This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
Diet-friendly versions of game-day food may sound unappetizing. But with a little technique and insights from some of our favorite culinary experts, you can make fan-favorite dishes healthier without losing out on taste.
In this piece, we’ll tackle baked Buffalo wings.
Already naturally high in protein, they’ve got that going for them, and most sauces and dips aren’t total diet-busters, but things begin to unravel when we bread and deep-fry the suckers, so baking wings is a natural remedy.
An air fryer is also a great option, but most models aren’t big enough to make enough wings for a crowd — unless you want to cook several batches. Unlike deep frying, baking requires more strategy and attention to detail to achieve those moist-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside Buffalo wings we all covet. How long do you bake wings? What if they’re frozen?
Here are a few tips to help with delicious baked Buffalo wings, and a few recipes to get you started. Baking your wings doesn’t require mountains of technical skill, but following a few basic rules is important. (For more, check out the best smart ovens and best toaster ovens of the year).
Read also: The Best Way to Reheat Leftovers? Not a Microwave
An extra-large baking sheet fits a whole flock of wings and the rack elevates above the dripping fat — or can be used for cooling.
Start with high-quality chicken wings. Jolly Barnyard’s pasture-raised birds have room to move, get fresh air and eat a varied diet free of added hormones and antibiotics.
How to bake chicken wings in the oven
1. Decide how many wings you need. Generally speaking, budgeting six to eight wings per person is wise, depending on what else is being served. A variety of sauces and dips will keep things interesting.
2. Make sure the wings are washed and patted completely dry. Preparing the wings beforehand is as important as anything to achieve crispy results, so don’t skip the drying step.
3. To lock in moisture and also help the skin develop crispiness, most chefs encourage a light coating of baking powder and/or white flour. If you’re trying to avoid those two ingredients, trusted food nerd Alton Brown suggests lightly steaming the wings for 10 minutes to render the fat, which naturally helps to crisp skin during cooking.
4. If you’re doing a dry rub like Cajun seasoning or jerk spices, apply to the wings before cooking. Otherwise, wings are tossed in a wet sauce afterward (but never before).
5. Place the wings in a single layer on a nonstick baking sheet. Feel free to line it with aluminum foil for easy cleanup, and place the wings on a wire rack set within the pan so the fat drips down (optional).
6. Bake the wings at 350 degrees for 1 hour, turning them over halfway through. This helps the skin crisp relatively quickly without drying out the inside. Optional: A good, if slightly more caloric tip comes from Mark Bittman who suggests a little extra fat to baste the wings while they cook, still flipping them partway through. Not only do they stay moist, according to Bittman, but they get beautifully browned, too.
7. For truly crispy skin, turn the oven up to 425-450 degrees during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. Or, broil the wings for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. If you’re basting per Mark Bittman or the wings are baking in some of their own juices in a tray, you may cook them for longer without the risk of them drying out. Just look for a crispy skin to develop and don’t exceed 90 minutes of total cooking time.
8. You can follow these same basic rules and processes to make frozen chicken wings crispy in the oven, too. Just make sure to pat them dry especially well before cooking, as ice may have formed on the skin.
9. Once cooked, it’s saucin’ time. There are a million and one sauce (and dip) recipes to try, from classic Buffalo with blue cheese to international flavors like soy, garlic, teriyaki, ginger and even curry.
Here are some favorite wing recipes to get you started:
Crispy oven-baked Buffalo wings
This clip from RecipeTin Eats’ Nagi Maehashi teases the use of a rack to drain juices for less fat and more crispiness. Get Maehashi’s recipe for truly crispy oven-baked Buffalo wings.
Smoky rubbed wings with molasses
Beauty & Essex chef Chris Santos’ recipe uses molasses, honey and bourbon. A smoky spice rub and a doctored barbecue sauce make his baked-then-broiled wings irresistible.
These sweet wings are great as is, but add some fresh chives, sesame, crushed red pepper or diced garlic for a multilayered sauce. Tasting Table’s recipe uses rice flour to dredge the chicken, giving it the added bonus of being airy, crispy and gluten-free.
Maple-mustard barbecue wings
Christine Gallary’s recipe is easily adapted to the oven-baked method. Just brush the wings with the sauce in the last few minutes of cooking so it caramelizes a bit but doesn’t burn.