Chicken Wings A Hot Topic

During the year 2011, more than 13.5 billion chicken wings (over 3 billion pounds) will be marketed as wings (as opposed to the wings on whole chicken or breast quarters), according to research by the National Chicken Council (NCC). Of these, about 9.5 billion wings (2.2 billion pounds) will be sold through foodservice channels, while aother 4 billion wings (800 million pounds) will be sold in retail grocery stores.

The vast majority of wings, especially those destined for foodservice, are disjointed, with the third joint (the thin part known as the flapper) being exported to Asian countries and the meatier first and second joints being sold domestically. The actual number of wing portions sold is over 25 billion since the vast majority of wings are cut into segments.

A chicken has two wings, and chicken companies are not able to produce wings without the rest of the chicken. Therefore, the supply of wings is limited by the total number of chickens produced. When the demand for wings is stronger than the demand for other chicken parts, the price of wings will go up. Prices usually peak in January during the run-up to Super Bowl weekend, which is unquestionably the biggest time of the year for wings. NCC estimates that over 1.25 billion wing portions were consumed during the most recent Super Bowl weekend -- more than 100 million pounds of wings.

Deep-fried chicken wings have long been a staple of Southern cooking. But the concept of cooking wings in peppery hot sauce was born in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, when co-owner Teressa Bellissimo cooked leftover wings in hot sauce as a late-night snack for her son and his friends. The boys liked them so much that the Bellissimos put them on the menu the next day. Served with celery slices and bleu cheese sauce, “Buffalo Wings” were an instant hit.

Dick Winger, who sold hot sauce to the bar, went on the road with Dominic Bellissimo, the owners’ son, to promote the item and sell hot sauce, and the item gradually caught on with restaurant operators around the country. The concept hit the big time in 1990, when McDonald’s began selling Mighty Wings at some of its restaurants. KFC rolled out Hot Wings a year later, and Domino’s Pizza introduced its own wings in 1994.

Wings have gone on and off various fast-food menus since then, but they have become a staple of casual dining. Virtually every casual dining chain offers chickens wings as an appetizer if not an entree. Several chicken companies make chicken wings, in a dizzying variety of flavors and styles, for sale to foodservice outlets. They are usually shipped fully cooked and frozen and are prepared for the customer in a fryer. Increasingly, ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat wings are showing up in the delicatessen and prepared-foods section of supermarkets. These are the same products that are sold to bars and restaurants.

Ready-to-cook (raw) wings are also popular items in the supermarket meat case.

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