Thu Jan 12, 2017
A couple years back I tried my hand at real deal Memphis dry rub ribs—that's where the ribs are cooked over charcoal, brushed with a vinegar-rub mixture while cooking, and finished with a healthy dusting of more dry rub. While the results were undoubtedly tasty, they didn't reach the delectable heights of the more commonplace barbecued rib. This started me thinking if ribs were truly the best medium for this dry-rub application, and I couldn't help but wonder if my so-loved wings might be a more apt choice for delivering the full impact of the sweet, spicy, and herbal rub. Well, I gave it a try and here's how things played out.
I started off by making a batch of the same Memphis rub I developed for the ribs, albeit in a smaller quantity. A Memphis rub is somewhat unique in that it has origins in Greek cuisine thanks to its creator's, Charlie Vergos, Greek heritage. This manifests itself by bringing in herbs, like oregano and thyme, alongside barbecue rub standards like paprika, sugar, and garlic, just to name a few.
After mixing the rub, I placed two tablespoons of it into a separate bowl and mixed that with a tablespoon of baking powder. This would be the first of three applications of the rub and the baking powder here helps create a textured skin on the wing that enhances its crunch and ability to hold sauce.
In a large bowl, I tossed three pounds of wings in the rub/baking powder mixture. Once throughly distributed, each wings had only a light visible coating of rub, but that was fine because the majority of it would get added in right before serving.
I then arranged the wings on a wire rack and placed them in the fridge overnight. This air drying step is pretty critical if you're after crispy grilled (or baked) wings as it dehydrates them, which leads to quicker and better browning and crisping when cooked.
The next day I fired up a full chimney of charcoal and arranged all the coals on one side of the grate to create a two-zone fire. I then placed the wings on the cool side of grill, covered, and let them cook at high heat—this is usually around 450°F at the start of the cook.
Since wings have an abundance of fat to keep them moist, I cook them for the ideal exterior texture rather than internal meat temperature. I'm looking for a golden brown wing with a skin that's tight and crisp, which usually takes about 45 minutes to achieve in this set-up.
Once the wings were done to my liking, I transferred them to a large bowl in preparation for the second rub application. Memphis dry-rub ribs are brushed consistently during cooking with a vinegar and rub mixture that imparts a little tang along with the seasoning. To replicate that here, I mixed a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a couple tablespoons of rub and tossed it on the wings as the "sauce."
Lastly, I added in the remaining rub to give the wings their third layer of dry rub.
This created a final wing with a beautiful reddish color and a visible dry rub coating that's reminiscent of their rib inspiration. As I had hoped, the wings faired better than the ribs with the dry rub treatment. Both have a great earthy, spicy, and herbal flavor with a slight tang to back it up, but ribs cooked hot and fast over charcoal are just not a juicy and tender as those slow smoked. These wings, on the other hand, did not deviate from their most ideal cooking scenario (if you remove frying from the equation), so you get the benefit of totally crispy and juicy wings with all of the excellent Memphis dry rub flavor, and that makes for some mighty fine eats.
Memphis Dry Rub Wings
- Prep Time:
- 15 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 8 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 45 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 9 Hours
- 4-6 servings
- For the Rub
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon celery salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar vinegar
- To make the rub: In a medium bowl, combine paprika, salt, brown sugar, granulated garlic, celery salt, chili powder, black pepper, onion powder, dried thyme, oregano, mustard powder, celery seed, and cayenne pepper. In a small bowl, combine two tablespoons of the rub with baking powder. Store remaining rub in an airtight container.
- Place wings in a large bowl and sprinkle on rub and baking powder mixture, tossing to evenly coat. Arrange wings in a single layer on wire rack set inside a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, leaving a little space between each wing. Place baking sheet with wings in refrigerator for 8 hours to overnight.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place the wings skin side up over the cool side of the grill, cover, and cook until skins are crisp and and browned, about 45 minutes.
- While wings are cooking, whisk together vinegar and 2 tablespoon of rub in a large bowl. Transfer wings to bowl and toss to thoroughly coat. Sprinkle in remaining rub to taste and toss to evenly distribute. Transfer wings to a platter and serve immediately.