Chicken wings — along with every other edible part of the bird — have been eaten in North America at least since the 1500s. “Wings” per se, on the other hand, are a much more recent phenomenon, tracing their popularity to Buffalo, New York, in the mid-20th century.
Being more precise than that is a little tricky. Some restaurants have always served whole or half roast chickens. Because wings don’t have a lot of meat on them, however, it was usually just breasts, thighs, and drumsticks that made it to the table. Wings got tossed into the stock pot — or even the trash.
There are rumors that an unnamed establishment in Washington, D.C. began offering wings by themselves in the 1950s, but then the scenario shifts to Buffalo. In 1961, one John Young, a transplant to the city from Alabama, started serving breaded and deep-fried wings with “Mumbo sauce,” a bright red, tomato-based condiment a bit like barbecue sauce, invented in D.C.
By the late 1960s or early ‘70s, Buffalo’s Anchor Bar introduced a snack of deep-fried wings with hot sauce, as did a competitor, Duff’s Famous Wings. By the late 1970’s, Buffalo wings had become a thing, not just in New York State but around the country.
Today, there are nationwide chains built almost entirely around this formerly disdained part of the chicken, including Buffalo Wild Wings and Wingstop, and they feature on the menus at fast-food operations (KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, etc.), dinner-house chains (P.F. Chang’s, Outback, and Hooters, among others), and all manner of barbecue joints, sports bars, dive bars, and other venues. (For more dive-bar information, read about the best dive bar in every state.)
Most wings these days are deep-fried, though some are grilled or smoked. Some purveyors serve whole wings, while others separate them into the drumette and the flat portion, usually discarding the tips. (These are the 30 best fried chicken places in America.)
The main difference between various versions, however, is in the sauces or rubs that they’re covered or served with. These are often sweet-and-spicy, sometimes with seasonings that give them a Thai, Korean, Cajun, Jamaican, or other distinct flavor.
24/7 Tempo has compared chicken-wing assessments on dozens of review sites, both crowd-sourced and professional, to arrive at this list of the best spot for chicken wings in every state.