In Praise of Frank’s RedHot: A Thumbnail History of Buffalo Chicken Wings


Whoomp! There it is.

When I’m making Buffalo chicken wings, do I reach for the Tabasco? No, I do not. Sure it’s great for zapping a gumbo or shaking on oysters, but it’s too damn hot and vinegary for Buffalo wings. Use it, and it will climb right up your nose, eclipsing the chicken flavor with its overweening sourness.

No, the proper hot sauce for Buffalo Wings isn’t Louisiana brand, or Trappey’s, or Texas Pete’s. It’s Frank’s RedHot, which has less spiciness and less vinegar. It’s custom-made for tender-tongued Yankees, that’s for sure, but that’s why Buffalo wings are wildly popular in the first place: They massage your tongue with heat rather than singeing it.

Here’s how it’s done: First, cut the wings into their constituent parts at the joints, discarding the tip third. Second, shake sea salt and grind pepper all over the parts. Third, fry the things in peanut oil till the skin is crisp and golden brown. Fourth, warm equal parts Frank’s RedHot and butter in a skillet. Fifth, dip the fried wing parts in the mixture, swooshing the Frank’s butter over them for a minute or so. The warmth of the sauce helps it penetrate.

Then, chicken wing perfection!

Frank’s RedHot is no fly-by-night condiment. It was, according to its Wikipedia page, invented by Cincinnati resident Jacob Frank at his tea and spice warehouse in 1896. Twenty years later, after entering into a contract with a Louisiana pepper farmer named Adam Estilette to purchase chilies, the two reformulated the sauce, and began producing the modern version.

It was the hot sauce deployed when Buffalo wings were supposedly invented at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, in 1964 by Teressa Bellissimo. Some say her husband, Frank, was responsible. Why she (or he) did it is a matter of speculation — one story recounts an erroneous chicken-parts delivery, another an after-midnight invention Saturday morning for a bunch of Catholics, just after their Friday flesh-fast was completed.

And others claim credit, too, specifically a guy named John Young, who called the wing dip “mambo sauce,” and didn’t cut his wings into segments the way the Bellissimos did. Either way, Buffalo chicken wings must be accounted one of the greatest American culinary inventions of the 20th century.

Read Calvin Trillin’s wonderful 1980 investigative piece into the origin of the wings, from which several of the above details have been derived.

The finished product. Oops, where’s the celery and homemade blue cheese dressing?