Ghost Pepper Wings
At a cookout that fell on Halloween weekend this past fall, I needed to devise one final wing recipe to round out the 2023 Wing Month line-up and thought of what seemed like the perfect thematic offering—ghost pepper wings. I really locked into the concept, but as I was crafting the recipe, I came to the conclusion that, while these wings needed to be spicy, they also had to be enjoyable to consume, because what would be the point of serving a platter of wings so hot that no one would eat them. So while you might be envisioning the type of wings that you have to be dared to eat when you hear the name, these are actually of a breed that are more universally enjoyable while still delivering that distinct mouth scorching ghost pepper heat.
The first step here was to procure ghost pepper products that could be used to construct the wings and I chose both a powder and hot sauce. The powder was incredibly hot—just a tiny taste elicited a hiccup response in me. The hot sauce, on the other hand, was plenty hot, but more tolerable, which is what I was hoping for when specifically choosing a brand that put theirs a notch below the hottest of the hot.
Now that I had the required ghost peppers, I had to come up with a way to deliver the heat in a manner that was also balanced and layered, making the final product not just hot for hot's sake, but something more nuanced and thoughtful. This started by using dark brown sugar as the base of the rub, with garlic and onion powders playing supporting roles. I used a small amount of the ghost pepper powder knowing that even a tiny quantity would deliver a good heat. If you're looking for even spicer wings, just upping the powder here is a good way to do that.
I added baking powder into the spice mixture last, which was after I taste tested to ensure I was hitting a good sweet and spicy balance. Then I applied the rub to the wings, which I had patted dry first, by tossing the chicken with it in a large bowl. Then, like most of my wing recipe, the wings went onto a wire rack set in a baking sheet that was then placed in the fridge to air dry overnight.
While the wings rested, I moved on to crafting the sauce. That began with melting butter in a pan, just like I would do for standard Buffalo wings. Next I added in brown sugar, honey, and rice vinegar and began to drip in the ghost pepper sauce a little at a time until I reached a level of heat that I thought most of my guests could handle. Like with the rub, if you're into pushing this recipe spicier, adding more hot sauce into the mix is all you need to do—just a little more would go a long way.
When I first applied the rub to the wings, the sugar started to draw moisture out of the meat and they were fairly "wet" looking, but after the overnight stint in the fridge, the exterior of the wings had dried out nicely. This is important to achieving crispy wings on the grill or in the oven because the outside will start browning and crisping sooner if there's less moisture that needs to evaporate first. The second reason these wings get so crispy is the baking powder, which helps create a textured surface that both holds sauce well and increases the crunch factor.
As I've come to expect, after about 45 minutes of indirect cooking with a hot fire, the wings were cracking crisp. They also had a much deeper brown hue than many of my other recipes thanks to the dark brown sugar that added color and caramelized during cooking. They really looked good enough to eat as is.
But, of course, the sauce still needed to be applied, which I did in a large bowl, tossing all the wings in sauce until they were evenly coated.
As I tossed the wings, the aroma of the hot pepper imparted that trademark tingle in the nose, but didn't go as far as render me sneezing. I was hoping this meant I struck the good sweet and spicy balance I was hoping for, and a first taste confirmed that. Yes, these wings had a strong heat to them, and the taste of the ghost pepper was front and center, but while it certainly created a mouth burn, there was more than enough sugar to keep the peppers in check and make consuming them a pleasurable, not painful, experience. The lighter flavors of garlic and onion may not have stood out, but the were defiantly felt as the wings also didn't taste only of two notes—there was a layering of flavors that gave them a really nice depth. I'll admit, if I were making these solely for myself, I would have turned the heat up a tad, but much more would drive them overboard, and the fact that the entire plate of wings were gone by the end of the day let me know that this ghost pepper wings recipe is really one that can find pretty universal love.
Ghost Pepper Wings
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 8 Hours
- Cook 45 Minutes
- Total 9 Hours
- For the Wings
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ghost pepper powder, plus more to taste
- For the Sauce
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ghost pepper hot sauce, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- To make the wings: In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and ghost pepper powder. Place wings in a large bowl, pat dry with paper towels, and sprinkle in spice mixture. Toss until wings are liberally and evenly seasoned. 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.
- To make the sauce: Melt butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar, hot sauce, honey, and rice vinegar. Add additional hot sauce to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.
- 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 browned, about 45 minutes.
- Transfer wings to a large bowl. Add in sauce and toss to thoroughly coat wings. Transfer wings to a platter and serve immediately.