- Chicken wings are always in season.
- I tried the wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters, TGI Fridays, Bonchon Chicken, and Wingstop to see who had the best chicken wings.
- Turns out the Korean import Bonchon had the best chicken wings: immaculately crispy and bursting with flavour.
- However, Hooters was a close second, offering the best chicken wings with a more traditional American flavour profile.
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Chicken wings are never out of season.
There are enough sports seasons to make them relevant year-round. Football season? Wings. Baseball season? Wings. Basketball? Wings. Just craving wings? Wings.
As Business Insider’s resident taste-tester, I had a sacred duty to try all the wing chains within a reasonable travel distance from our office to find the best chicken wings.
Over a week, I ate wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters, TGI Fridays, Bonchon Chicken, and Wingstop to see who had the crispiest, sauciest, juiciest chicken.
I never want to smell another chicken wing again. But my sacrifice was not for naught: After dozens of wings, dreadful and delicious, I found the holy grail of chain-restaurant wings.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS — A small order of traditional wings cost me $US12 plus tax at the Brooklyn location I went to. I got two kinds of sauce: Buffalo wild, and spicy garlic.
I couldn’t tell which flavour was which just by looking at them. The wings kind of looked the same.
I picked up one at random and sniffed it. I never thought I could be disgusted by garlic, but this spicy garlic sauce smelled as if it had been made with blended dried garlic. It was pungent yet lifeless.
There was a decent crisp on the skin, but that was about it. The garlic sauce was noxious, and I don’t often say that about garlic sauces. It tasted primarily of vinegar and salt — and copious amounts of both.
Inside, the chicken was tough and overcooked. It had a slightly fishy taste.
The Buffalo-wild flavour was wonderfully spicy but tasted like actual nail-polish remover.
The only way I could tolerate them was by drenching them in ranch, which improved their flavour thousandfold. With the addition of ranch, the wings went from really bad to just OK.
I made the mistake of trying a desiccated “carrot” stick. Never again. The french fries, though, were actually decent. They tasted kind of like McDonald’s fries back when they were fried in beef tallow.
HOOTERS — After much internal debate over whether I should set foot in a “breastaurant,” I ended up at the Hooters in Manhattan, where I ordered 10 Daytona Beach-style wings for $US20 plus tax.
These wings are deep-fried, tossed in sauce, and put back on the grill for an extra crisp. My server, Diana, had recommended this style of wings to me.
They took 40 minutes to arrive, but they were worth the wait. I was surprised by how tasty these were.
The sauce was sweet and a tiny bit spicy, and the skin was fatty and packed a decent crisp.
These wings were small, but juicy and flavorful.
Unlike the wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, these were not in the least bit oversalted, tough, or soggy. They had clearly been freshly cooked.
Since I ate my first wing naked, I dipped my second in the accompanying ranch sauce.
It was also good with ranch, but not better than without it — the true marker of a good wing.
I also noticed that my 10-piece order of wings had, in fact, 13 wings. Was this a mistake? An intentional one?
Either way, I wasn’t complaining. I did pay 20 bucks for these wings, and they were delicious. I’ll take my free extra chicken where I can get it.
Hooters’ wings were fresh, not too greasy, and perfectly sauced. They were all too easy to eat by the platter.
TGI FRIDAYS — A 10-piece order of traditional wings in Buffalo sauce ran me $US14 at the Manhattan location I went to.
The wings were presented in a faux-cast-iron skillet, which seemed inappropriate. Wings aren’t traditionally cooked in skillets, and these ones certainly weren’t.
The wings were fragrant and so piping hot that they were practically gushing steam. I suspected that they had spent a couple of minutes rotating in the kitchen microwave.
The sauce was the highlight: Spicy and tangy, it was your classic Buffalo sauce. But it all went downhill from there.
Nothing could have prepared me for just how bad these wings were. They were tough and dry, and they tasted as if they’d spent eons in a freezer, then in a microwave. Their skin was soggy, and the chicken itself tasted fishy. Chicken should never taste fishy.
After one wing, I had no desire to keep eating. But the meal must go on.
The second time around, I dipped my drumstick into ranch dressing in hopes of making the meat more palatable.
The watery ranch did little to subdue the fishy flavour of the dreadfully dry chicken. I gave up on these after just two wings and a tiny bite of a third.
BONCHON — At the Bonchon restaurant in Manhattan I went to, an order of 10-piece wings cost $US14. I ordered two flavours: spicy, and soy garlic.
Bonchon was the only restaurant that didn’t serve dipping sauce with its wings. I was a little disappointed, but I later understood why.
I started with a spicy wing.
The skin was crunchy and bursting with flavour. It was like savoury, spicy, tangy candy. The chicken inside was juicy and fatty.
Instead of celery or carrot sticks, Bonchon gives you a side of pickled radish or coleslaw with your wings.
Crunchy, vinegary, and slightly sweet, these were a refreshing break from the flavour-packed wings.
Next, I tried a soy-sauce drumstick. Even though the skin was crisp and the chicken was consistently good, the soy-sauce flavour was a little too salty for me.
These were very heavy. After about six or seven, I couldn’t go on. My stomach felt clogged. I downed an entire glass of water.
Still, it didn’t turn me off. I had eaten a lot of wings, and Bonchon’s were perfect in pretty much every single way.
WINGSTOP — I went to the Wingstop in downtown Brooklyn, where a 10-piece order of bone-in wings cost $US15. This was a combo, though, with two flavours of wings, a side of fries, and a fountain drink.
I ordered half original-hot-classic wings and half Korean-barbecue wings, in a nod to Bonchon.
These were hot and fresh from the fryer.
The skin was not quite as crispy as it could have been, but the crisp wasn’t entirely missing. As far as sauces go, “original hot classic” was your traditional Buffalo sauce. It wasn’t quite as spicy as I would have liked, but it was well balanced.
The chicken inside was just OK; it didn’t compare to the chicken at Hooters or Bonchon. I did like that it wasn’t at all greasy. The overall taste profile was much lighter than at some of the other wing chains, and that wasn’t a bad thing.
The Korean-barbecue flavour tasted mostly just like soy sauce and garlic, which I guess are flavours that exist in Korean barbecue. Still, it didn’t hold up to the depth of Bonchon’s soy-sauce flavour.
My main gripe with this flavour is that it wasn’t very spicy. I suppose it doesn’t claim to be, so I have no right to be disappointed.
However, I found that I much preferred the original-hot-classic wings.
They paired especially well with ranch. And Wingstop’s ranch was the real stuff — none of that TGI Fridays watery nonsense.
It’s worth mentioning that the fries that come with the wings combo were possibly even more delicious than the wings. They were fresh, crispy, and salty, as if they were made to be dipped in ranch. They probably were.
Wingstop is a solid choice for anyone who wants to satisfy a wing craving and get a full meal for a decent value. Its wings may not be perfect, but they are pretty good. And so is everything else.
If we’re talking about who does chicken the best — the crispiest skin, the juiciest meat, the sauciest sauces — the winner is clearly Bonchon. This Korean import is rapidly growing its US presence, but it’s already around the world for a good reason: It really is the gold standard for fried chicken.
However, Hooters offered the best traditionally American-style wing. Sure, the skin has less of a crunch, and maybe the sauce didn’t have as much of a kick as Bonchon’s wings. And sure, you might be forced to consider your morals. But if you crave a greasy, meaty bite of chicken that slides right off the bone, Hooters is your destination.
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