With the NFL playoffs shaping up to be one for the ages, football weekend calls for an appetizer spread of epic proportions.
Enter the Wing Bar, your ticket to creating a guaranteed touchdown for your next appetizer table.
As with any respectable “bar” – think salad, sundae or bloody mary – the goal is to put your guests in charge of their own flavor destiny.
With a Wing Bar, chicken wings serve as the canvas, while your curated selection of sauces, boosters and dippers provide the colors your guests will use to paint their own masterpieces.
Here’s everything you need to know to throw down the ultimate Wing Bar.
BASE SEASONINGS: THE FOUNDATIONS OF FLAVOR
A Wing Bar is all about providing options, so start by dividing your uncooked wings into two groups and assigning each pile its own base rub.
With your base seasonings, you’re looking to create a delicious, neutral foundation that will complement any other flavors your guests choose to add.
For our recent Wing Bar, we used our Factory Team Flavor Guide to select two balanced classics as our base seasonings:
DB180 - Chicken & Ribs: This seasoning has a 2-3-3-3 Flavor Guide Profile, so it splits the uprights with a balanced delivery and a satisfying back-end kick of red-pepper heat that leaves plenty of headroom to add more heat at the Wing Bar if they choose. It has classic BBQ color and flavors without a lot of saltiness and is perfect for the complementary neutral canvas we wanted.
Rio Valley Meat - Blanco: Blanco opens with a blast of garlic and onion, followed almost immediately by a soothing and refreshing sweetness way in the back. We selected this one for two reasons -- starting with the fact that its 4-1-5-2 Flavor Guide Profile is amazing on everything you can smoke, grill, steam, fry or bake.
The other reason was all about the color. We wanted a strong visual contrast between our two flavor profiles to amplify the feeling of choice, while also giving our guests an easy way to tell them apart.
The beige tones of Blanco blended into the chicken skin to leave a natural look that matches its natural flavor, while standing out next to the color or DB 180 - Chicken & Ribs.
Factory Team Tip: Chicken works with almost any seasoning, so by all means, use your tried and true favorites. If your two base rubs have a similar color, you can sort your wings into drums and flats to differentiate the flavor profiles.
SAUCES: BRUTE FORCE FLAVOR
Instead of saucing during the cooking process or right as they come off the heat, serve your wings “dry” and let your guests handle the saucing themselves.
We like to cover a lot of flavor ground by providing radically different sauces that interact with the palate in radically different ways.
And we love using sauces of different colors to add to the visual appeal, while helping communicate what a given sauce is going to taste like.
For our Wing Bar, we went with top-notch examples of four classic sauces:
Croix Valley - Garlic Buffalo Wing Sauce: Looks like your classic orange wing sauce, but tastes like it was made by a chef.
Blues Hog - Raspberry Chipotle Sauce: Every sauce in the Blues Hog lineup has a way of blowing away unsuspecting eaters. Plan on refilling this one.
Duce’s Wild - Alabama White Sauce: Life’s never quite the same once you’ve had white sauce on smoked chicken. This is one of our favorites.
Smokin Ghost - Haunted Heat Sauce: We actually won a wing competition with this spicy tomato-based BBQ sauce, so it was a no brainer for our ultimate Wing Bar. Trust us – it’s a winner.
Factory Team Tip: Consider a small crockpot or warmer to keep BBQ sauce and wing sauce warm. But don’t heat sauces containing oil – like a white sauce – or they may thin and separate.
BOOSTERS: FLAVOR FIREWORKS FOR WINGS
Boosters are the Wing Bar component that will have your guests so engrossed in their flavor journey, they might missthe big play on TV and not even notice. But what are boosters, you ask?
Also known as finishing powders, think of boosters as powerful flavor agents that add a distinct pop of flavor that hits the tongue first.
A good booster must be able to “melt” onto whatever you shake it on without creating a gritty texture, so you won’t want to wing it with this element of your Wing Bar. Go with a booster that’s made for the job.
Croix Valley Wing Booster Family Pack: Our flavorful friends at Croix Valley make it easy to cover the bases with a whole line of boosters made specifically for wings.
The names say it all, and each one packs a wallop of flavor that works perfectly when applied right before wings reach their final destination.
Willingham's - W’ham Hot Stuff: Sporting a 2-2-2-5 Flavor Guide profile, this is one of the more extreme seasonings in the BBQ Pro Shop catalog, so be sure to warn your guests to use it appropriately.
There’s always that one friend who brags about how much heat they can handle. See if he means it by handing him the whole shaker. (It comes out fast.)
For anyone else who wants to take a walk on the wild side, put Hot Stuff in a standard pepper shaker for a more controlled application.
Flavor Anonymous - Jade Dragon: The 2-4-2-3 Flavor Guide profile of Jade Dragon provides a simple and highly effective way to add a massive burst of mouth-watering flavor to Asian dishes, and it also happens to make an incredible wing booster.
Fruity notes invoke pineapple, lemon and citrus, while ginger and wasabi lend an unmistakable Far East flavor.
Factory Team Tip: You can make a booster out of your favorite seasoning by running it through a spice grinder or pulverizing it into a dust with a mortar and pestle. To increase sweetness, mix the ground product with powdered sugar.
DIPPING SAUCES: COOL COMFORT FOR HOT WINGS
Sure. You could just put out a couple bottles of ranch and blue cheese salad dressing and call it a day, but as easy as it is to make an exciting dipping sauce, there’s really no reason not to take your Wing Bar over the top with a flight of homemade dipping sauces.
Prep time: 1 minute each.
Start with a 5-oz container of Greek yogurt or a similar amount of sour cream and stir in approximately 1 heaping tablespoon of seasoning to taste.
We find almost any seasoning in the cabinet will work for this, but some of our favs include:
Your Behind BBQ - Green Chile Bacon Rub: Full-frontal green chile flavor and buzz , with a supporting cast of sweet, toasted garlic.
Heath Riles - Simple Citrus: Salty, sour and a tiny bit sweet at the same time, you might actually want to make a double batch of this one.
Smokin' Hoggz - Rib Rub: A perfect balance of classic flavors that taste extra special.
Factory Team Tip: Make your dippers about an hour before the big game. The flavors need a little time to blend together, but some seasonings will promote excess separation to the sour cream or yogurt after several hours.
TOPPERS: THE PERFECT FINISHING TOUCH
Take your Wing Bar across the goal line with an assortment of fresh toppings. We’re talking chopped scallions, toasted sesame seeds, chopped parsley, lemon or lime zest, and whatever other fresh ingredients you desire.
Factory Team Tip: Don’t skimp on the zest; it adds an impressive bright touch. It does have a tendency to dry out quickly, so it’s best to make some fresh each time you deliver fresh wings to the Wing Bar. Or, if you’re short-handed, you can make it right before the game, store it in a ziplock bag and dole out a fresh bowl as needed
Ms. Freak is head cook of Smoke Freaks, the BBQ Pro Shop Factory Team. She and her partner, Mr. Freak, are the tongues and testers behind the Factory Team Flavor Guide.