Lists: Favorite BBQ Wings 2017

 

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(09/10/17)

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Wings

With the opening Sunday of the 2017 NFL season comes my quasi-annual list of favorite smoked wings, this time at 13 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.

 

Also unlike most lists, mine comes with companion lists of honorable mentions, places that didn't make the cut, and places I wished I could have tried (the point being that you don't have to guess whether a particular joint missed due to performance or simply not being tried).

 

There were 46 different joints tried for this list, so that's a lot of wings. While in a perfect world there'd be a near-even number of honorees from each state, that's not how it works here; it's merit that counts most. Six of the top 13 from the last list fell off, replaced by hot upstarts or returnees, and a few repeaters changed position significantly. An unquestioned winner emerged, but what's unusual about this year's rankings is that slots #2 through #5 are virtually interchangeable, slots #6 through #8 are virtually interchangeable, and there's very little separation between slot #9 and all fifteen of the honorable mentions. It was a good couple of years for smoked wings.

 

Here goes.

 

 

 

13. Swingbellys, Long Beach NY see my review of  this joint

Here we have a returning honoree that's back on the list again after dropping off: Hurricane Sandy dropped enough destruction to close them down, then I got too busy to make it back, then they had an off day when I did. The most recent visit saw a return to former glory: whole wings with no sacrifice in size, plenty of smoke, crackly crispness and bursting skins revealing juicy flesh. There are many flavors, all served on the side, but I'm still a fan of the chipotle honey, a sticky-sweet-with-gentle-heat number where honey shows up in more than just the name. www.swingbellysbbq.com

 

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

After some mighty showings, including a title and a runner-up, Binga's has taken a bit of a slide in recent years, but it's a perennial contender and one that still makes this list. Although the wings aren't always smoker fresh, the flavors are still inventive and always bold. These are good sized wings with a smoke component that varies depending on which sauce or dry rub you add. If smoke isn't your thing, they also have traditional fried. But if football is your thing, take advantage of individual mini TVs in every booth. www.bingasstadium.com

 

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

Last time I praised Hometown's wings for their improvement in size and crispness, but they've taken a step back due to a format change: instead of six large individual pieces, you get three diminutive whole wings. That's impacted the cripness a bit, but the flavor is still as irrestistable as ever: Sriracha, sesame seeds and scallions are the backdrop for intense chickeny flavor with plenty of juiciness. www.hometownbarbque.com

 

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10. Mighty Quinn's Barbeque, NYC see my review of  this joint

It makes sense that the two most similar wings in this list come back-to-back in the rankings. Another of New York's best barbecue joints, Mighty Quinn's also takes an Asian approach with sesame seeds, scallions and a spicy sauce that strikes a midpoint between classic Buffalo and Sriracha. Crispness is decent and smoke is high. Pickled celery on the side is not only a great palate cleanser but another nod to the traditional Buffalo wing accompaniments. www.mightyquinnsbbq.com

 

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9. Smoke Shack Blues, Port Jefferson NY see my review of  this joint
The first newcomer to the list is from what might now be the best barbecue joint on Long Island. The wings at Smoke Shack Blues are jumbo, and while some wings rely on the sauce, it's what's under the sauce here that does most of the talking: crisp texture, tenderness further down, and smoky flavor all the way through. Flavors are sweet sticky glaze and habanero; going naked is another option that won't leavy you dry. www.smokeshackblues.com

 

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8. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, NYC see my review of  this joint & Stamford CT see my review of  this joint

Here's another returning joint that missed the cut last time but bounced back with strong wings showings in both New York and Connecticut. Easily the messiest wings on the list and probably the most famous, on their best nights they're successful enough to offset their off nights. Flavor from smoke, grill, chicken and rub are all in ample supply here, with some fairly traditional but still compelling sauces. Of all the wings that hit the grill for the finish (most are fried), Dinosaur's are the ones that manage to get the most even results: no missed spots; very few overly charred spots. An extra sprinkling of rub over the sauce right before service drives the flavor home. www.dinosaurbarbque.com

 

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7. Rosebud, Somerville MA see my review of  this joint

A high finisher from the last list has dropped down a few spots, but they're still one of my favorites. Easily the sweetest wings on the list, with agave nectar applied lightly on each piece and pooled below, they're also probably the crispiest, the saltiest and among the smokiest. With all that going on, the chickineness still manages to poke through, so poke your head in and leave your "I don't like sweet wings" attitude at the door. www.rosebudkitchen.com

 

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6. Smokehouse Tailgate Grill, Mamaroneck NY

The second newcomer to the list is another from New York, not too far over the Connecticut border in Westchester County. These wings are smoked then grilled, so there's some variance in the crispness, but the interiors are uniformly moist. There's also no variance in the unique flavor that comes primarily from Cajun seasoning, but the combination of agave nectar and butter on the finishing glaze rounds them out nicely. Lime slices allow DIY adjustments at the table. www.shtailgate.com

 

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5. Smokestack Urban Barbecue, Worcester MA see my review of  this joint
Weep not for Smokestack Urban Barbecue, the #1 finisher of the last PigTrip Wings List and the only barbecue joint to snag four consecutive finishes in the top five. Their wings are still smoked then fried, they're still among the smokiest, and they're still half price on Mondays. The flavor in the Buffalo, Chipotle and Honey Habanero sauces is still on point, but where the (slight) slippage occurred is in the consistency: sometimes they're stellar (two of my top ten wings experiences over the last two years were there) and sometimes they're merely very good (hints of age and dryness).

www.bbqstack.com

 

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

After nearly repeating best honors last time in a close finish, Firefly's made the top four for the third list in a row. While on past lists their finish was helped by having two kinds of smoked wingsFirefly's Jumbo Wings (whole wings, smoked, grilled) and Crazy Roo's Wings (individual pieces, smoked, deep fried)—this time around, they might have landed a couple slots better if they only had the mesmerizing Crazy Roo's. The grill-finished whole wings sometimes wind up over- or under-finished in spots, but the Crazy Roo's are consistently crisp, tender, juicy, smoky and buoyed with Cajun-meets-Asian flavor that I can't get enough of. www.fireflysbbq.com

 

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3. Smoke Shop, Cambridge MA
Had there been a PigTrip wings List in 2016, Smoke Shop would have taken top honors. The tray might look a little empty, with a stack of wings on one side and nothingno celery, no sauceon the other, but there's plenty going on in these wings. Tray composition aside, Smoke Shop's Best Bar Wings are a delight for the eyes, showcasing crisp skins, a glorious tint, a dense rub, a light sticky glaze on the surface and a more substantial puddle underneath for dipping. First bite backs up first sight, bringing a tender and supremely succulent interior that's a perfect contrast to the surface. More contrast comes from that post-saucing spice rub (a mix of salty and spicy), recognizeable smoke (more than in their other meats) and the sweet agave nectar. It's a real challenge to not hog the entire tray, and nearly as much of a challenge to not order another round. www.thesmokeshopbbq.com

 

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

There was much ballyhoo when Blue Smoke changed their smoked wing preparation from chipotle sauce to Alabama White sauce, but the improvement came not from any regional authenticity. No, it was an improved commitment to execution and a restraint in the saucing that mingles with the bumpy crusts, supplies just the right amount of tang, leaves the crisp skins intact and allows the glorious chicken-and-smoke tandem to shine brightest. www.bluesmoke.com

 

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1. Hoodoo Brown Barbecue, Ridgefield CT see my review of  this joint

There are some things that come down to opinion, like flavor. It is my opinion that the brine-rub-smoke-sauce explosiveness of HooDoo's Rajin' Cajun wings outperforms the others on this list, but again, that's just my opinion. And there are other things that are indisputable, like size (HooDoo's wings are usually huge) and crispness (though seemingly wet, they're surprisingly crisp after a slow start in that department a couple years ago). More explosiveness comes in the equally indisputable juice rush that unleashes upon bite, matching flavor so much that I knew I had a winner the moment I gobbled the first wing from a memorable 2017 batch. To make sure the ranking would be indisputable, at least in my own mind, I tried them a few more times and the quality persisted. At most joints, the bleu cheese dip is an afterthought, but here it gets full attention, making sharp-creamy-bumpy condiment a must-add on some bites even though the flavor of the chicken hardly requires it. www.hoodoobrownbbq.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 (in alphabetical order), any of which could have made the cut had I gone 15-deep:

 

Bear's Smokehouse*, Hartford CT
Billy Goats, Harwich MA
Blackstrap BBQ*, Winthrop MA
Brutopia, Cranston RI
BT's, Sturbridge MA
Buck's Naked*, Freeport ME
Bull & Barrel, Latham NY
Capital Q, Albany NY
Hoppy's, Peabody MA
Izzy's Brooklyn BBQ, Brooklyn NY
LI Pour House, Port Jefferson Station NY
Rusty Can, Byfield MA
Q Restaurant, Port Chester NY
Taino Smokehouse*, Middletown CT
Willie Jewell's, Nashua NH

 

* made previous Wings Lists

 

 

 

sWing and a Miss

 

The following (also in alphabetical order) were the ones I tried that were a notch below honorable mention. I'm not saying they were all disasters (very few, actually); they just weren't a threat to make the Top 13. Note that there's not necessarily a correlation between who finished where in my Wings categories and who'd finish where in my overall barbecue performance categories. Some joints make great brisket and decent wings; some make great wings and horrible brisket. (A few joints below make horrible wings and horrible brisket, but I'm not mentioning any names.)

 

2 Jerks, Raynham MA
Big Dogs, Orleans MA
Big W's*, Wingdale NY
Billy Joe's Ribworks, Newburgh NY
Bridge View Tavern, Sleepy Hollow NY
Carnivores*, Milford MA
East Coast Grill, Cambridge MA
Goodstuff Smokehouse, Blackstone MA
Lobster Q, Hampstead NH
Mill at 185, West Boylston MA
Morgan's, Brooklyn NY
Morrell's, Stoughton MA
Pik Nik, Tarrytown NY
Pink Pig, Warren RI
Riverside Barbeque Company, Nashua NH
Tennessee's, Framingham MA
Virgil's*, NYC
Warehouse, Albany NY

 

* made previous Wings Lists

 

 

 

 

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 for a first visit. If there's another that you think I should try, drop me a line.

 

Bobby Q's, Norwalk CT

Brothers BBQ, New Windsor NY

Bull & Swine, New Haven CT
Graze, Cedarhurst NY
H Cue, Derby CT (I did try but they were out)
Johnny's, Greenville RI
Magnolia Smokehouse, Brookline MA (tried before wings on menu)

Max's Memphis BBQ, Red Hook NY

Pig Beach, Brooklyn NY
PJ's Bar-B-Q USA, Saratoga Springs NY
Uncle D's, Norwich CT

 

 

 

 

Wished I'd Returned

 

These are the wings I most regretted not being able to get to try one more time within the last two years.

 

American Glory, Hudson NY
Bluebird BBQ*, Burlington VT

Causeway*, Boston MA
Elsmere, South Portland ME
Fink's Smokehouse, Dumont NJ

Harbor Q, Port Washington NY
Larry J's, Boston MA

Little Red Smokehouse*, Carver MA

Moe's, South Portland ME
Northern Bell*, Brooklyn NY

Pit Stop BBQ*, Westmoreland NH

Scratch Kitchen*, Salem MA

Smoke Joint, Brooklyn NY

 

* made previous Wings Lists

 

 

 

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