Recently, I was put on the spot and asked: “what is your favourite protein to barbecue and eat?” Without really thinking, I blurted out, “Chicken wings, of course!”. That reply took us both a little by surprise. I love cooking and eating all of the big barbecue cuts, like brisket, ribs, and beef cheeks, so what is it about barbecued chicken wings that takes out my personal “top spot”?

Firstly, chicken wings are fairly cost-effective in a world where most produce is skyrocketing in price. They are also reasonably simple to prepare, and by barbecue standards quick to cook. But, the clincher for me is: when done to succulent perfection they are super satisfying on the plate and on the palate – a real crowd pleaser. Barbecued chicken wings can be dressed up “hot n’ spicy”, “middle of the road”, or “Plain Jane” (or a mixture to suit the different tastes around the table).

Without further ado, let’s get stuck in to see how I go about making perfect barbecued chicken wings.

What you will need:

• 1 kg of whole chicken wings or nibbles (defrosted)
• Chicken rub (off the shelf or homemade)
• Kettle style charcoal barbecue
• Aprox 1kg of hot burning coal (lump is best but briquettes work well)
• Charcoal starter chimney
• Vortex or “Poortex”
• Cherry or plum wood chunks

Instant read thermometer
• Barbecue sauce
• Hot sauce to taste
• Metal bowl and roasting pan

Method:

1) If using whole wings, I like to break them down in to nibbles (flats and drumettes), and use the tips to make a lush chicken stock. You can barbecue the complete wings whole, but butchering them up will make the cooking process easier.

2) In a roasting pan or large bowl, apply your favourite chicken rub and mix by hand to achieve even coverage. Set aside for at least 10mins.

3) Using a charcoal starter chimney, get your coals ashed-over and white hot. This can take up to 15 or so minutes, so allow for this step in your overall timing.

4) When ready, place coals into a Vortex or “Poortex” in this case (metal bowl with the bottom cut out). Ensure the coals are in the centre of your kettle barbecue. Using a Vortex-style device and setup like this, it funnels the heat directly onto the lid of your barbecue and “smashes” it back down to the chicken – this gives an even cook and nice crispy skin without any potential burning.

5) Place the cherry wood chunks on the grill directly above the coals to get some authentic barbecue flavour profile into your wings. Cherry wood pairs perfectly with chicken, but plum is a great alternative option. With the bottom and top vents wide open, put the lid back on the barbecue and give it 10 or so minutes to come up to grilling temperature.

6) Once your barbecue is properly hot – at around 300*C – arrange the chicken wings evenly, away from the direct heat of the coals. Place the thickest ends of the wings nearest the coals. The set-up can get pretty “OCD” for regular chicken wing cooks, but there is a method to the madness and that is getting an even cook across all portions. Put the lid back on, have a refreshing ale and prepare your sides.

7) After approximately 15 minutes, the wings should be starting to colour up nicely with a rich mahogany look and a divine aroma in the air from the smoking wood. Turn the wings over.

8) After a further 10 minutes or so, use an instant read thermometer to check the wings for doneness. For perfectly cooked wings I aim for 85*C (185*f). Getting the internal temperature up to this heat will ensure they are safe to eat, cooked to ‘white’ all the way to the bone, succulent, juicy and with a crispy skin – perfect!

9) In a metal bowl or pot, add around one cup of your favourite barbecue sauce as a base for your glaze. From there, experiment by adding butter, garlic, hot sauce, soy sauce, rib glaze, or whatever else you fancy. Remove any charred smoking wood from the barbecue and place the sauce directly above the coals to simmer. You will need to keep an eye on it at this stage and stir regularly as the sugars will easily burn. It should only take a few minutes to start caramelizing and simmering down. The goal is “sticky”.

10) Remove the wings and place into a metal roasting pan, pour the sauce directly over the chicken and ensure the wings are covered well.

11) Place the oven pan over coals for a minute or two, stirring the entire time and they are done!

12) Serve as an entrée, a half time feed during the rugby, or as a main with barbecued sweetcorn, a sweet coleslaw, mac n’ cheese, potato salad, or whatever takes your fancy.

There you have it, a simple, quick, delicious way to make the humble chicken wing into something pretty special.

Until next time – happy barbecuing!