method.
Key factors to consider
When deciding whether to bread your hot wings or go bare, a few key factors come into play:
Will the wings be deep fried, baked, or grilled? Deep frying lends itself better to breaded wings, while grilling naked wings may be preferable. Baking can go either way.
The sauce flavor and consistency should complement the cooking method. Thicker, creamier sauces pair better with breaded wings, while vinegary or chili-based sauces suit naked wings.
For ultimate crunch, opt for breaded wings. If you prefer just the crispness of the fried or baked chicken skin, go for naked.
If you’re watching your calorie intake, naked wings may be the slightly healthier choice. But breaded wings can be lower calorie if using less chicken.
Time and effort
Breading wings adds time, effort, and dishes for dredging and breading. Naked wings are quicker and simpler to prepare.
Opinions from wing experts
To gather additional insight, I consulted opinions from professional chefs, cookbook authors, and restaurant owners who have mastered the art of hot wings:
In favor of breaded wings
“I’ve tested wings every which way, and breaded ones come out crispiest. The coating gets ultra crunchy and traps in juices too. I’ll take the extra steps of breading for wings with max crunch factor.” – Chef Josh Livingson, celebrity chef and host of Emmy-nominated show Fry This
“Our recipe coats the wings in a seasoned flour dredge before frying. It creates a fabulously crispy crust that really seals in the moisture. Our customers rave about the crunch!” – Gail Simmons, cookbook author and co-host of Top Chef
In favor of naked wings
“I’m a purist when it comes to Buffalo wings – just Fry, sauce, and serve. Breading distorts the true chicken wing texture and flavor.” – Duff Goldman, chef and owner of Charm City Cakes
“We make ours exactly how they were first served at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo – fried naked. The sauce coating the crispy skin is perfection. Any breading would just detract from that simplicity.” – Guy Fieri, chef and host of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Trying both methods
To satisfy both breading lovers and purists, many restaurants offer both options on their menus. This allows customers to decide which camp they belong to. When cooking wings at home, it may be worth trying out both methods before picking a side. Prepare some classic naked wings and another batch with a light breading or flour coating. This will let your personal preferences shine through when determining if breaded wings are superior or if the naked ones prevail.
The breaded vs naked wing debate clearly stirs up strong opinions. When choosing your ideal hot wing preparation, consider factors like desired texture, sauce type, nostalgia for tradition, and personal taste preferences. There are good arguments on both sides, so there may not be a universally “right” answer. The beauty is getting to pick your perfect wing style and then enjoying whichever version you prefer. As long as the wings are fried or baked until crispy, sauced with something fiery and tangy, and paired with ranch or blue cheese dressing, you really can’t go wrong. Now get eating!