Lists: Favorite BBQ Wings 2015

 

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(09/13/15)

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Wings

With the start of the 2015 NFL season comes my now-annual list of favorite smoked wings, this time at thirteen 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.

 

Here goes.

 

 

 

 

13. Causeway, Boston MA see my review of  this joint
Served in flavors such as Korean, mustard and classic Buffalo, these wings arrive crisp outside, succulent inside and served atop a pool of sauce for optional dipping. Flavor comes more from the well crafted sauces than the smoke, but it is noticeable. www.causewayboston.com

 

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12. Big W's BBQ, Wingdale NY see my review of  this joint

These savory wings with lots of bump pack the strongest smoke-heat-chicken troika in the bunch. A recent batch lost some of the crispness and just-out-of-the-smoker freshness, dropping Big W's a few rungs, but with so much flavor they're still very much on the list. www.bigwsbbq.com

 

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11. Binga's Stadium, Portland ME see my review of  this joint

The top finisher two years ago and the runner-up last year took a bit of a backslide this year with some drops in crispness and moistness, but hopefully that's only temporary. This barbecue joint that's even more of a wing joint is also one of the better sports bars in New England, with TVs both on the walls and in the booths for your football enjoyment. There are more flavors here than at just about any barbecue joint that does wings, and the wings can be had smoked-then-fried, breaded-then-fried or naked fried. Stick with the smoked, whose smokiness does vary depending on what topping you choose, but the size, crispness, tenderness and boldness of flavor are rarely in doubt. www.bingasstadium.com

 

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10. Blue Smoke, NYC see my review of  this joint

Years ago, my server at Blue Smoke told me their chipotle wings were fried, not smoked, so I took her word for it, assumed the smokiness came from the sauce and left them off past lists. But the wings are indeed smoked, and that smoke is made more noticeable by a controversial reworking in recent months. Gone is the chipotle, replaced by a new Alabama white sauce that leaves the crisp skins intact and achieves my favorite attribute: contrast. There's a magic here similar to what happens between Buffalo sauce and bleu cheese dressing, and it makes these wings surprisingly addictive. www.bluesmoke.com

 

 

 

 

9. Carnivores, Milford MA see my review of  this joint

 

The thing that'll draw you to here is the Bacon Buffalo wings, but that cured pork inclusion—both bacon bits and bacony liquid—is neither a gimmick nor a crutch. These wings bring size (jumbo), smoke (light, but noticeable), crust (heavy, but not burnt), a juicy interior and a unique snap. Still super accessible in quantities of 4 and 8, and with other flavors beside bacon, Carnivores' wings are an easy add-on or focus unto themselves. Most importantly, they've gotten better over time. Facebook

 

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8. Hoodoo Brown Barbecue, Ridgefield CT

This newcomer with a well travelled NYC pitmaster at the helm has a serviceable Buffalo, but I go with the Rajin' Cajun. It's a very bold rub with a grab bag of components led by just-hot-enough cayenne. A pre-smoke brining and some hot sauce under the rub both round out the flavor tremendously, hitting you in waves. And with all that added flavor, the intense chickeniness still comes through. The exteriors have been firm to borderline crisp every time, but fully crisp gets them in the top 5. www.hoodoobrownbbq.com

 

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7. Northern Bell, Brooklyn NY see my review of  this joint

 

This under-the-radar Brooklyn barbecue restaurant doesn't get the rest of its smoked fare going 'til dinnertime, but smoked wings are available around the clock. Bypass the more traditional flavors for the maple-banana-habanero sauce, which sounds a little weird but works just fine in practice. There's a nice contrast between outer crunch and inner succulence, and the flavor brings a nice balance of smoky and chickeny, accented but not overpowered by the sauce. Before ordering, check the blackboard for specials like kimchee wings. www.northernbellny.com

 

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6. Blackstrap BBQ, Winthrop MA see my review of  this joint
The wings at Blackstrap are a microcosm of the place as a whole, which hits chart topping heights on some visits only to come back down to earth (though never below average) on others. The wings are always large, sometimes gargantuan enough to warrant a drug test. Sometimes the smoking process plumps them further to tear the crackly skins apart, and sometimes those skins are closer to General Gau's chicken at a buffet right before closing. On their best nights, these wings—whether barbecue or Buffalo, but I prefer the complexity of the latter here—are worthy of the top few slots. And even with all the mayhem, they still taste like chicken. www.blackstrapbbq.com

 

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5. Buck's Naked, Portland ME see my review of  this joint
Always one of my favorite barbecue joints, Buck's has long had wings that were solid but just not special enough to crack the Wings List. Until now. The last year or so has seen some changes (sadly, no more beef ribs) and some major improvement to the barbecue program, and the wings are a big part of that. The blueberry wings are interesting and the jerk wings are way out there, but the Thai wings really hit the spot. There's ample sweet, plenty of heat and you still taste the crisp and tender chicken. www.bucksnaked-bbq.com

 

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4. Hometown BBQ, Brooklyn NY see my review of  this joint

 

Widely viewed as the best barbecue joint in NYC and also widely hailed for their constant improvement, Hometown did just that with the two inarguable improveables: the once diminutive wings are now much plumper and the once light skin is now fully crisp. The style is still Asian, with Sriracha, sesame seeds and scallions. Under the crispness, the meat is consistently juicy and intensely chickeny, with a natural flavor that never gets lost in the herbs and heat. www.hometownbarbque.com

 

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3. Rosebud, Somerville MA see my review of  this joint
Had they opened just a few weeks earlier, Rosebud would have made last year's list and placed just as high, because they've been excelling at smoked wings from day 1 and haven't slowed down yet. These wings are best enjoyed with a hoppy beer, as they're the sweetest entrant on the list. Lightly applied to each piece and additionally pooled beneath for extra dipping, the agave nectar sauce is unabashedly sweet and undeniably delicious. But like all the great ones, these wings aren't just about sauce. With their gorgeous red tint, crisp skins, aggressive rub, strong chickeny flavor, light smoke and tender interior, there are plenty of reasons to get onboard. Even if you're not someone who normally goes for sweet, give these wings a try as designed. They're a game changer. www.rosebudkitchen.com

 

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2. Firefly's, Marlborough MA see my review of  this joint

 

Last year's surprise winner nearly repeated. There are two different wing types here: Firefly's Jumbo Wings (whole wings, smoked, grilled) and the newer Crazy Roo's Wings (individual pieces, smoked, deep fried). The pinpoint execution of the Roo's wings bring crispness, tenderness, juiciness and Asian flavors perfectly balanced with a molasses backdrop; the sauce is applied with enough restraint to let the woody smokiness and the chicken itself shine through. The Firefly's whole wings have a higher degree of difficulty, as the skin at the joints doesn't always get crisped all the way, but a recent plate hit the sweet spot yielding just-blackened-enough skin while still nailing a slippery juicy interior. www.fireflysbbq.com

 

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1. Smokestack Urban Barbecue, Worcester MA see my review of  this joint
It's not easy to cook wings, and it's not easy to achieve that perfect balance of outer crispness, inner moistness and fresh feel, but Smokestack Urban Barbecue hits that almost every time. Perhaps more impressive is that the times they don't, they're still very close. Whether Buffalo, Chipotle or Honey Habanero (my favorite), these wings bring multidimensional flavor from the intense saucing that's restrained enough to let the natural chicken flavor and unmistakable smokiness shine through. On Monday nights, they're half price.

www.bbqstack.com

 

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Honorable Mention

 

Numerous wing representatives were in the running but just missed the cut. In some cases it was a matter of being edged out by an upstart; in other cases, a sup-par wings order or two took them out of contention. These near-misses include the following, any of which could have made the cut had I gone 15-deep:

 

American Glory, Hudson NY (not quite)

Bear's Smokehouse*, Hartford and Windsor CT (not quite)

BT's Smokehouse, Sturbridge MA (not quite)

Dinosaur BBQ*, Brooklyn NY and Stamford CT (not quite)

Larry J's BBQ Cafe, Boston MA (not quite)

Mighty Quinn's Barbeque*, NYC (not quite)

Q Restaurant, Port Chester NY (not quite)

Saw Mill BBQ, Redding CT (not quite)

SoulFire*, Allston MA (not quite)

Walrus + Carpenter, Bridgeport CT (not quite)

 

 

 

sWing and a Miss

 

Others didn't come so close. I'm not going to list them, but if you have an inquiry about a particular place, I'll tell you whether I tried their wings. Just drop me a line.

 

 

 

Wished I'd Tried

 

If time, money, gasoline, calories, good weather and wifely consent were all in unlimited supply, I would have visited them all by now, but here are the wings I most regretted not being able to get to, whether for a first visit or a return. If there's another that you think I should try, drop me a line.

 

Bar BQ, Stamford CT

Billy Joe's Ribworks, Newburgh NY

Bridge View Tavern, Sleepy Hollow NY

Brothers BBQ, New Windsor NY

Fink's Smokehouse, Dumont NJ

Hot Suppa, Portland ME

Little Red Smokehouse*, Carver MA

Max's Memphis BBQ, Red Hook NY

Pit Stop BBQ*, Westmoreland NH

Scratch Kitchen*, Salem MA

Smoke Joint, Brooklyn NY

Swingbellys*, Long Beach NY

Taino Smokehouse*, Middletown CT

Whistling Pig Smokehouse, Bangor ME

 

* made previous Wings Lists

 

 

 

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