The Specialty Wings at Burano’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria are tossed in a peanut butter and sweet chili sauce, then topped with bacon. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Chris Shain of Gorham has been refining his wing technique for decades, ever since he went to Hooters for the first time in mid-1980s Florida.

Shain was 18 at the time, visiting his older brother who shared his take on the chain’s (then-new) concept. “He told me, ‘The girls are real pretty, but the wings are great,’ ” Shain said.

He became instantly smitten with wings after trying Hooters, and spent several years tinkering with his own Buffalo-style sauces before he decided to take a different direction. “At the time, people would use dry rubs on steaks and maybe chicken breasts. I was like, ‘I’m going to start using dry rubs with my wings.’ ”

But rather than rubbing the spices on to the chicken before it cooks, Shain flipped the “shake-and-bake” concept on its head and tossed the cooked wings with his spice blends inside a brown paper grocery bag.

The container is actually a key part of not just Shain’s method, but also his presentation, as he serves the seasoned wings straight out of the bag.

“I’d bring them to a party and people would be lined up for them,” Shain said. “It was kind of a novelty thing where you reach into a brown bag and pull out a chicken wing. There was something about it that people really liked, they’d rave about them.”


Shain explained that one major advantage of his brown bag method is that the wings’ aroma has a chance to build inside the bag and become practically irresistible.

“When you go to a supermarket and pick up a rotisserie chicken and bring it home in your car, tell me how good that smells? There’s no better smell than that,” he said. “You can’t wait to tear into that chicken. Wings are the same way. When you slow-roast them or smoke them, put them in a bag with spices, shake them around and let them sit for five, six minutes or so and then you open that bag and people get a whiff of that – it’s like chicken heaven just kissed you on the lips.”


Platters (or paper bags) of fried or baked wings – slathered in flavorings both savory and sweet and paired with creamy dipping sauces – are in high demand during the colder months, in part because they’re a must-have item on sports bar menus and house party spreads for football, basketball and hockey games.

According to the National Chicken Council’s annual chicken wing report, Americans ate 1.45 billion wings during the Super Bowl last February, up 2 percent (or 84 million wings) from 2022. The council noted that that eye-popping amount is enough to give every man, woman and child in America four wings each.

The Buffalo wing – made with a blend of cayenne pepper, hot sauce and melted butter – is the granddaddy of them all. But since they were first created at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo in 1964, plenty of other wing flavors have become popular, including honey BBQ, garlic-parmesan, teriyaki, lemon pepper, Jamaican jerk-seasoning and more.


They’re ubiquitous on pub menus and at home gatherings, but somehow a poorly executed wing – with flabby skin; tough, dry or bland meat; and overpowering sauce – is all too common.

Luckily, some aficionados have put plenty of thought – and trial and error – into wing cooking. We talked with amateur and professional wing fanatics in Maine to glean the secrets behind their cherished recipes, and also gathered some handy tips from national experts.


Shain said he doesn’t use one particular spice blend for his wings. Instead, he changes it up from batch to batch depending on the preferences of the crowd he’s cooking for, or simply what’s available at the time in his pantry.

In general, he says he goes with a blend of sweet and spicy flavorings. For the sweet element, Shain likes to brush the uncooked wings with raw honey. He avoids store-bought spice rubs that contain sodium, as they can make the wings too salty. When he makes his own blend, his standby spices include cumin, spicy chile powder, granulated garlic, turmeric and smoked paprika.

“I’m not afraid to use a regular (store-bought) rotisserie chicken rub, too,” he said. Shain said rotisserie chicken seasoning from Marshall’s Creek Spices – containing garlic and onion powders, paprika, thyme, oregano and no salt – makes “a great base,” which he doctors up with other spices and hot chile powders.


But just as important as the flavorings is Shain’s method for “slow-roasting” them on his grill.

“The oven will work, but for some reason on a grill, they tend to keep their moisture level a little better,” he explained.

Shain places about 30 wings pieces (the meatier drumettes and the wingettes, or “flats,” with more skin) on his Weber gas grill’s warming rack, above the actual grill rack. He sets the chicken pieces close together so they don’t dry out, and lines the grill rack beneath them with aluminum foil to catch drippings and prevent flare ups.

Shain then closes the grill lid and cooks the wings for about two hours at 250 degrees F, turning or repositioning wings as needed every 20 minutes or so.

His low-and-slow method is well suited for wings. Compared to other parts of a chicken, wings have a high skin-to-meat ratio, plenty of connective tissue and three times more fat than chicken breasts (almost as much fat as chicken thighs). This means they can benefit from longer cook times, which allow the tough connective tissues to dissolve, leaving tender meat that falls from the bone.

Shain’s cooking method also allows more fat to render from the skin, making the finished wings all the crispier. “I don’t know anybody who likes a rubbery wing,” he said.


Burano’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria owner Rob Whisenant, right, with his wingman, Director of Operations Jeff Van Horne, at the Scarborough location. Van Horne devised the recipe for the pizzeria’s Specialty Wings. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


At Burano’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria – where Press Herald restaurant critic Andrew Ross raved about the Specialty Wings at the Scarborough location last July – the chefs use a two-step cooking process.

First, according to Rob Whisenant, owner of all three Burano’s locations, they dry-rub a batch of uncooked wings with a “secret proprietary spice blend” before baking them at 425 degrees F for about 45 minutes or until they’re cooked through. They then chill the cooked wings.

At service, cooks deep-fry the chilled wings at 350 degrees F for about 8 minutes to crisp up the skin, then toss them in a blend of sweet chili sauce, peanut butter and crisp chopped bacon to serve.

The two-step cooking process helps the kitchen fill wing orders faster during service, since the fully cooked pieces don’t need to fry as long as raw wings. Whisenant said it also keeps the wings juicier, since he feels the bake-and-chill step helps lock in moisture.

But it’s the flavoring of the Burano’s Specialty Wings – what Ross called “a Thai-inspired combination of chili-garlic sauce and peanut butter” – that really sets them apart.


“This is an uncommon (kind of wing),” said Burano’s Operations Manager Jeff Van Horne. “Some guests, I had to talk them into trying them. But I haven’t had one guest order them and say, ‘My intent to repurchase is very low.’ It’s always, ‘My gosh, these are so good.’ ”

“Sometimes it’s a hard sell, but once you get them to try (the Specialty Wings), they can’t go back to anything else,” Whisenant said. “It’s just something they don’t expect, and they’re good.”

While Whisenant developed the recipes for almost all of Burano’s food, Van Horne came up with the Specialty Wings recipe in 2019, just before the first Burano’s opened in Bath.

“I kept it under wraps, didn’t even share the recipe with Rob until the week of opening,” Van Horn said. “I didn’t want it to leak out because I knew no one else was serving wings with this recipe. It’s nice to have something different that no one else on the block had.”

Van Horne said his recipe took inspiration in the polarizing yet beloved-by-many combo of peanut butter and bacon, touted over the years by everyone from Elvis Presley to Katie Couric. Van Horne and Whisenant are also originally from the Montreal area, and they said the peanut butter and bacon pairing is even more popular on that side of the border, where it’s often layered onto breakfast toast. Van Horne said one of his favorite backyard barbecue treats is a hot dog with peanut butter and bacon.

“So many people make things at home with peanut butter and bacon in them, so those two things obviously go together,” Van Horn said. “I thought, it’s such a great flavor combination, I’ve got to take it to the next level. The sweet chili is in there to give it a little bit of a kick and to not make it as pasty as it’d be if it were straight peanut butter and bacon.”


Van Horn said the brand of sweet chili sauce or peanut butter doesn’t matter so much for the success of the wings. What’s key, he said, is the proportion of each.

After fiddling extensively with amounts during his testing phase for the Specialty Wings, Van Horne settled on two parts sweet chili sauce to one part peanut butter as the golden ratio. “It was just the balance, that one wasn’t overpowering the other on the palate, that made me land there,” he said.

Van Horne said he doesn’t see customers dipping the Specialty Wings in ranch or blue cheese sauces because the sweet chili-peanut butter coating is a complete flavor experience on its own. While with their other wing flavors like Buffalo or Honey BBQ, guests might use a creamy dip to “cut” the intensely-flavored coatings, the Specialty Wing sauce seems to be a complete flavor experience in itself.

“They don’t dip the Specialty Wings into anything because they want to try the flavor first,” he said. “And they go, ‘Wow,’ and that’s kind of it.”

Burano’s Wood-Fired Pizzeria owner Rob Whisenant tosses wings in sauce. Customers taste the wings, “and they go, ‘Wow,’ and that’s kind of it,” said Director of Operations Jeff Van Horne. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer


One of the more influential tricks to come out of the world of wing cookery in recent years is the use of baking powder or cornstarch to make baked wings extra-crisp.


According to the food science gurus at America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated magazine, a starchy coating helps food crisp when fried because the starch absorbs moisture from the food. Water is pushed from the food as it fries, and the starch molecules mesh into a stiff layer that creates the sensation of crunchiness.

The same principle applies in oven-baking, as countless cooks have discovered. The internet has loads of recipes for super-crispy baked wings that have been coated in cornstarch or baking powder, in amounts that range from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons or more of starch or powder per pound of chicken.

If you plan to try this wonder hack yourself, be sure to use baking powder, not baking soda. Baking soda is a leavener made from sodium bicarbonate, and while it can make meat brown faster, it doesn’t help with crispness. Moreover, it can impart a metallic or soapy flavor.

Baking powder, by contrast, is made of baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch. For the sake of simplicity, it may be best to forego the baking powder and just toss your wings in a small amount of cornstarch before baking, and leave out the other potentially off-tasting, superfluous elements like leaveners.

Now that you’re armed with wing wisdom from Shain, Van Horne and others, you can start to level up your wing game at home. You’ve got about three months until the Super Bowl, plenty of time for finger-licking practice runs before the big game.



This recipe comes from “The Maine Farm to Table Cookbook: 125 Homegrown Recipes from the Pine Tree State” by Kate Shaffer, who founded Ragged Coast Chocolates in Westbrook. In her introduction to the recipe, she describes them as “Spicy, sweet, tangy and utterly irresistible, these wings are classic game-day food with a distinctly Maine twist.”

Serves 4


1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small white onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped


1 cup fresh or frozen Maine blueberries

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 cups pre-made barbecue sauce

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon chipotle pepper

1 tablespoon ground ancho chile



1½ lbs. chicken wings and mini-drumsticks

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To make the Blueberry Barbecue Sauce, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic until quite soft and caramelized. Add the blueberries, maple syrup, barbecue sauce, sherry vinegar, ground chipotle and ancho chile. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes.

To make the wings and drumsticks, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the chicken with the salt and pepper. Spill the chicken pieces out onto an oiled sheet pan and roast for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees F. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the wings into a large, heat-proof bowl.


Add the warm Blueberry Barbecue Sauce and toss together so that all the wings are thoroughly coated. Heap the wings onto a serving platter, and serve any remaining sauce alongside.


This recipe comes from “Stonewall Kitchen Favorites: Delicious Recipes to Share with Family and Friends Every Day” by Jonathan King, Jim Stott and Kathy Gunst.

Serves 4-6

1/4 cup olive oil

3 small garlic cloves, minced


1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 lbs. chicken wings, drumettes or boneless thighs (skin-on), about 16 pieces

1/4 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar


1/2 to 1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce

4 stalks celery, cut into 3-inch long strips

2 carrots, cut into 3-inch long strips

Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Mix the oil, garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Pat the chicken wings dry with paper towels, then toss them into the oil mixture to coat.


Place the wings on a large baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes (20 minutes for legs). Carefully flip the chicken over and cook for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is well-browned and cooked through.

Meanwhile, whisk the ketchup, vinegar and hot pepper sauce until blended in a large bowl. Remove the chicken from the oven, drain off the excess oil and pour the ketchup sauce over the wings, making sure to coat them thoroughly. Place the wings on a platter and serve hot or at room temperature accompanied by the celery, carrots and Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce.


This recipe comes from “Stonewall Kitchen Favorites: Delicious Recipes to Share with Family and Friends Every Day” by Jonathan King, Jim Stott and Kathy Gunst.

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

5 ounces blue cheese, softened and crumbled (about 1 1/4 cups)


2 chopped scallions (white and green parts)

1/2 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons milk

Using the back of a spoon, mash the blue cheese in a small bowl until almost smooth — a few chunks are desirable. Mix in the scallions, sour cream and milk until well-blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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