Wednesday, January 28, 2004

What's hot in wings

Taste Team sets out to find the best in town and discovers the Domino's effect continues

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] The Domino's Pizza crew in East Price Hill made the winning wings in our taste test. From left, Domino's franchise owner John Glass, manager Debi Brentlinger and general manager Jeff Hall.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
It's a chicken part no one used to eat, but now it's a wild wing world.

Everyone who doesn't mind getting his fingers and faces a little saucy loves chicken wings - especially on Super Bowl Sunday - the unofficial snack food holiday.

And there's no need to wing your wing source for the big game buffet. In a blind sampling, our Taste Team gnawed and nibbled its way through 11 batches of wings - from restaurants, the grocery freezer case and deli and even our home oven. The favorite: the wings made by Domino's Pizza.

A little skeptical about a pizza chain making the best wings?

Domino's previously soared in our wing test. In 2001, Domino's finished second (to a flock of frozen Banquet brand wings), and in 1997 the chain won our wings taste test. So it's no fluke - the pizza people know something about wings.

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The tasting panel rated two brands of frozen wings from the grocery - Banquet "Jumbo Buffalo" and Tyson "Buffalo-Style" - close behind Domino's in a tie.

Ready-to-heat "Wings of Fire" from a Kroger deli placed a not-too-distant fourth.

Even though the top-four rated wings finished within a feather of each other, there is, of course, a difference in price. The refrigerated wings cost 25 cents each and the frozen wings range from 29 to 38 cents each. The Domino's wings cost at least 59 cents each (not including the delivery tip).

Even in the world of wings, you pay for the best.

The best

The Taste Team rated 11 batches of wings on a 1 to 10 scale (1 = worst; 10 = best). Here are the top finishers, with average scores in ( ).

1 Domino's Pizza (7) (delivered)

2 Banquet "Jumbo Buffalo" (6.9) (frozen and baked)

(Tie) Tyson "Buffalo-Style" (6.9) (frozen and baked)

4 Kroger deli (6.7) (refrigerated and warmed)

What about the blue cheese?

Since Buffalo wings were invented in 1964, they have usually been served with a side of heady blue cheese dressing and crisp celery. So while the Taste Team sampled wings, we asked them to also rate seven brands of blue cheese dressing.

The panel spared no expense in naming their favorite, Point Reyes Original Blue Dip and Dressing, based on an award-winning Northern California farmstead cheese. Available at the Party Source in Bellevue, the dressing costs $4.95 per 7 ounces.

Two less expensive dressings finished second and third - Ken's Steak House Chunky Blue Cheese ($2.99/16 ounces) and Wish Bone Chunky Blue Cheese ($2/16 ounces). The rest of dressing field: T. Marzetti, Lite House Chunky Bleu, Kroger Chunky Bleu and Kraft Blue Cheese Ranch.

Chuck Martin

The Taste Team

• Gene Bare, sales manager for a Camp Washington sign company, enjoys cooking at home in Mount Lookout.

• Pam Hardy is a retired Procter & Gamble products researcher who cooks at home in Golf Manor.

• A sophomore psychology major at the University of Cincinnati, Natalie Maxwell of West Chester Township is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris.

• Jenny Notton of Hebron earned a degree in nutrition and is a stay-at-home mom and avid cook.

• Jeff Young of Finneytown manages an outpatient care program for Health Alliance of Cincinnati and is famous for his chicken wings, salsa and roasted pork loin.

• A lifelong West Chester Township resident, Kathy Zollar loves to bake cakes and other special desserts.

• Guest taster John Byczkowski is an Enquirer business reporter and Buffalo, N.Y., native who ate his first wing at Pizza King in 1972.

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