The best places to get chicken wings in Buffalo, like Anchor Bar, Duff’s, and Bar-Bill, keep their wing sauce recipes under wraps like the original Coca-Cola recipe. Because Frank’s RedHot is the main ingredient, there is a lot of mystery and paranoia about this sauce. The bottle of liquid is available at almost every grocery store chain in the United States. People still talk about secret spices, recipes that aren’t for sale, and a lot of beer-fueled speculation about what’s in some of the best wing sauces.
Chicken wings that have been fried to a golden brown and drenched in hot sauce and butter are simple and easy to make. I’m from Buffalo, and I’ve been eating chicken wings for a long time. However, to me, the best wing sauce is one where the flavors have had a chance to bloom and infuse the fat, and where the acidity and heat of the hot sauce are a little more pronounced.
John Henninger is the owner of Dan and John’s Wings, with three locations in New York. He and his partner, Dan Borowski, worked in the kitchens of Buffalo sports bars and pizza restaurants when they were growing up and now run the business. It was a chance for Henninger to see some of the special things these restaurants put on their wings. In one kitchen, they seasoned the Frank’s with a lot of garlic powder. In another, they added a very small amount of red wine to the blue cheese dressing.
When I’m cooking wings or chicken finger subs at home, I like to think of my sauce as a little bit like Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce, which is very tasty.
“My grandfather, on the other hand, had his own unique wing recipe that called for about ten other ingredients on top of the Frank’s and butter,” says Henninger. Dan and John’s sauce is made with hot sauce and liquid margarine, which is cheaper and more stable than butter. Henninger and Borowski like to add cayenne, which makes the Frank’s taste even better, or ghost pepper oil for the hottest wings.
At home, I like to think of my wing sauce as a little bit like Marcella Hazan’s well-known tomato sauce when I make wings or chicken finger subs. There are whole tomatoes, half of a stick of butter, and a raw onion in the sauce that Hazan makes for his chicken. For about an hour, the butter melts and the onions soften, giving the tomatoes a savory sweetness that isn’t too sweet.
Frank’s RedHot and butter with a halved raw onion in it are on low heat while I cook wings or cut carrot and celery slices (an obligatory side for any batch of wings, served with blue cheese dressing). With a little sugar, a few shakes of extra cayenne, a little bit of distilled vinegar, and a little bit of Worcestershire sauce, I can bottle and sell my wing sauce.