One thing you can learn pretty quickly from a Buffalo wing taste-off: People feel strongly about their wings. They expect moist, meaty chicken, plenty of sauce, and flavor that makes them sit up and take notice. They also want pretty good blue cheese dressing and nice, crisp celery on the side.
In an informal taste test we sampled wings from seven pizza and fast-food places: Domino's, Little Caesar's, Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar & Grill, Pizza Hut, A-1 Pizza and Subs, Wings to Go and Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Yes, we know there are lots of other really wonderful Buffalo wings out there that we didn't include in the tasting, but we wanted to focus on the new wings coming out of fast-food chains to find which ones measure up.)
They do not all bill their wings as "Buffalo wings" -- Kentucky Fried Chicken, for instance sells its as "Hot Wings" and serves the sauce on the side -- but all are variations of that Buffalo hot-wing classic.
This was not in any way a scientific taste-off. We simply gathered a group of hot-wing aficionados, removed all identifiable markings from fast-food containers and asked the seven tasters to rate their favorites.
Wings were rated on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the best) in three categories: taste; size and appearance; and texture. A fourth category, accompaniments, counted as extra points. A perfect wing would score 20 points. There were seven tasters, so a perfect total would have been 140 points.
We didn't get any 20s or 140s, but there was a fair amount of agreement among testers on which wings came closest to their standards for good ones.
The winner was A-1 Pizza and Subs, with a total of 91 points. Our test wings came from the Glen Burnie location, 7339 Furnace Branch Road, owned by Miguel Paredes. "Nice blend of spices," "spices pretty good," and "meaty but not greasy" were some of the comments. The A-1 wings collected 24 points in both the taste and accompaniments categories.
Second place went to Pizzeria Uno (test wings came from the Towson Commons location), with 85 points. "Large wings, good taste, good spice," "well-cooked," and "tasty" were some of the comments. The wings came with big chunks of celery and plenty of blue cheese dressing.
Third place went to Pizza Hut (from the Ritchie Highway shop), with 80 total points. "Good spice," and "vinegar-y bite a welcome change," were some of the comments from tasters, who gave the wings 23 points for taste.
It should be noted that each set of wings had its advocates and its detractors. One taster scorned the A-1 wings as "tiny wings, tiny taste" but liked Wings to Go, commenting, "hints of butter, vinegar and sugar provided a pleasant surprise."
A couple of tasters commented that the Kentucky Fried Chicken wings, which suffered in the tasting from having no sauce, were "good fried chicken, not a 'wing' in usual sense."
Here is the list, with scores and prices (some wings are served with celery, dressing or fries, others are not):
A-1 Pizza and Subs, 91 points ($17.33 for three orders of 10)
Pizzeria Uno Chicago Bar and Grill, 85 points ($13.22 for 30)
Pizza Hut, 80 points ($12.60 for 3 orders of 10)
Domino's, 73 points ($7.86 for 20)
Wings to Go, 70 points ($12.35 for 30)
Little Caesar's, 63 points ($11.02 for 30)
Kentucky Fried Chicken, 44 points ($10.81 for 30)