Chicken wings were one of the cheapest things sold at Godshall's poultry stand when it opened in the Market in 1916. At that time and for many decades afterward, people only bought chicken wings to make stock or to feed animals, if they bought them at all.
Now chicken wings are among the priciest parts of the chicken at Godshall's and anywhere else chicken wings are sold, all because a Buffalo, N.Y., bar ran low on food one night in 1964 and decided to try serving chicken wings with hot sauce. Hence the wildly popular Buffalo wing appetizer was born.
That's why you can now not only buy fresh chicken wings at Godshall's and Guinta's in the Market but also already cooked ones for lunch or dinner or parties at Dienner's, Franks A-Lot and Keven Parker's. Sales of wings rise during the fall football season and the holidays but fly out of the Market in the days leading up to Super Bowl Sunday (i.e. right now).
Dienner's only sold whole rotisserie chickens when the stand opened in the Market in 1980. Its first wings -- also rotisseried -- followed two years later and soon became best-sellers. Wings now account for about three-quarters of stand sales.
"They're portable. That's the way people eat today," explains third-generation family owner Anthony Dienner. About 60 percent of Dienner's wings' business come from only two flavors: the original rotisserie and the smoked (Anthony's personal favorite). The rotisserie are flavored with both a dry rub and a wet sauce before being cooked for about two hours. The smoked sit overnight in a dry coating before being cooked in a smoker containing hickory chips for a similar long time.
Fried and the spicy ranch-flavored San Antonio round out Dienner's whole wing menu. The Thai chili is the most popular of three party-style fried half wings the stand introduced alongside Memphis sweet and honey Buffalo just four months ago.
As its name implies, Franks A-Lot mainly sold hot dogs when it opened in 1982. But it probably should be called Wings A-Lot based on sales cited by employee-turned-owner Russell Black.
Franks A-Lots' first wing was honey barbecue. Introduced in 1991, it's still the stand's most popular. Franks A-Lot cook Lana Santoso says they go through 1,200 pounds of wings a week to make this flavor alone. The wing is baked in a confection oven then seared on a stovetop "to enhance the barbecue flavor," Black says.
Their fried and Buffalo wings are Santoso inventions, introduced within the last four years. The fried are redolent of garlic and reminiscent of the salt and pepper wings popular in nearby Chinatown. The Buffalo is really a Buffalo/barbecue sauce hybrid and so only mildly spicy.
As at Dienner's, you can buy Franks A-Lots wings by the pound or as part of platters with sides, including, in Franks A-Lot's case, the unexpected salted cabbage and the Black-lauded cornbread. Cornbread is, in fact, only one of two side dishes regularly featured in the spiffy display case that tempts Reading Terminal Shoppers walking down Avenue C.
Food Network personality Robert Irvine called Keven Parker's fried chicken wings (not to mention his fried chicken thighs, breasts and drumsticks) "the best thing I ever ate" on the food channel's show of the same name in 2012. Irvine praised the chicken's "salty crispiness and spiciness" as well as its "juicy, soft flesh." Based on owner Keven Parker's grandmother's recipe, the chicken marinates in a spicy wet sauce, then is coated in seasoned flour before deep-frying. The wings are sold as part of a meal dish with one side, or per piece.
The Market also offers help for wing do-it-yourselfers.
The aforementioned Godshall's carries whole chicken wings in two sizes: the jumbo ones many grocers carry as well as smaller fryer ones co-owner Dean Frankenfield gets from a farm in Maryland that many of his customers covet. On the other hand are the sizeable minority of Godshall's patrons who prefer to make their game day appetizers with whole turkey wings. Godshall's will cut any of these wings to order for free.
Guinta's sells both whole and cut (into "party-size" flats and drumettes) fresh wings but also 4-pound packages of wings marinated in Buffalo sauce. Just take and bake. The "boneless wings" sold at most butcher stands and restaurants are actually refashioned chicken breast meat but for special occasions like the Super Bowl, Guinta's actually debones chicken wings and fills the resulting cavity with either prosciutto and Italian spices or blue cheese and hot sauce to create a unique appetizer that stand owner Rob Passio says "taste phenomenal."
Passio gets the hot and wing sauces he uses from Market merchants and so can you.
Condiment's fresh-made sauce offerings include the traditional Buffalo as well as several styles of barbecue. In addition, stand owner Elizabeth Halen says her rosemary-heavy Italian, hot, spicy sweet chili and peanut sauces could make "excellent, nontraditional wing flavorings."
If you're looking for a hot sauce to plug into a Buffalo wing sauce recipe, the shelf behind the cash registers at The Head Nut are lined with dozens of varieties. That stand also carries Wing It, Stubb's, Hoboken Eddies, Guy Fieri and (the beer-containing) Yuengling brands of dedicated wing sauces. Jonathan Best stocks Cholula, Crystal and Frank's hot sauces (the latter was reportedly used on the original Anchor Bar Buffalo wings) as well as Moore's Alabama steakhouse wing sauces.
If you're trying to figure out amounts of wings to buy for a party: Market wing sellers generally agree that you will need 4 to 8 whole wings per person if no other hearty appetizers are served; and 2 to 3 per person if the wings are just one of several meat offerings on the table. (Double that if you're buying half-size party wings.)
As for cooking tips: Franks A-Lot's Black recommends making your own wing sauce, like he does. "It's not that difficult and you'll know what's in it." To achieve the "crispy skin and moist interior everyone wants" in a home oven, Anthony Dienner recommends starting out at a low temperature and increasing it later. "If you turn it too high too fast they will dry out." He also recommends "adding moisture in any way you can" -- like putting a tray of water on a low rack.
For those who need more precise instructions: Halen will be posting wing recipes at Condiment Super Bowl week. Or pick up Wing It!, a cookbook of "flavorful chicken wings, sauces and sides," by Robert Quintana at The Cookbook Stall. Or go to http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/02/the-best-buffalo-wings-oven-fried-wings-recipe.html
for what is probably the most popular wings recipe now on the Internet.
Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour (www.tasteofphillyfoodtour.com).