Many Americans prefer bone-in chicken wings vs. boneless chicken wings, according to The NPD Group.
Many Americans prefer bone-in chicken wings vs. boneless chicken wings, according to The NPD Group. (photos: TGI Fridays Restaurant & Bar)
 
Wings have become mainstay menu items, with numerous quick-service and sit-down restaurants centered on this one particular chicken format. The question for many diners is bone-in or boneless.

For many Americans, the answer is bone-in wings, according to Chicago-based The NPD Group. The demand for bone-in chicken wings is strong. More than 60 percent of wings served at restaurants are bone-in. Further, over the past year, servings of bone-in wings were up 6 percent while declining by a similar rate for boneless, according to the new NPD study “The Chicken Wing Dilemma.”

The study, which is based on NPD’s Checkout consumer receipt harvesting service, examines the purchase patterns of wing buyers and how restaurant operators react to fluctuating wing prices. This year, wing prices increased during the summer while the demand remained high, but prices have declined over the past three months. Boneless wings are more heavily promoted over bone-in wings when prices are high.

That’s because boneless wings are not wings at all. They are typically formed from breast meat and are a spin-off of the breaded chicken nugget. Slice open a boneless wing and all you see is meat, which makes them faster to cook but also not as succulent as real wings, those that have skin, bone and cartilage. Consumers often equate the boneless version with being a healthier choice, as it contains more meat and lacks the fatty skin. Bone-in aficionados would never consider eating a boneless wing.

“Foodservice operators and suppliers offering chicken wings need to understand purchase patterns of wing buyers in order to menu appropriately, price accordingly and tailor marketing to grow in the headwinds of price increases,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst. “Most wing buyers aren’t fair weather fans; they are super fans who stick with one type of wing regardless of price.”

Operators appreciate that boneless wings have a shorter cooking time, but they also have a tendency to dry out so they require more attention. Brining and basting boneless wings helps keep them moist.

Accompaniments are important, too. A great blue cheese or ranch dip, with a side of celery sticks and carrots, can help redeem a dried out boneless wing or a meager bone-in wing.