I ate chicken wings from 5 major chains, and a little-known newcomer beat out all the classics

Business Insider Finance 2 months ago

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 of the wing chains within a reasonable travel distance from our office to find the best chicken wings.

Over the course of a week, I ate wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters, TGI Friday's, 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 $11.99 plus tax at the Brooklyn location I went to. I got two kinds of sauce: buffalo wild and spicy garlic.

BUFFALO WILD WINGS — A small order of traditional wings cost me $11.99 plus tax at the Brooklyn location I went to. I got two kinds of sauce: buffalo wild and spicy garlic.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I couldn't tell which was which flavor just by looking at them. The wings kind of looked the same.

I couldn't tell which was which flavor just by looking at them. The wings kind of looked the same.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I picked up one at random and sniffed it. I never thought I could be disgusted by garlic, but this spicy garlic sauce smelled like it had been made with blended dried garlic. It was pungent yet lifeless.

I picked up one at random and sniffed it. I never thought I could be disgusted by garlic, but this spicy garlic sauce smelled like it had been made with blended dried garlic. It was pungent yet lifeless.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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.

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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Inside, the chicken was tough and overcooked. It had a slightly fishy taste.

Inside, the chicken was tough and overcooked. It had a slightly fishy taste.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The buffalo wild flavor was wonderfully spicy, but tasted like actual nail polish remover.

The buffalo wild flavor was wonderfully spicy, but tasted like actual nail polish remover.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The only way I could tolerate them was by drenching them in ranch, which improved their flavor thousandfold. With the addition of ranch, the wings went from really bad to just ok.

The only way I could tolerate them was by drenching them in ranch, which improved their flavor thousandfold. With the addition of ranch, the wings went from really bad to just ok.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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.

I made the mistake of trying a desiccated
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

HOOTERS — After much internal debate over whether I should step foot into a breastaurant, I ended up at the Hooters in Manhattan where I ordered a 10-piece order of Daytona Beach style wings for $19.99 plus tax.

HOOTERS — After much internal debate over whether I should step foot into a breastaurant, I ended up at the Hooters in Manhattan where I ordered a 10-piece order of Daytona Beach style wings for $19.99 plus tax.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

These wings are deep-fried, tossed in sauce, then put back on the grill for extra crisp. My server Diana had recommended this style of wings to me.

These wings are deep-fried, tossed in sauce, then put back on the grill for extra crisp. My server Diana had recommended this style of wings to me.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

They took 40 minutes to arrive, but they were actually worth the wait. I was surprised by how tasty these were.

They took 40 minutes to arrive, but they were actually worth the wait. I was surprised by how tasty these were.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The sauce was sweet and a tiny bit spicy, and the skin was fatty and packed a decent crisp.

The sauce was sweet and a tiny bit spicy, and the skin was fatty and packed a decent crisp.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

These wings were small, but they were juicy and flavorful.

These wings were small, but they were juicy and flavorful.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Unlike the wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, these were not in the least bit over salted, tough, or soggy. They had clearly been freshly cooked.

 Unlike the wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, these were not in the least bit over salted, tough, or soggy. They had clearly been freshly cooked.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Since I ate my first wing naked, I dipped my second in the accompanying ranch sauce.

Since I ate my first wing naked, I dipped my second in the accompanying ranch sauce.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was also good with ranch, but not better than without — the true marker of a good wing.

It was also good with ranch, but not better than without — the true marker of a good wing.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I also noticed that my 10-piece order of wings had, in fact, 13 wings. Was this a mistake? An intentional one?

I also noticed that my 10-piece order of wings had, in fact, 13 wings. Was this a mistake? An intentional one?
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Either way, I wasn't complaining. I did pay twenty bucks for these wings, and they were delicious. I'll take my free extra chicken where I can get it.

Either way, I wasn't complaining. I did pay twenty bucks for these wings, and they were delicious. I'll take my free extra chicken where I can get it.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Hooters' wings were fresh, not too greasy, and perfectly sauced. They were all too easy to eat by the platter.

Hooters' wings were fresh, not too greasy, and perfectly sauced. They were all too easy to eat by the platter.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

TGI Friday's — A 10-piece order of traditional wings in buffalo sauce ran me $13.99 at the Manhattan location I went to.

TGI Friday's — A 10-piece order of traditional wings in buffalo sauce ran me $13.99 at the Manhattan location I went to.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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 presented in a faux-cast-iron skillet, which seemed inappropriate. Wings aren't traditionally cooked in skillets, and these ones certainly weren't.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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 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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The sauce was the highlight — spicy and tangy, it was your classic Buffalo sauce. But it all went downhill from there.

The sauce was the highlight — spicy and tangy, it was your classic Buffalo sauce. But it all went downhill from there.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Nothing could have prepared me for just how bad these wings were. They were tough, dry, and tasted like 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.

Nothing could have prepared me for just how bad these wings were. They were tough, dry, and tasted like 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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

After one wing, I had no desire to keep eating. But the meal must go on.

After one wing, I had no desire to keep eating. But the meal must go on.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The second time around, I dipped my drumstick into ranch dressing in the hopes that it would make the meat more palatable.

The second time around, I dipped my drumstick into ranch dressing in the hopes that it would make the meat more palatable.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The watery ranch did little to subdue the fishy flavor of the dreadfully dry chicken. I gave up on these after just two wings and an tiny bite of a third.

The watery ranch did little to subdue the fishy flavor of the dreadfully dry chicken. I gave up on these after just two wings and an tiny bite of a third.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

BONCHON — At the Bonchon restaurant in Manhattan that I went to, an order of 10-piece wings cost $13.95. I ordered two flavors: spicy and soy garlic.

BONCHON — At the Bonchon restaurant in Manhattan that I went to, an order of 10-piece wings cost $13.95. I ordered two flavors: spicy and soy garlic.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Bonchon was the only restaurant that didn't serve dipping sauce with its wings. I was a little disappointed, but I later understood why.

Bonchon was the only restaurant that didn't serve dipping sauce with its wings. I was a little disappointed, but I later understood why.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I started with a spicy wing.

I started with a spicy wing.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The skin was crunchy and bursting with flavor. It was like savory, spicy, tangy candy. The chicken inside was juicy and fatty.

The skin was crunchy and bursting with flavor. It was like savory, spicy, tangy candy. The chicken inside was juicy and fatty.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Instead of celery or carrot sticks, Bonchon gives you a side of pickled radish or coleslaw with your wings.

Instead of celery or carrot sticks, Bonchon gives you a side of pickled radish or coleslaw with your wings.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Crunchy, vinegary, and slightly sweet, these were a refreshing break from the flavor-packed wings.

Crunchy, vinegary, and slightly sweet, these were a refreshing break from the flavor-packed wings.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Next, I tried a soy sauce flavor drumstick. Even though the skin's crisp and chicken's quality were consistently good, the soy sauce flavor was a little too salty for me.

Next, I tried a soy sauce flavor drumstick. Even though the skin's crisp and chicken's quality were consistently good, the soy sauce flavor was a little too salty for me.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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.

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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Still, it didn't turn me off. I had eaten a lot of wings, and Bonchon's wings were perfect in pretty much every single way.

Still, it didn't turn me off. I had eaten a lot of wings, and Bonchon's wings were perfect in pretty much every single way.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

WINGSTOP — I went to the Wingstop in downtown Brooklyn, where a 10-piece order of bone-in wings costs $14.99. This is a combo, though, and includes two flavors of wings, a side of fries, and a fountain drink.

WINGSTOP — I went to the Wingstop in downtown Brooklyn, where a 10-piece order of bone-in wings costs $14.99. This is a combo, though, and includes two flavors of wings, a side of fries, and a fountain drink.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

I ordered half original hot classic wings and half Korean BBQ wings in a nod to Bonchon.

I ordered half original hot classic wings and half Korean BBQ wings in a nod to Bonchon.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

These were hot and fresh from the fryer.

These were hot and fresh from the fryer.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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 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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The chicken inside was just OK but 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 some of the other wing chains, and that wasn't a bad thing.

The chicken inside was just OK but 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 some of the other wing chains, and that wasn't a bad thing.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

The Korean BBQ flavor tasted mostly just like soy sauce and garlic, which I guess are flavors that exist in Korean BBQ. Still, it didn't hold up to the depth of Bonchon's soy sauce flavor.

The Korean BBQ flavor tasted mostly just like soy sauce and garlic, which I guess are flavors that exist in Korean BBQ. Still, it didn't hold up to the depth of Bonchon's soy sauce flavor.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

My main gripe with this flavor is that it wasn't very spicy. I suppose it doesn't claim to be, so I have no right to be disappointed.

My main gripe with this flavor is that it wasn't very spicy. I suppose it doesn't claim to be, so I have no right to be disappointed.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

However, I found that I much preferred the original hot classic flavor.

However, I found that I much preferred the original hot classic flavor.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

They paired especially well with ranch. And Wingstop's ranch was the real stuff: none of that TGI Friday's watery nonsense.

They paired especially well with ranch. And Wingstop's ranch was the real stuff: none of that TGI Friday's watery nonsense.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It's worth mentioning that the fries that come with the wings combo are possibly even more delicious than the wings. Fresh, crispy, and salty, it's as if they were made to be dipped in ranch. They probably were.

It's worth mentioning that the fries that come with the wings combo are possibly even more delicious than the wings. Fresh, crispy, and salty, it's as if they were made to be dipped in ranch. They probably were.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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.

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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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.

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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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.

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.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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