Score a Safe Tailgate with Wings

Wings are ubiquitous with tailgates!  They are easy to prepare (or pick up), budget friendly, an easy-to-eat finger food, incredibly fun to try with different sauces, and when cooked properly, tasty and satisfying.  Sadly, many tailgates have been spoiled by food poisoning due to improper cooking or care of the meat.  Unlike other types of meat, chicken meat can host harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli (E. coli).  By using safe food handling practices and proper cooking techniques, there is no need to worry.

What are wings?

Wings are the forearm of the chicken and are part of the breast muscle which runs along both sides of the breastbone. Chicken wings are considered white meat, even though they’re juicier than white meat and have a more concentrated poultry flavor, like dark meat.  The wing of the chicken consists of three sections, the wing tip, the wingette (or flat wing having two small bones in it), and the drumettes (the part that looks like a mini-drumstick).  At the supermarket, wings are usually sold as the whole wing, wingettes, drumettes, or the wingette and drumette attached (no wing tip). 

The drumette is the part of the wing that is attached to the breastbone and usually considered the most desirable because it is meatier.   Many people think of Buffalo wings when they think of this part of the chicken.  (Buffalo wings, originated in Buffalo, New York, around1964, and became famous for the tangy, hot sauce-coated, deep-fried drumettes served with blue cheese dip and celery sticks.)

Be a Tailgate Wing MVP and Score a Winning Tailgate

The best offense is a good defense.  Have your food safety plan in place before the tailgate starts and know your opponent—harmful microbes—and deal with it using these tips for a worry-free tailgate:

Clean.  When preparing any food, start with clean hands, work surfaces and utensils.  DO NOT WASH the wings.  Rinsing meat or poultry under running water, results in splashing of water droplets onto other surfaces, kitchen utensils or food, causing contamination with harmful microorganisms.  Skip the wash, but instead pat-dry the chicken with paper towels, like many professional chefs do.  Dispose of the towels safely. Season as desired.

Separate.  If it is necessary to cut the whole wing or wingette and drumette apart, use a separate cutting board from any that would be used for fruits and vegetables.   Cross-contamination of utensils, cookware, cutting boards, countertops and anything else that has been exposed to raw chicken can put one at risk for salmonella. Thoroughly wash hands and any items that may have come into contact with the raw chicken with hot, soapy water before using for any other purpose.

Cook.   It doesn’t matter what cooking method* is used to prepare wings; it is essential to make sure that the chicken wings are thoroughly cooked to a final temperature of 165°F (74ºC). If not, you might have to deal with a bout of food poisoning. Salmonella and other bacteria are killed when subjected to a temperature of 165° F (74ºC). Use an instant-read digital thermometer to check the temperature by inserting the probe part of the thermometer into the thickest part of the wing, avoiding the bone.  Check several wings in the batch.  Use a clean thermometer for each and every temperature check.  Visual color is never a reliable indicator of safety or doneness.  Precooked frozen chicken wings, must be reheated to 165°F (74ºC) as well.

Place cooked wings into an insulated container or slow cooker for transporting or keeping hot during the tailgate if electrical outlets are available. Or use disposable foil pans and reheat on the grill. If prepared at the tailgate, bring wings chilled ready to cook on the grill and eat them as soon as they can be handled easily.

Chill.  Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left in the “Danger Zone” (40°F-140°F, 4⁰C-60⁰C).  Get wings and other perishable foods into coolers within 2 hours. If the food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (32⁰C), chill within 1 hour. Sauces may be kept chilled by placing them above a cold source like a bowl of ice.  If foods have not been exposed to Danger Zone temperatures for more than 2 hours and chilled properly, they may be reheated for halftime or after the game treats. Before reheating, use a thermometer to check the temperature of the food.  If food is at 40°F or lower it may be reheated. Be sure to reheat wings and other originally hot foods to 165°F (74⁰C) and check the temperature with a food thermometer. Do not reheat in a slow cooker; rather use a grill, or if at home, an oven or microwave.  Any food left in the Danger Zone for more than 2 hours should be discarded.

Other tips include having a serving utensil for each item and plenty of paper plates so everyone can use a clean plate when getting more food.

Be a Tailgate Wing MVP! Go for the win! Follow basic food safety principles, properly handle raw chicken meat, cook wings to an internal temperature of 165°F (74ºC), and chill as needed to keep you and your guests safe.

*Wing Cooking Methods

With any chicken wing recipe, it’s important to follow the instructions carefully to ensure that you have cooked them properly.  Cooking times are approximate; always use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature.  Wings may be prepared by oven baking, air frying, grilling, or deep fat frying following these general directions or your favorite wing recipe.

Oven – Place wings in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake at 400⁰F (204⁰C) for approximately 40 minutes.  It is a good idea halfway through the cooking time to turn the wings over to allow both sides of the wings to get crispy. 

Air Fryer – Spray the air fryer basket with cooking spray. Pat the chicken wings dry. Place the wings in the fryer basket so they are not touching. Set the air fryer to 360⁰F (182ºC) and cook for 12 minutes, then flip the wings with tongs and cook for 12 minutes more. Flip the wings again, increase the heat to 390⁰F (199ºC) and cook until the outsides are extra-crispy, about 6 minutes more.

Grill – Turn the wings every 4-6 minutes to ensure that they are cooked evenly throughout the grilling process.  Cooking time should be about 25-30 minutes.

Deep Fat Fryer – Heat oil to 375°F (191⁰C). Fry wings in batches until skin is crisp and meat is tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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