This weekend is the Super Bowl. The Big Game. The pinnacle of chicken wing holidays. Even though those who are perhaps a bit more prepared have already placed large orders at Bdubs or Wingstop, I decided to wade into controversial territory: the pizza chain chicken wing. As everyone knows, one of the best additions to a plate of chicken wings is a slice of pizza. Fuck off with your celery. Not in this home. So in pursuit of truth, justice, and taste, I sampled four of the leading pizza chains’ wing offerings and ranked them.
For this investigation, I considered a number of factors. Quality of chicken, wing sauce, bake, and dipping sauce options were weighted most heavily. But I also incorporated details on flavor options and cost (based on franchises located within a 10-mile radius of my Brooklyn, New York home). As a noted Dominos stan and pizza connoisseur, even I was surprised by my final decision, but we cannot factor in nepotism when it comes to an important assessment like this.
Below are my personal notes, which happen to vaguely (but not directly) reflect the sentiments of the Esquire staff at large. After back-to-back days of sampling pizza chain chicken wings in the office, one Esquire editor did exclaim, “Yesterday I thought I wasn’t even into wings. Now I need them,” before adding, “I need to go wash my paws.” With some of the below options though, washed paws can only remain clean for so long, because you are practically required to go back for seconds, if not thirds.
1. Pizza Hut
Cost: Approximately 85 cents per wing
As with my college boyfriend, I had always been wary of Pizza Hut, because it was never able to give me the consistency I was looking for. It was hit and miss with the pre-WingStreet© variety of chicken wings. When they were good, damn, they were good. When they were not, I was stuck looking at a tragedy that waffled between sog and leathery carnage. But things have changed. Though a bit tougher than I would have hoped for, Pizza Hut is far and away the leader, with its lovingly titled WingStreet© Wings at the pizza chain chicken wing mountaintop.
Crisp and hard fried, Pizza Hut knows how a wing should be cooked. The sauce options are so expansive that it can be overwhelming. There are literally three buffalos. The brand’s classic buffalo gets the job done, but for the more adventurous, the sticky fire of the honey sriracha is a nice departure. The chain also offers two dry rub options—might I suggest Cajun?—along with a naked choice.
I am never one to sleep on a dipping sauce, and both the Pizza Hut blue cheese and ranch varieties offer a pop of flavor to an already delightful experience. Also, a note: The wing containers are shaped like small, black spaceships, which I found equally novel and appealing. Much like with a diner that somehow serves both Mexican and Chinese food, I was suspicious of just how much one place can do well, but from what I’ve eaten, Pizza Hut knows its game.
Cost: Approximately 90 cents per wing
In a way, I struggle between living in the present and living in the past. My own bias wants to place Dominos in the top spot because I love Dominos pizza, but I’m also remembering a Dominos wing of yesteryear. Previously unbreaded, the wings had a certain “Buffalo-style” authenticity that gets lost with the company’s new decision to bread its wings. But this development is no reason to discard Dominos entirely. The sauce—dare I say I detect a skosh of Frank’s Red Hot?—is a perfect balance of spice and vinegar, making for a simply delicious adventure. Typically liberal with the saucing technique, the artisanal blend of heat and flavor is, in a word, a delight, but the excess can lead into unfortunate soggy territory.
Though the chain’s blue cheese is more akin to a slightly spiced white cream, its ranch offers a bold tang. Coming in at 160 calories per cup-let, the caloric hit is worth the taste. That’s like a small tub of spiced lard, and yes, that’s an endorsement. However, the bake is not the strongest on this list, I must admit. Baked enough, the lack of crisp is compensated for by the general size of the wing, which is fine.
3. Little Caesars
Cost: Approximately 75 cents per wing
Cost, paired with Little Caesars’ constant ability to surprise and astonish, exalts this chain’s offering well above its next-best competitor. Though Little Caesars did not answer the call for a wing sampling this week, I have eaten its wings in the past month, and they did not let me down. The affordable pizza brand offers one of the few “seasoned” dry wings, though the wings are also available in three different sauce varieties as well. This will allow even the most spice-averse to apply their own sauce, though the buffalo sauce is serviceable.
The ranch dipping option at Little Caesars will, um, well—it will get the job done, but it’s oily. I take a maverick approach and pair the wings with the chain’s far superior garlic butter mix. Again, the sauce is fine and the ranch is edible. But arguably, when it comes to the literal drum and/or flapper, there is no better actual chicken wing in the mix than Little Caesars’.
4. Papa John’s
Cost: Approximately 90 cents per wing
When asked for a wing sample, a Papa John’s spokesperson said the company would pass at this time. Unfortunately, there is no next time, and thus, my assessment is based off the garlic parmesan and buffalo flavors that I tried in late December. Stocky yet miniature, I found the Papa’s wings to be endearingly cute above all else. Unfortunately, the flavor did not deliver in the same way as its competitors’ did. Similarly to Little Caesars, I preferred to dip my wings in the brand’s garlic sauce—a true gem on a menu that can be dodgy. The ranch has a slight sweetness that upsets my palette, so I do try to avoid it if possible.
The Papa John’s wing sauce flavors work at about half-speed. Garlic parmesan is notorious for being oily, and not in an inviting way. And I know my way around an inviting, oily texture. The buffalo lacked any discernible spice and could not seem to lock onto the exterior of the wing. The Papa failed to deliver on its promise to have “better food,” though again, I’ve never turned a wing away.
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