Can you believe it’s been 50 years since the creation of the chicken wing by our very own Anchor Bar! Buffalo NY has become synonymous for the popularity and originality of the chicken wing and to this day, not one city truly does it better.
Over the past 50 years chicken wings have spread across the nation, morphing into the bizarre, the creative, the copycat and the hot wings. All of which are showcased at the annual Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival.
With 39 different states (including Hawaii) and 22 countries (including Australia), this year’s festival was one of the largest showcases of the popular bird. However, over the last 13 year’s Drew Cerza has done a terrific job of transforming this event into much more than just a food gorging festival. National representation aside, beer gardens, craft beer corner’s, dessert vendors, and wineries all take up residence at Cocoa-Cola Field. And a partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield, that was established last year, has added a “Healthy Zone” to the wing festival. The “Healthy Changes Every Wing” brought back the ever popular “Buffalo Flavored” recipe contest. While not always an easy task, it can be done by simply baking instead of frying wings, creating vegetarian wings, and using ingredients that are lower in sodium, grain free, wheat free, and no hydrogenated oils.
With so many new vendors, eight new additions this year, 30 tons of wings had to be ordered. That’s a lot of wings my friends- and I got to try more than my fair share.
Along with my friend Donnie Burtless from Buffaloeats.org, 32 different wings were tasted in four different categories. The categories were: Traditional Medium, Traditional BBQ, Creative BBQ, and Creative Sweet. Pen and clip board in hand, we took our seats, our roll of paper towels, and our bottles of water- and my zantac, and prepared for yet another painful gorging of chicken wings. My husband, who was my cheering section, note taker and photographer last year, was ironically asked at the last minute to judge when the coordinator for the competition saw him picking at my left over wings and adding his two cents. Delighted, he took his seat across from me, tucked in his paper towel, and enthusiastically grabbed a clip board. We were affectionately nick-named the husband and wife judging duo.
Having not eaten a chicken wing since last year’s event, I felt prepared for the challenge……boy was I wrong. Learning a hard lesson from last year, I took no more than a bite or two of each wing presented to me, took in the smell and presentation of each wing, and made my votes. Traditional Medium slipped by with no lasting effects, although I was disappointed by the representation. My highest score out of 10 was only a 7, with most wings only hitting a mild note. Then came traditional BBQ. A big fan of BBQ and smoke, liquid smoke played a huge role in the ingredients for this category, but the lack of BBQ flavor took me by surprise. Again, my highest score was only 7 out of 10. By the third category I had hit my wall, starting to feel the effects of both my enlarged stomach and the 89 degree weather. It didn’t help that a last minute entry to this category left an indelible mark on all of us judges. The very last set of wings for creative BBQ was shown for presentation. With numerous quizzical looks, we all wondered why the wings looked extremely red, saucy and with peppers shoved in each corner of the box. There had to have been some type of mistake, these must be for the suicidal hot wing judging. While hesitant, we all took our wing samples and studied them carefully. However, unlike the others, I did not jump right in to the bite. I instead, having smelled the enormous amount of pepper and hot sauce, carefully dipped my finger into the sauce of the wing. As I watched each judge around me grab for their water while pools of tears enveloped their eyes, I knew I had made the right decision. It did not stop my gagging reflex however, as just the taste alone sent my esophagus into a whirlwind spiral of fire. Trying desperately to recover, I found it impossible to rate this wing for bbq flavor. The only flavor I could taste was pepper, pepper, extreme hot sauce…and oh yeah- pepper! Somehow I found the will to forge ahead, watching my dear husband try to do the same, as his candied apple face still filled with tears as he recovered from the previous wing. Four bottles of water later I had made it to the creative sweet category. Donnie and I both had harsh memories of fish and peanut butter and jelly tasting wings from last year that left us cringing going into this category. Thankfully there were no fishy tasting wings this year. However, there was a peanut butter and jelly entry that got an astonishing 7 out of 10 from me! It was a truly creative sweet wing with a perfect balance of both PB & J, and a hint of molasses that rounded out the whole wing flavor. Needless to say, by the end of it all I was still recovering, so too were several other judges, from the Hades inspired creative BBQ’less wing.
While official results from our judging panel won’t be announced until tonight, I had taken my own notes. I wanted to see which wings I had gravitated to the most within each category. What I found was very interesting. So, out of four categories and 32 wings, there was one- only ONE, that was consistently rated a 7 out of 10 in each category. Mind you, not everyone participated in every category. My results are: Traditional Medium Winner (for me)- Bocce Club Pizza (Buffalo NY).
Traditional BBQ Winner (for me)- Bocce Club Pizza
Creative BBQ Winner (for me)- Bocce Club Pizza
Creative Sweet Winner (for me)- Bocce Club Pizza
Anyone notice a trend? I couldn’t believe the results, but there they were. Each category, and Bocce took a 7 out of 10, ranking it the highest on my score sheets. Not only did it take the highest score, but it took the highest score in each and every category. What am I saying here? I’m saying that Boccee Pizzeria seems to have perfected every variation of chicken wing style. Runners up for me were: Traditional Medium- Booty’s from Surprise Arizona and Quaker Steak and Lube from Buffalo NY, Traditional BBQ- Wing Street from Plano Texas, Creative BBQ- A tie between Bonehead’s Wing Bar from West Warwick Rhode Island and our very own La Nova Pizzeria from Buffalo NY, and in Creative Sweet- another tie between La Nova (PB & J) and Bonehead’s Wing Bar (Candied Maple Bacon).
It was truly a great event, I had a blast judging and yes I’m going to say it….I can’t wait to judge again next year!
Once official results are posted, I will be back to update this page:) Happy Wing Day to you all.