The first time I made chicken wings at home I was looking forward to them all day. So when I saw a pool of buffalo 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 a sticky wing sauce you need to make sure the sauce is properly emulsified – whisk in bit of honey or mustard to help. You can also used a thickener like a roux or cornstarch to get a sticky sauce. Let the wings and sauce cool slightly before tossing, and double coat if necessary.
How to get sauce to stick to wings
There are a three reasons your sauce isn’t sticking.
The sauce could have split or not be emulsified properly, it could be too thin, or your wings might not be crispy enough.
Here are my top tips for getting sauce to stick to wings.
Add mustard or honey (to emulsify the sauce)
If your sauce is thin, greasy and slippery, it’s not emulsified properly and therefore won’t stick to the wings. To fix this, mix in a tablespoon of honey or mustard for each cup of sauce. These are known emulsifiers and will bond the sauce together, as well as thickening it slightly.
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.
Emulsifiers act as bonding agents. Honey and mustard are great, easily accessible options (you can use powdered or prepared mustard). But you’ll need to make sure you mix them in well. Using a hand blender is best, or you can whisk the sauce with some elbow grease.
Another emulsifier option is egg yolk.
Mix one egg yolk with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl and slowly pour the mixture into warm buffalo sauce as you whisk. One egg yolk will emulsify 1-2 cups of sauce.
Cool the sauce
When you put a boiling hot sauce on just-out-of the-oven-hot wings, the butter will split from the sauce leaving you with a thin, greasy liquid that won’t stick to anything. Let your wings and sauce cool for 3-5 minutes before combining. The sauce will also thicken as it cools, making it stickier.
Pro tip: you can even make the sauce ahead of time and then just bring it to room temperature before tossing the wings in. Letting the sauce rest overnight will also make it more stable.
Excess heat is one of the main reasons sauces split, but that doesn’t mean you need to make do with luke-warm wings. Once you can touch the wings, they’re cool enough to work with.
If the wings get a tad cold for your liking, you can always pop them in the oven for 5 minutes to warm them back up.
Thicken the 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. You can thicken the sauce by simmering it for a bit longer, or adding a thickener like flour, cornstarch, or even BBQ sauce.
Adding a thickener (e.g a roux)
There’s a variety of different things you can use to thicken as sauce, but a common option is to use a roux:
- Melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a saucepan
- Mix in an equal amount of flour as you continue to heat the mixture
- Stir continsuouly while heating your roux for 5 minutes
- When the roux turns golden, whisk in the wing sauce
- The wing sauce should thicken
Other 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 (don’t boil the sauce).
- BBQ sauce – a squeeze of BBQ sauce will lightly thicken your sauce and add a note of sweetness (Related: How To Make Bbq Sauce Less Sweet)
- 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’.
Reduce the sauce
If you have time to spare, or don’t have any thickeners on hand you can also thicken the sauce by heating it for longer. This will allow excess liquid to evaporate.
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 for it to reach sticky-consistency.
Leave the sauce to cool slightly before coating the wings. The sauce will thicken up even more as it cools.
Psst.. you’ll lose some volume with this method, so it’s only good if you’ve got sauce to spare!
Related: How To Thicken Homemade Ranch Dressing (a must-have with wings!)
Double coat the wings and bake in the oven
Double coating your wings can be an easy and effective way to get the sauce to stick. Toss your wings in the sauce and then let them rest for 1 minute, for best results rest them in a warm oven to ‘bake’ the sauce in. Repeat two or three times until you have deliciously saucy wings.
Each time you coat your wings a little bit more of the sauce should stick.
Instead of using an oven, you can also toss the wings back onto a warm grill. The heat will help set the sauce and make it super sticky.
But don’t use too much heat or you’ll split the sauce and it won’t stick at all!
A double coat should be enough, but if you like really saucy wings go for a triple coat.
Make sure your wings are as crispy as possible
If your wings are slimy, there’s nowhere for the sauce to stick. You wings have to have good skin coverage, and that skin needs to be crispy so the sauce has something to stick to. I always air dry my wings for 24 hours before cooking them to dry the skin out and make sure it crisps up.
To air dry your wings:
- Remove your wings from the packaging the day before you want to use them
- Pat them dry with paper towels
- Coat them in a mixture of baking powder and salt (optional, great for oven-baked wings)
- Leave the wings uncovered in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
If you’re frying your wings, you can also double-fry them to guarantee crunch.
- 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.
Pro tip: when you’re buying the wings look for wings that have all their skin intact. If there’s missing skin, then there’s nothing to crispy up!
Use a coating on the wings
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 tossing the wings in a mixture of cornstarch, flour, salt and pepper.
A coating will create 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: for oven baked wings, stick to baking powder instead of flour or cornstarch.
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 buffalo sauce to make it the stickiest sauce possible.
We’re talking insane levels of stickiness.
Add the butter cold (and don’t heat the sauce up too much)
To ensure a sticky wing sauce, add the butter cold (or room temperature). This will ensure a nicely emulsified sauce. Dice the butter up and add it bit-by-bit to warm hot sauce. Don’t boil the sauce, this is too hot. Whisk the sauce as you add the butter, or use a hand blender if you have one.
Butter on its own is a good enough emulsifier for buffalo sauce if you don’t melt it. Once it’s warm and melted, butter loses its natural emulsifying ability.
So if you melt the butter first and then add it to your sauce, it’s not going to be able to emulsify.
Adding the butter a bit at a time gives more time for the butter to integrate into the sauce and gives it more stability.
While you’re heating the sauce you also need to make sure it doesn’t boil. Excess heat will split the sauce (and I think you know by now this means it wont stick!).
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.
Never add more butter than hot sauce!
Use margarine or clarified butter instead of butter
Most buffalo sauce recipes online call for butter, but some hot wing fanatics swear by using margarine for a stickier result because it contains more natural emulsifiers. Lots of restaurants use it because it’s also cheaper than butter. Sub margarine for butter in a 1:1 ratio.
Psst… if you can get your hands on liquid margarine, even better.
Using clarified butter instead of traditional butter will also result in a more stable buffalo sauce because there’s no water involved. You can clarify your own butter at home by melting normal butter and skimming off the solids. Clarified butter is pure fat, so you’ll want to reduce the amount you use by around 20%.
I’ve even seen someone suggest using vegetable oil!
How To Get Sauce To Stick To Wings [Tried and Tested]
- 1 portion wings
- 1 cup unsalted butter cold and cubed
- 1 1/3 cup Franks hot sauce
- 1 tbsp honey or mustard
To make the sauce
- Gently heat the hot sauce in a saucepan over medium heat. Don't let it boil.
- Dice cold butter into small cubes.
- When the sauce is warm, add the diced butter bit by bit whisking it as you add it.
- Add in the honey and continue to heat and whisk until all the butter has melted and you have a cohesive sauce.
- Let the sauce cool for 5 minutes before using, or store in the fridge for up to a month.
For the wings
- Remove you wings from the packaging the day before you want to cook them. Pat them dry with paper towels and air dry in the fridge.
- Preheat the oven to 450F.
- Arrange your wings on a foil-lined pan and place on the lowest rack in the oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes, turning half way through.
- Bring the buffalo sauce to room temperature if not already.
- Cool the wings until you can touch them without burning your finger. Then toss in the sauce and serve.