If you didn’t have the blue cheese and celery there as a giveaway, could you tell the difference between hot wings and buffalo wings at a glance? They’re both red, saucy, spicy, and deliciously messy, but they are decidedly not the same thing.
It’s hard to say when hot wings became A Thing, but we do know that buffalo wings were first invented in Buffalo, New York, in 1964.
Traditionally deep-fried but not breaded, buffalo wings are then tossed in sauce and usually served with celery and blue cheese dressing as dip. Wings were originally considered an unsavory part of the chicken, as Smithsonian magazine details, but all that changed after Teressa Bellissimo served them for dinner at the Anchor Bar in downtown Buffalo. (As our full history of buffalo wings explains, John Young likely also had a hand in making wings more desirable in general, but he didn’t invent what we know as buffalo wings in particular.)
Buffalo sauce is traditionally made of a cayenne pepper-based hot sauce, butter, vinegar, and seasonings to taste (like garlic powder, salt, sometimes a splash of Worcestershire sauce, etc). The key difference between buffalo wings and hot wings is often the spiciness factor: buffalo wings pack a zesty punch, but hot wings are the ones that will really set your mouth on fire.
Hot wings often have chile peppers included in the sauce, and you can easily vary the level of heat by including more or less pepper. Buffalo wings are also rarely served without their traditional celery and blue cheese dip; hot wings can be served with a cooling sauce or dip but blue cheese isn’t always the flavor of choice (ranch dressing is pretty popular).
Although buffalo wings and hot wings differ in spiciness, the designations are often used interchangeably on menus across America. But the buffalo chicken flavor has taken on a life of its own: buffalo flavored chips, buffalo chicken-topped pizza, and buffalo chicken flavored dip have become available options. But nobody’s ever ordered a hot wing chicken pizza; in that market, buffalo chicken pizza takes precedence. No matter what you call it, these wings are delicious. Check out these variations on buffalo and hot wings for the perfect afternoon snack or game day meal.
Here, a few variations on the classic buffalo recipe:
Our simple recipe for grilled buffalo wings involves marinating the chicken in buttermilk so it stays tender on the grill. Use your favorite brand of hot sauce and make sure to put out some extra buffalo sauce for dipping. Get our Easy Grilled Buffalo Wings recipe.
Even vegans can get a taste of the buffalo sauce, which is the best part anyway—and these cauliflower bites are super crunchy thanks to their corn flake cereal coating. We even whipped up a vegan blue cheese sauce for dipping. Get our Vegan Baked Buffalo Cauliflower Wings recipe.
Moving beyond buffalo, here are some of our favorite spicy hot wing preparations:
These hot wings are a great way to prep ahead of a group gathering—four full hours in the slow cooker makes them tender and moist, and you can finish them in the oven to crisp them up before serving. Get our Slow Cooker Hot Wings recipe
A dry rub with chili powder, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, oregano, brown sugar, and mustard powder (plus a few other seasonings) make these savory wings a spicy hit. Use less cayenne if you want to tone them down a little. Get the Epic Dry-Rubbed Baked Chicken Wings recipe.
This recipe for hot wings (courtesy of San Francisco legend Danny Bowien, of Mission Chinese Food) is spicy beyond belief: red pepper flakes, Sichuan peppercorns, dried chiles, and fresh ginger really kick it up a notch. The chef’s trick for super crispy wings? He first poaches them in oil, then freezes them before deep-frying. Get the Explosive Chile Chicken Wings recipe.
The honey and molasses in this recipe makes it sound sweet, but the wings get a smoky rub with red pepper flakes first, and the sticky, bourbon-spiked coating starts with a spicy barbecue sauce, so there’s plenty of heat to balance it out. Get the Smoky Rubbed BBQ Chicken Wings recipe.
Here’s another recipe that employs some tricks, this time in the form of secret ingredients: potato starch and Wondra flour. They ensure a completely crisp coating, but the heat comes in from whatever sauce you toss the wings in—we recommend anything based on gochujang, which will bring not only spice but umami savor and a little sweetness too. Get the Korean Chicken Wings recipe.