Grilling chicken wings is a moving experience

May 26, 1999|By Rob Kasper

THE GOOD PART about grilling chicken wings is that the fat doesn't start a major fire. When the fat drips off the wings and hits the glowing charcoal, there may be a flare-up or two, but nothing that necessitates a mad dash for the fire extinguisher.

By contrast, when you are cooking chicken wings in the oven broiler, you must be serious about your fat-patrol duties, periodically pulling the wings out of the oven and pouring off the fat that has pooled in the cooking vessel, a long flat metal pan.

If you don't, there is an excellent chance a chicken-fat volcano will erupt. When that happens, chicken fat splatters on the broiler's heating element, creating smoke and havoc in the kitchen. Then, you have to make a mad dash for the fire extinguisher.

The drawback of cooking chicken wings on the grill is that it requires constant movement. To do the job right, there is a whole lot of flipping going on. Unlike a hunk of steak or a rack of ribs that you turn once -- maybe twice if you are neurotic -- chicken wings demand more stroking and massaging than an insecure starlet. Unless you keep flipping them and moving them around the various temperature zones of the grill, wings have been known to turn to cinders. Another likely scenario is that half of them will end up half-cooked.

When I cooked a mess of wings recently on my charcoal kettle cooker, I maneuvered them through three temperature zones on the grill -- warm, hot and sizzling. The warm zone was in the middle of the grill, where there were no coals. Here, the wings simply basked in the glow of nearby charcoal.

The hot spot was on the left side of the grill. There, the coals were chugging along at a so-so pace. The super-sizzling spot was on the right side of the grill, where, thanks to wind currents, the coals were in a house-afire frenzy.

About 30 wings were scattered over the grill surface. To make sure they all finished cooking at approximately the same time, I devised a flip-baste-and-move regimen. It went something like this:

Starting with the wings on the super-sizzling portion of the grill, I flipped them and then basted them with peppery marinade. Then, after they had spent two minutes in the sizzling zone, I moved them over the middle of the grill, the warm zone.

As newcomers to the warm zone arrived, the previous occupants of this zone were flipped, basted and moved over to the hot zone. To complete the cycle, the previous occupants of the hot zone took up residence in the super-sizzling zone, where they were flipped and basted.

It was the chicken-wing shuffle, and the wings, like commuters on the Beltway, moved around the grill.

After 30 minutes of flipping and shuffling, all the wings were done. Some were crispier than others, but, in all cases, the meat was cooked all the way to the bone. Some were downright succulent.

About the best compliment a chicken-wing cook can get is when folks not only finish off every one of the wings, but also suck the bones. This happened when I grilled these fast-moving wings. They turned out to be bone-sucking good.

Chicken Wings

Serves 4

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

4 pounds chicken wings

In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, oil, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce.

Using a large knife and a cutting board, trim the small end off each wing. Place trimmed chicken wings in a large plastic food storage bag or bowl. Pour in marinade. Press out the air in the bag and seal tightly. (If using a bowl, cover it.) Set wings in refrigerator and let sit, up to several hours, turning occasionally.

Prepare a medium-hot fire on the grill. Remove wings from marinade and place them on the grill rack. Grill them, turning them frequently and brushing them with any leftover marinade. Cook until done, about 25-30 minutes.

-- Adapted from a recipe in "Grilling" (Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library, 1992)

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