The 19th Annual Chicago WingFest took place May 6. More than 9,000 lbs. of wings were served by 30 different restaurants. These Windy City culinary professionals showed the poultry industry that wings are so much more than barbecue and buffalo. 

The event featured a collection of chefs from some of Chicago’s best eateries competing for various prizes including the Best of Fest, and the Best Mild, Hot, BBQ and Exotic Wing awards. Several them shared with MEAT+POULTRY their secrets to delicious, succulent wings, often with a unique flavor twist. 

Bryant Anderson
Executive Chef Bryant Anderson of Rack House Kitchen & Tavern, Arlington Heights, Illinois, is known for his traditional meat-smoking techniques. He prides himself on the long hours that go into producing the perfect flavors and tenderized meats. The secret to his wings, which took first place in the BBQ category, is smoking them for two hours over hickory and oak woods. 

“Hickory is a deep, bold smoke that penetrates the meat,” he said. “The oak provides additional flavor nuances that bring the smoky flavor all together.” 

He finishes the wings with house-made sauces, many of which are made with homemade smoked stock. Sauces include Bourbon BBQ, Buffalo, Chili Maple, Garlic Buffalo and HellRaiser Hot. The latter is made with habanero and ghost peppers. 

The 2018 Best of Fest winner was Bounce Sporting Club, a full-service restaurant with a modern sports bar ambiance located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. The restaurant won the accolades for its Hot Cheetos-encrusted smoked wings, which also took first place in the Exotic category. Other specialties featured at the restaurant include Honey Habanero, Maple Bacon and Spicy Koreatown.    

Brett Faldstein
Brett Faldstein
Executive Chef Brett Faldstein of Howells & Hood, a Michigan Avenue restaurant located in the historic Tribune Tower, believes wings are a great canvas to get creative with flavors. The restaurant features Korean wings that he makes with gochujang sauce and tops with his secret umami dust. 

For WingFest 2018, he created ghost pepper wings topped with shishito and coconut sugar dust, for a heat-meets-sweet combination that earned it the first-place award in the Hot category. He also served Serrano Tamarind wings made with pineapple and a homemade aji amarillo sauce topped with cilantro salt. 

Tyler Nelson, owner and chef, Bliss Culinary Heaven, a Naperville, Illinois-based catering company, created three concepts for this year’s contest. They were: Apple Cider Barbecue, Honey Glazed and Springtime Habanero, with the latter containing nuances of mint.  

Estrella Negra in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood is a modern Mexican-Latin street eats restaurant. Chef and owner Oto Michael served his specialty at WingFest: tamarind chicken wings. They are what he describes as “an all original dish made of estrella negra style.” Featured on the restaurant’s menu, the wings are covered in his homemade spicy, sweet and sour tamarind sauce. They get topped with goat cheese crumbles and chives. 

Cheese was the star of a few innovations. Maize & Mash, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, served Backward Bleu, which were wings smothered in a gorgonzola/cambozola cheese sauce that were drizzled with buffalo sauce. Mahoney’s Pub & Grill, Chicago, took second place in the Exotic category for its Nacho Wings. These were crispy grilled wings covered with nacho cheese sauce and dipped in crushed tortilla chips. The wings were served with salsa for dipping.