The first time I made chicken wings at home I was looking forward to them all day. So when I saw a pool of sauce at the bottom of my bowl and barely any on the wings, my heart broke a little.
What had I done wrong?
I decided to do an experiment and find out. I made a big batch of wings and tested different ways of making my sauce stickier.
Here’s what I found out.
To get sauce to stick to wings, ensure the sauce hasn’t split. If the sauce has split, add an emulsifier such as honey or mustard and whisk thoroughly. When adding butter to the sauce, ensure it is cold as adding warm butter increases the likelihood of the sauce splitting.
How to get a prepared sauce to stick to chicken wings
If you’ve already got your wings and sauce cooked and ready to go, you need a quick fix.
There are two reasons your sauce isn’t sticking. It could have split, or it could just be too thin.
If it’s split, you need to re-emulsify it. If it’s too thin, you need to thicken it or toss the wings in the sauce multiple times.
How to re-emulsify a split sauce
Buffalo sauce is a mixture of hot sauce (mainly vinegar) and butter (a fat). The butter’s main purpose is to make the sauce sticky.
The problem is, vinegar and fats don’t really like each other. Given half a chance, they’ll separate.
Once the butter has separated from the hot sauce, the mixture isn’t going to stick. You should be able to tell if the sauce has separated, it’ll look and taste greasy.
Luckily, there’s a quick way to fix this problem.
Add in a known emulsifier – otherwise known as a bonding agent. Emulsifiers bind your sauce together and stop it from separating.
Side note: I know. Buffalo sauce is supposed to be just butter and hot sauce. But there’s no harm in giving your sauce a helping hand, is there?
Honey and mustard are great options. You can either use the mustard in powdered or prepared form.
You don’t need to add much. Try a tablespoon of emulsifier per cup of sauce at first, and make sure you mix it in well.
Another option is egg yolk. Whisk one egg yolk with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Next, gently heat your buffalo sauce on the stove (don’t boil it, this will scramble the egg).
Take the buffalo sauce off the heat and slowly pour in the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go. The heat from the buffalo sauce will cook the egg yolk and your sauce will bind together. Adding an egg yolk will also thicken the sauce – an extra bonus.
As a guide, one egg yolk will emulsify one cup of sauce.
The best way to integrate an emulsifier is with a hand blender. If you don’t have one, you can use a whisk, but be prepared to put some elbow work in!
I use this hand blender from Muller (Amazon link). It comes with three attachments, a hand blender, a whisk, and a milk frother. It’s brilliant.
How to thicken a thin sauce
A quick and simple fix for an already made sauce is to thicken it. The thicker the sauce, the more chance it has of sticking to your wings.
There are two ways to thicken a sauce.
Reduce the sauce
The first way is to simply simmer the sauce until it reaches your desired consistency.
Heating a sauce allows any excess water to evaporate and therefore thickens it up.
How long you need to heat the sauce depends on how thin it is to begin with, and how thick you want it. But as a rough guide, 10 minutes should be enough.
Leave the sauce to cool slightly before coating the wings. The sauce will thicken up even more as it cools.
Add a thickener
The second way is to add something to make it thicker.
There’s a variety of different options here. My go-to is xanthan gum because it’s super easy and super effective.
Thickeners you can add to buffalo wings sauce include:
- Cornstarch. Make a 1:1 slurry with cornstarch and water. Add this to your sauce and heat it until the sauce thickens.
- Roux. To make a roux, melt some butter and add an equal amount of flour. Cook the roux for 5 minutes before whisking in the buffalo sauce.
- BBQ sauce. A squeeze of BBQ sauce will lightly thicken your sauce and add a note of sweetness
- Sriracha. Sriracha is thicker than hot sauce, so will have a thickening effect. Be careful not to overdo it on the spice level though!
- Xanthan gum. Add a pinch of xantham gum to your sauce and whisk (fast). The sauce will thicken up quickly. Use xanthan gum sparingly, a little goes a long way.
You can learn more about thickening your sauce in my article ‘how to thicken buffalo sauce’.
Double (or triple) coat your wings
Sometimes you can’t be bothered messing around with the sauce to thicken it. I get it.
And that’s okay. This simple fix requires no extra ingredients.
Try coating your wings more than once.
Each time you coat your wings a little bit more of the sauce should stick.
Coat the wings once, then wait a minute before tossing them in the sauce again. This will give the sauce time to settle.
If you baked your wings, you can put the wings back in the oven for a few minutes after the first saucing.
This will set the sauce and make it super sticky.
How to make the stickiest wing sauce
The fixes above will help if you’ve already made your sauce. But there are also some things you can do while you’re making your sauce to make it the stickiest sauce possible.
We’re talking insane levels of stickiness.
First you have to make sure you create a stable emulsion, and then you need to ensure your chicken wings have a good enough crisp to hold the coating.
Add the butter cold (and don’t heat the sauce up too much)
If you’re a purist, you probably died a little inside reading my earlier suggestions for things you can add to your buffalo sauce.
Truth is, if you make the sauce right the first time, you shouldn’t need to add any thickeners or emulsifiers. Hot sauce and butter are all you need.
Butter on its own is a good enough emulsifier IF you don’t melt it.
The trick is to add the butter cold (or room temperature). The natural emulsifying ability of butter becomes less effective once it’s heated up.
The best way to add the butter is to dice it up and add it to your warmed sauce (don’t boil the sauce as this will heat the butter up too much) bit by bit, mixing it with a hand blender.
If you don’t have a blender you can soften the butter slightly in the microwave and use a whisk. But be careful not to heat it too much.
Adding the butter a bit at a time gives more time for the butter to integrate into the sauce and leads to a more stable emulsion.
Don’t add too much butter
There are hundreds of different recipes online for buffalo wing sauce. Quite a few of them go overboard on the butter. Too much butter will make your sauce slippery.
Start with two parts hot sauce to one part butter.
If this is too spicy for you, you can go up to half and half, but don’t add more butter than hot sauce.
Use margarine instead of butter
Most recipes online call for butter, but some hot wing fanatics swear by margarine.
They say it gives you a stickier sauce, that it’s less likely to roll off the wing.
I haven’t tested this myself yet, but it’s on the list. Sub margarine for butter in a 1:1 ratio.
If you can get your hands on liquid margarine, even better.
The thinking goes that margarine contains more emulsifiers than butter so results in a more stable sauce. Lots of restaurants use it because it’s also cheaper than butter.
Other substitutes for butter you could try include:
- Rendered fat
- Vegetable oil
- Clarified butter
Leave the wings and sauce to cool
I know you’re in a hurry to eat your wings.
But trust me, waiting a few more minutes will make them 10x more delicious.
Excess heat is one of the main reasons sauces split. Heat is almost guaranteed to break an emulsion. When you put your buffalo sauce on burning hot wings, the butter will split from the hot sauce and everything will fall to the bottom of your container.
Side note: this is also the reason you shouldn’t heat your hot sauce too much while you add the butter
Lay your wings out on a wire rack and let them cool for 5 minutes before you add the sauce. The inside will still be hot, but the skin will have cooled down enough that it won’t split your sauce.
Top tip: Don’t put the wings on paper towels to cool. Unless you like the taste of paper towels, then go ahead!
Once the wings are cool, slather on your sauce. If your sauce is hot (temperature-wise), you also need to let that cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools and become a lot stickier.
Okay, reading this back it kind of sounds like you’re going to be eating luke-warm wings.
But I promise you won’t be. Once you can touch the wings, they’re cool enough to work with. It’s only when they’re BURNING hot that you have a problem.
If the wings do get a tad cold for your liking, you can always pop them in the oven for 5 minutes to warm them back up.
Make sure your wings are as crispy as possible
- Slimy wings = nowhere for the sauce to stick
- Crispy wings = tons of little cracks and holes for the sauce to stick
Crispy wings aren’t just about the texture. Crispy skin is able to hold a LOT more sauce than slimy skin.
How to get crispy fried chicken wings
True buffalo wings are fried naked and will come out super crispy every time.
The secret is to double fry them.
- First, cook the wings in oil at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
- Remove the wings and shake off the excess oil.
- Leave the wings to cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes.
- Reheat the oil and fry the wings for a second time for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.
- After 10 minutes, remove the crispy, crunchy wings, and let them cool for 5 minutes.
- Toss the wings in a sauce of your choice.
The sauce will stick no problem.
How to get crispy oven-baked chicken wings
When oven baking, the most important thing to do is dry the wings out before you cook them. The less moisture in your wings, the better they crisp up.
A popular technique is to dry the wings with a paper towel and then coat them in baking powder and salt. Then leave them uncovered in the fridge overnight.
This gives the wings time to air dry, and the baking powder puffs the skin up creating more surface area and giving your wings a more defined crunch. There’s also a bunch of other sciencey reasons baking powder works, but this isn’t the right article for it.
Side note: make sure you use baking powder and not baking soda. Baking soda will leave your wings tasting of metal
Add a coating
Although ‘real’ buffalo wings don’t have any coatings, a coating can be really helpful in getting your sauce to stick.
The coating doesn’t have to be thick. It can be as simple as some cornstarch, flour, salt and pepper.
The coating creates all sorts of nooks and crannies which can grab hold of your sauce and keep it there. It’s sort of cheating. But if it tastes good, that’s all that matters.
Note: this only applies if you’re frying your wings. For oven baked wings, stick to baking powder.