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Respect the Wing, Tame the Drummette

A brief history of the almighty wing


Published September 10, 2008 at 5:53 a.m.

Any trivia buff worth her salt knows Buffalo wings are named for the city where they originated, not for big, hairy mammals. But did you know that the flat pieces are called “flats” or “wings,” while the ones that look like miniature drumsticks are called “drummettes”? More facts follow to whet your appetites.

In 1964, Teressa Bellissimo of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y., became the first person to deep-fry a batch of chicken wings and serve ’em coated in hot sauce with a side of blue cheese dressing and celery sticks. In 1977, the mayor of Buffalo declared July 29 “Chicken Wing Day” to honor Teressa and her husband, Frank. In 2003, the restaurant received a James Beard Foundation Award, which is reserved for restaurants considered “American classics.”

Currently the Anchor Bar dishes up more than a thousand pounds of wings per day. But the place is no one-trick pony: Its menu is packed with pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and Italian cordials. Nothing feeds the burn like chasing your wings with some grappa!

The annual National Buffalo Wing Festival takes place in Buffalo over Labor Day weekend. In 2008, 78,000 hungry attendees chowed down 27 tons of wings in more than 100 flavors. Yowzah!

Most of the participating restaurants are New York establishments, but this year a few purveyors hailed from farther afield, such as The Wing Coop of Salt Lake City. (In Utah, the sauces range from “beginner” to “black diamond.” Can non-Mormons swig a brewski alongside? The menu doesn’t say). Also serving wings were Native New Yorker — located in Tempe, Arizona — and Legend Larry’s of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The weirdest wingery name? Quaker State and Lube from Sharon, Pennsylvania.

Based on statistical samples from the 2007 festival, organizers say the bulk of their visitors are Buffalo-area males who make more than $50,000 per year and eat chicken wings between one and three times per week. The local cardiologists must eat that up.

Speaking of cardiologists, everybody knows wings aren’t exactly healthy heart fare. But because each recipe is different, it can be hard to calculate the damage. A version of the original Anchor Bar recipe reprinted in The Los Angeles Times puts it at 567 calories and 48 grams of fat for four wings dipped in blue cheese.

If you eat a dozen of those wings by yourself, you’re sucking down 2268 calories, more than enough to fuel an adult male for an entire day. But at least they’re low-carb, right?

Saucy Buffalo-wing goodness is no longer limited to chicken. These days, snack-food manufacturers offer spicy and tangy treats inspired by the classic. For example, Snyder’s of Hanover makes a Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel, described as “generous chunks of our sourdough pretzels bursting with [the] intense flavor . . . of hot sauce seasoned with cayenne peppers and paprika.” Pringles takes it to the next level with Extreme Blazin’ Buffalo Wing crisps.

Like your snack foods to play it cooler? The makers of Cheez-It Twisters add the dipping sauce to the equation with their Hot Wings & Cheesy Blue flavor. Kettle Chips is classier: Its crunchy treat is called Buffalo Bleu. Très chic.

For those who want to know exactly what’s going into the “Buffalo-flavored” sauce, web-based recipe collections offer plenty of takes on Buffalo shrimp, Buffalo meatballs and Buffalo pizza.

Feel like a stud ’cause you ate more wings than your friends? Sonya Thomas might have something to say about that. Known as the “Black Widow,” the 41-year-old Korean-born Burger King manager is currently ranked sixth in the pantheon of gluttons who compose the International Federation of Competitive Eating. At the U.S. Buffalo Wing Eating Championship on August 30, 101-pound Thomas ate 165 wings in 12 minutes.

This past February at the Philadelphia Wing Bowl — which takes place on Super Bowl weekend — eating machine Joey Chestnut set a record unlikely to be surpassed. Known for snatching the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Belt from the waist of skinny Takeru Kobayashi, Chestnut has enjoyed an unparalleled reign of gustatory terror. Besting his previous performance of 182 wings in a half-hour, this year he stomached 241 in the same time. His rival, the punkish Patrick Bertoletti, busted his own gut with 227 spicy nibbles.

How do they do it? Both dudes began building their iron stomachs in college, and use gastric stretching exercises to prepare for competition.