Feeling Nostalgic for Chicken Wings

Did you ever eat something in a restaurant that you couldn’t stop thinking about? And every time you went there, you HAD to have it. Even if the special of the day sounded fantastic or you were with a group who wanted something else, you got the same thing. Well, there was a coal fired pizza place here that totally did it for me. In addition to lovely and perfect Neapolitan style pizza, they had the most ridiculously fabulous wings. And I got them. Every. Single. Time.

Mash garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest together.
Mash garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest together.

I could never figure out what the seasoning was. They were savory with a little tanginess that I couldn’t quite place. They were roasted on a cast iron plate in the super hot coal-fired pizza oven. Served on a sweet nest of caramelized onions with grilled Italian bread, these perfectly crispy wings were some of the best things I ever ate. Sadly, the pizza place closed and I’ve missed those wings for years.

Transfer mashed garlic to a bowl. Add vinegar and oil and stir briskly to mix. Add to bag of chicken.
Transfer mashed garlic to a bowl. Add vinegar and oil and stir briskly to mix. Add to bag of chicken.

Then a few weeks ago, I threw together a quick marinade for chicken thighs and tossed them on the grill. Lo and behold, they were ALMOST as good as the esteemed wings from the now defunct pizza place. When I saw wings go on sale at the supermarket, I snapped up the ginormous family pack and went for broke. I thought maybe I could replicate those amazing wings.

Cut off wing tips. Break wings between joints (Chef J said you'll know you are doing it right if it sounds like a Steven Seagal movie) and the cut between the bones to separate into wings and drumettes.
Cut off wing tips. Break wings between joints (Chef J said you’ll know you are doing it right if it sounds like a Steven Seagal movie) and then cut between the bones to separate into wings and drumettes.

This recipe is not exactly like the wings that I fell in love with (no cast iron, no caramelized onions), but it hits a lot of the same notes and was a huge hit at our house. They are perfect for a cookout or to take to a neighborhood potluck.

Add marinade to bag of chicken and massage to coat all wings evenly.
Add marinade to bag of chicken and massage to coat all wings evenly.

This makes a ton of wings but, unless you are just serving for your family, you may want to double this recipe for serving a crowd. The Boy and I blew through 2/3 of these without even blinking.

Place wings on hot grill. Turn every 3-4 minutes rotating from hot to cold side of grill.
Place wings on hot grill. Turn every 3-4 minutes rotating from hot to cold side of grill.

Savory Chicken Wings

  • 3 1/2 lbs chicken wings, cut into wings and drummettes (freeze wing tips for making chicken stock, if desired)
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 2 T salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 2 T prepared pesto (I used Classico brand)
  • 1 T lemon zest 
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 2 T olive oil

Mash garlic into a paste (use back of knife and some of the salt or use a mortar and pestle if you have one). Combine with salt, pepper, pesto and lemon zest, continuing to mash together into a coarse paste (you could also do this in a food processor). Stir in vinegar and olive oil and combine well. Place chicken wings in gallon zipper bag and coat evenly with marinade. Massage bag until all wings are well coated. Place in refrigerator and marinate for approximately three hours, turning and massaging bag periodically to make sure all wings are fully coated.

Preheat one side of a charcoal or gas grill to medium high heat (350-400). I made these at the inlaws house so heated one side to high and one to low on their gas grill. If you are using a charcoal grill, simply put charcoal on one side of grill only. While grill is preheating, remove chicken wings from fridge and allow to come to room temp.

Arrange wings all around grill, some over hot side, some over cooler side. Close grill. Turn every three to four minutes, rotating from cool to hot side and turning often until brown and crispy on all sides, approximately 25 minutes.

Grilling and chilling.
Grilling and chilling.
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