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Sara Hansen

7 Tips On How To Grill Chicken Wings Perfectly

At this point, we’re only one week away from the Super Bowl and you may be trying to decide what to cook up for the big game. Lookup any list of favorite foods for football parties or tailgate get-togethers and wings are sure to be near the top. 

So, if you’re looking for tips on how to grill chicken wings, you’ve come to the right place! Here's what you need to know for grilling wings that will wow your guests and make you a legend in your own neighborhood:


Better Quality Meat = Better Tasting Wings

When we previously discussed smoking whole chicken on the grill, several tips given there will apply to wings, too. Such as starting with good quality meat. 

Why go to the trouble of perfecting the art of how to grill chicken wings and then buy low-quality meat? Look for cage-free, all-natural wings in your local meat shop rather than the grocery store. The results will be worth the extra shopping time and maybe a bit higher price. 


Separate The Wings First 

There are three parts of a chicken wing - the drumette, wingette/flat, and the tip. For best results, you want to use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to separate the wings into the three pieces. This makes a difference because, due to the difference in thickness of each part, they all cook at different speeds. You don’t want to burn the flat part of the wing while you’re still waiting on the drumette to finish.

It is a lot easier to control how the wings are cooking when the pieces are separated. The flats and drumettes will be the main pieces you are cooking. 

The tips are very thin, have very little meat, and hard to cook on a grill separately. Instead of throwing them out, these can be frozen and used for flavoring when making soup another time.


parts of a chicken wing | how to grill chicken wings | how to prepare chicken wingsSource: A Pinch Of Salt Lake


Use Two-Zone Cooking On Your Grill

Utilizing a two-zone cooking system and a reverse sear method is the best way to cook wings on the grill. Start the wings first on the indirect heat side of the grill (at about 325 degrees Fahrenheit), flip them as needed as they brown, and then gradually move them to the direct heat side to sear and finish them. 

This method will create a nice crispy skin with a juicy inside, as well as reduce flare-ups as the fat from the wings slowly renders. If you’re using a smoker, you can start the wings furthest away from the heat source and then move them closer and sear them to finish. 


The Type Of Wood Matters

If you are using wood as your fuel source or even an additional source for flavor, the type of wood you burn matters. This is especially true with meat like chicken that is a milder protein. 

A small amount of Hickory is a good mild choice, as are fruitwoods like Apple and Cherry wood. You can even try mixing Hickory with one of the fruitwoods. If you want to make a bold statement with your wings, go with Mesquite or Oak. 


Brine or Marinade?

First of all, it is important to understand they are not the same thing. Brine is a salt-based liquid bath and works to maintain the juiciness and tenderness of the meat.

So, for best results, let the chicken wings sit in a brine for a couple of hours before cooking. The brine will protect the delicate meat from drying out during cooking. After brining, make sure to pat the wings dry before seasoning and/or cooking.

Marinades, especially if they are oil-based, do nothing to tenderize meat. The liquid cannot pass deep into the meat so you end up with a surface seasoning only. All that time letting the meat rest in a marinade is wasted. 

Save any marinades or BBQ sauces for just before taking the wings off the grill. Brush it on the meat and then serve. Or place several sauces in bowls on the side and let your guests try them all. 


how to brine chicken wings | how to grill chicken wings | grilled chicken wingsSource: The Mountain Kitchen


Keep Seasonings Simple

With chicken wings, less is better for several reasons. The skin of wings can start to burn quickly. You don’t want to overload them with seasonings and add to that chance. 

You can season the wings lightly with salt and pepper for simplicity. Or you can use one of your favorite bbq rubs, just go easy. You don’t want to overdo it, especially if the rub has salt or sugar in it. Put the rub on before cooking to get savory, smoky wings. 

Wait until the last few minutes of cooking to brush on any sauce if you’re going with that. The sugar in the sauce can quickly start to burn if you put it on too early. 


Internal Temperature Tells You When the Wing is Done

Chicken wings are not a “one size fits all” type of cooking. You have to keep a close eye on them and move them around as needed since the thickness varies widely. It is not possible to rely on cooking times when grilling wings. 

Also, if you use the often-quoted “when the juices run clear it’s done” method, you might end up serving wings that are either over-cooked or not quite done.  Your football parties will have a short life if you serve either one to your guests.

So, you should always go by internal temperature to determine how long to grill chicken wings. Get out your meat thermometer and test each piece before shutting down the grill. 

It may be a little harder to use the thermometer with wings since the meat on some pieces doesn’t give you much to work with. But insert it into the thickest part of each wing, staying away from the bone. The wings need to reach an internal temperature of 165℉ before you can serve them up. Some outdoor cooks prefer the internal temperature to reach around 175℉ for meat that pulls away from the bone easier, yet isn’t overcooked.


Serve Up Some Delicious Grilled Chicken Wings

If you followed the tips above, prepped the wings properly, and cooked them to temperature, chances are you’ve now got some delicious wings to eat. Get out a serving platter, slide the wings onto the platter and serve with celery and carrot sticks. You can also warm any barbecue sauces you’ve prepared by setting the bowl on the grill briefly. 

If you want to follow along with a step-by-step recipe that shows you exactly how to cook some amazing chicken wings, check out our online video/class on Peach Mango Habanero Chicken Wings for only $7.98!

Are you planning on grilling wings soon? Have you discovered any other tips on how to grill chicken wings perfectly? Leave a comment below. We want to hear from you!


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Sara Hansen

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2 comments on “7 Tips On How To Grill Chicken Wings Perfectly”

  1. Sara, thank you for this wonderful post! First, I've always had problems with my meat when using the brine and marinate procedure, but that's all behind me now. Second, I followed your advice on seasoning and kept the interior temperature at 165 degrees Fahrenheit; the end product was a delectable treat for the family.

    1. Thanks for the feedback and we're glad you found the article helpful! Also happy to hear you ended up cooking some great wings for yourself and the family!

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