From Scraps to Staple: How Chicken Wings became a Super Bowl Essential
It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Your friends have been adamantly asking you to host one of your legendary Super Bowl parties, and the day has finally come. Guests? Check. Beverages? Check. Snacks? Check. It seems like you have everything you need, right? Wrong. You’re missing the all-important, “you better get some or I’m not coming”-food: chicken wings. An hour before the game starts, you attempt to call every local wing joint in town, but sadly, all the lines are busy. Out of sheer frustration, you start to wonder why chicken wings are so damn popular during the Super Bowl. Out of all the days, it has to be this day when wing places are jam packed with orders, from morning until night. But would you believe us if we told you that 55 years ago, chicken wings were considered scraps?
There are several accounts (including multiple versions of one account) of how chicken wings became a beloved, mainstream food, but the following story is the most commonly told. Thanks to Calvin Trillin, a New York Hall of Fame writer for The New Yorker wrote a piece in 1980 to discover the history of Buffalo chicken wings.
Its humble beginnings started in Buffalo, New York, at a small restaurant called the Anchor Bar. Owners Frank and Teressa Bellissimo, who founded the bar in 1939, describe the creation as an accident. Instead of delivering chicken necks and backs, which they used to make their spaghetti sauce, the bar’s suppliers mistakenly delivered chicken wings. Frank believed they were too good to be used in a sauce so he asked Teressa if she could use her cooking skills to mastermind some sort of hors d’oeuvres with the wings. What came next was the introduction of the Buffalo chicken wing, and the start of a dynasty (on-par with the Patriots’ nine Super Bowl appearances).
Dom Bellissimo, son of the Anchor Bar owners, had a slightly different account of how the wing came to be. According to Dom, he asked his mother to make a dish for regular customers who had been spending a lot of money one late Friday night in 1964. She split the chicken wing in half, creating the wings we know and love today, the drum (or drumette) and flat (or wingette). (Back then, wings were considered some of the most undesirable parts of a chicken, and used mostly for soup stock.) Teressa then deep fried the split wings, coated them with hot sauce, and served them with some celery and blue cheese salad dressing.
There was also a gentleman by the name of John Young, who claimed to have created the Buffalo chicken wing first. Some have argued that his concoction is not considered your “regular” chicken wing because he served it full, without splitting the whole wing into drums and flats, but let’s not get into this fruitless debate.
Whatever story you believe in, little details don’t matter. The most important thing to note is that chicken wings, as we now know them, became very popular in Buffalo within weeks of their creation, and a bar staple in the following years.
Although there is no exact account of how chicken wings became a Super Bowl essential, it was apparent that wings were not only here to stay, but to conquer. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “the wholesale price for chicken wings on the New York market [in 1967] was 23 cents per pound,” compared to the price in 2016 at “197 cents per pound”.
Our guess is that because wings were so popular in bars first, where folks could eat food while watching sports, food companies started to take notice and created their own version of Buffalo chicken wings. Instead of using Buffalo sauce, they used a wide variety of sauce flavours, making it a versatile and customizable option. The perfect snack for not only Super Bowl fans, but for sports fans in general.
The comparison of the rise of chicken wings to the New England Patriots’ dynasty is almost too evident. No one paid attention to the sixth round, 199th pick of the 2000 draft class, Tom Brady. It wasn’t until he got his chance to show his skills that he became a legend in the sport. Almost 19 years and 5 Super Bowls later, he’s still here, and isn’t going anywhere. Chicken wings started as scrap, but thanks to the Bellissimo family and even John Young – who could all be compared to Patriots’ future Hall of Fame head coach, Bill Belichick – gave chicken wings a chance to show its worth. Just like Brady, chicken wings proved time and time again that they deserve to be a Super Bowl staple that’s here to stay.