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Memphis-Style Chicken Wings

Memphis style chicken wings on a platter with mop sauce on the side

This post is sponsored by Cutting Edge Firewood. Sponsored posts, along with affiliate links, are what enable bloggers like me to maintain and operate sites that are free to the public. That said, I only work with products and brands that I personally use and would feel proud to give as a gift.

Wings are an all-time favorite of mine and countless others. There’s just something perfect about grabbing a flat or a drummie, dipping it into your favorite sauce, and gnawing away. As I was eating another combination platter of the traditional buffalo wings, garlic butter wings, Asian wings, etc. it hit me that of all the flavor profiles done with wings, Memphis-style chicken wings are some that I’ve never seen on a menu.

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For me, that’s an opportunity. I’m basing these Memphis-style chicken wings on the Memphis-style ribs I do so the recipe and technique are similar, but with some slight changes to make the perfect, crispy grilled Memphis-style chicken wings. I’m telling you, these wings are my new favorites. Crispy, slightly spicy and just smoky enough.

I grill these wings directly over a bed of oak coals after burning down a couple of oak splits from Cutting Edge Firewood. This imparts an amazing flavor, and the technique used (I’ll get into that in a second) along with the seasoning and mop creates a crispy wing with a kiss of wood-fired flavor. These are seriously a must try.

What is Memphis Style?

The term “Memphis style” means a couple of things. In terms of preparation, traditional Memphis style is done with a dry rub only, without sauce. Memphis-style dry rub is slightly sweet, but mostly savory. In keeping with the style, these wings won’t be getting a sticky bbq sauce on them; instead they’ll be treated to a traditional mop sauce.

Next, the style in which they are cooked. This is a technique I love, especially for chicken. The raised direct grilling method is synonymous with Memphis ribs. This method uses direct heat, with the food placed well above the heat source. This offers the benefits of direct heat, without the drawbacks: flare ups, over charring, etc. The raised direct method is very forgiving and a great way to benefit from wood-fired cooking. 

Platter of chicken wings

Tips for Making Memphis-Style Chicken Wings

The Coals: Do yourself a favor and try grilling these wings over a bed of oak coals, as opposed to charcoal. You can certainly use charcoal if that’s all you have, but these oak splits from Cutting Edge Firewood burn down nicely and provide not only excellent dry heat, but also amazing flavor.

The Set Up: You need your coal bed to be at least 15 inches below your cooking surface; 18-24 inches is even better. I use the Kalamazoo Shokunin grill for this, but it can be done with a Weber Smoky Mountain, most barrel cookers, or even a standard Weber kettle, if you have the rotisserie ring for that grill. Just place the cooking grate on top of the rotisserie ring to provide the distance.

The Mop: It packs these wings with flavor two ways. First, the Memphis mop sauce on its own is flavorful and I use it on all kinds of things. Second, the mop sauce dripping down on the hot oak coals creates a flavored steam. That steam helps cook the wings and imparts flavor, so be generous when mopping the Memphis-style chicken wings.

The Baking Powder: This is a crucial step for getting crispy wings on the grill. It draws the moisture out of the chicken skin and allows it to crisp up nicely over the oak coal bed.

The Temp: The USDA recommends 165° F for dark meat chicken. Most people are fine with that, and it’s not bad. That said, I like to take my wings to 185° F as indicated with a reliable instant read thermometer. Give this a try, the dark meat won’t dry out, and I find it provides a much better bite texture.

Memphis-Style Wings Recipe

Serves 4 | Prep Time: 4 hours | Cook Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients
5 lbs chicken wings (either whole or cut into sections)
1½ tbsp baking powder
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp neutral oil

For the Memphis Dry Rub:
½ cup paprika
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp fine ground black pepper
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp celery seed

For the Mop:
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup cider vinegar
¼  cup ketchup
¼ cup dry rub
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter

How to Make Memphis-Style Chicken Wings

Step 1: Place wings in a large mixing bowl and coat with salt and baking powder. Mix the wings around to ensure even coating. Place wings on a paper-towel lined baking sheet and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

Step 2: Light your grill by burning down two splits of oak wood until they form a bed of coals in the bottom of the grill. Using a charcoal rake, scrape the coals over to one side of the grill, leaving a cool indirect heat zone on the other side. Place the cooking grate at least 15 inches above the oak wood coals.

grill with chunks of oak firewood and charcoal

Step 3: While the wood is burning down, whisk together all ingredients for the dry rub in a small bowl. Transfer rub into a shaker bottle.

Step 4: Place the wings into a mixing bowl and toss with oil. Then season the wings evenly with the dry rub. Set aside.

wings tossed with olive oil (left image) and seasoned evenly with a dry rub (right image)

Step 5: Add all ingredients for the mop sauce (except butter and ketchup) to a sauce pan and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Divide in half and add butter and ketchup to one half, leave over medium low heat, and allow to reduce to about half. Set aside the remaining mop sauce to use while grilling.

Step 6: Place wings on grill over direct heat, close lid. Flip about every 2-3 minutes and mop with sauce after every flip, closing the lid in between. I highly recommend using a mop and not a brush when applying the mop sauce. The key is to drizzle the mop sauce on the wings and not wipe off the seasoning. When wings reach about 155° F, move them to the indirect side of the grill. Close the lid and allow them to cook till 185° F.

wings on the grill (left image) and a mop drizzling sauce over charred wings
TIP: How quickly the wings char and cook will depend on their distance from the coals. Consider grilling one or two to begin with to ensure they aren’t cooking too fast or that the sugars in the rub aren’t burning.  

 Step 7: Remove wings from grill and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour the warm reduced mop sauce over chicken and toss to evenly coat the wings. Give a light sprinkle of dry rub and garnish with green onions for service.

chicken wings, perfectly grilled, charred and drizzled with mop sauce.

Memphis style chicken wings on a platter with mop sauce on the side

Memphis-Style Chicken Wings

5 from 4 votes
Prep Time: 4 hours
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 25 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs chicken wings either whole or cut into sections
  • tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp neutral oil

For the Memphis Dry Rub:

  • ½ cup paprika
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp fine ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp celery seed

For the Mop:

  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup dry rub
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

Instructions

  • Place wings in a large mixing bowl and coat with salt and baking powder. Mix the wings around to ensure even coating. Place wings on a paper-towel lined baking sheet and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
  • Light your grill by burning down two splits of oak wood until they form a bed of coals in the bottom of the grill. Using a charcoal rake, scrape the coals over to one side of the grill, leaving a cool indirect heat zone on the other side. Place the cooking grate at least 15 inches above the oak wood coals.
  • While the wood is burning down, whisk together all ingredients for the dry rub in a small bowl. Transfer rub into a shaker bottle.
  • Place the wings into a mixing bowl and toss with oil. Then season the wings evenly with the dry rub. Set aside.
  • Add all ingredients for the mop sauce (except butter and ketchup) to a sauce pan and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Divide in half and add butter and ketchup to one half, leave over medium low heat, and allow to reduce to about half. Set aside the remaining mop sauce to use while grilling.
  • Place wings on grill over direct heat, close lid. Flip about every 2-3 minutes and mop with sauce after every flip, closing the lid in between. I highly recommend using a mop and not a brush when applying the mop sauce. The key is to drizzle the mop sauce on the wings and not wipe off the seasoning. When wings reach about 155° F, move them to the indirect side of the grill. Close the lid and allow them to cook till 185° F.
  • Remove wings from grill and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour the warm reduced mop sauce over chicken and toss to evenly coat the wings. Give a light sprinkle of dry rub and garnish with green onions for service.

Notes

Wings are an all-time favorite of mine and countless others. There’s just something perfect about grabbing a flat or a drummie, dipping it into your favorite sauce, and gnawing away. As I was eating another combination platter of the traditional buffalo wings, garlic butter wings, Asian wings, etc. it hit me that of all the flavor profiles done with wings, Memphis-style chicken wings are some that I’ve never seen on a menu.
TIP: How quickly the wings char and cook will depend on their distance from the coals. Consider grilling one or two to begin with to ensure they aren’t cooking too fast or that the sugars in the rub aren’t burning.  

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