Friday, July 25, 2014

Great Grilled Hot Wings and the Big Kahuna Wing Festival

I do a lot of wings on the grill, they are one of my favorite treats and I rarely do them the same way twice.   But honestly, most of my wings aren't what I'd call Buffalo wings or even hot wings because in my view, those are a specific flavor profile.

I was trying out some excellent rubs from a local company, BKW Seasonings, and used their recipe for Grilled Hot Wings [click for the recipe].  We were quite pleased with the results, which were more in line with a true hot wing than a lot of the flavor profiles that I often use.  This is a simple recipe and their Buffalo style sauce delivers a big bold flavor that I love.

The recipe relies on their BKW Original and/or BKW Fire seasonings, which I have found to be quite good.  If you can't find BKW (stores listed at end) or wait to get it shipped, you could try spicing up your favorite seasoned salt with cayenne, onion powder, and garlic powder.  It won't be the same, but you can try.

I got to sit down with Matt Beeler, one of the owners of BKW Seasonings, a couple of weeks ago and learned the history behind the BKW Original Gourmet Seasoning that started his company.  Way, way back in the day, Matt's father would throw big tailgates at the University of Tennessee football games.  He invited friends, family, and his business clients and they made up this seasoning just for those events.  Later the family realized it worked on just about anything and BKW Seasonings was born.  Now they have a full line of seasonings and are opening a restaurant in West Knoxville.

Back to the wings - their recipe calls for grilling the wings directly.  When I do wings direct, I like to do them "raised direct", meaning they cooking rack is elevated higher over the fire.  This cooks the wings just a little bit more gently, lessens the effects of any hotspots, and minimizes any damage from flare ups once rendered chicken fat drips down to the fire below.  It is also a more forgiving technique if you happen to be enjoying an adult beverage and forget to turn the wings right on time.

For a kamado grill like the Big Green Egg, the easiest way to do that is to build your own raised grid like this using 4 bolts, eight washers, eight nuts, and an 18" grill grate.  This will also let you double your grill's capacity when cooking indirect by placing a spider rig and pizza stone between the coals and lower grill grate.  

For charcoal grills with an adjustable cooking grate - set the cooking grate at its highest setting or for charcoal grills with an adjustable charcoal tray - set the tray at one of its lower settings.  The goal is to create about 2-4 inches of space between the food and coals. 

You can buy frozen wings already cut into wingettes and drumettes, but I prefer to just buy them fresh and break them down into parts myself because it seems like I get bigger wings that way.  When you buy them frozen you can't tell the size of the wings you're getting.

Their instructions call for lightly coating the wings in olive oil.  It only needed a very small amount to coat the wings, maybe less than a tablespoon.  You want just enough to get the rubs to stay on.  For the rub, I used a blend of about 2 1/4 teaspoons of BKW original and 3/4 teaspoon of the BKW Fire for a medium level of spiciness.  For mild, use just the Original and for spicier, increase the amount of BKW Fire or use it straight.

This was one of my favorite wing sauces that I have made in a while.  It's your basic wing sauce but the BKW seasonings and cilantro give it a more developed taste instead of just the heat and vinegar you get from some Buffalo sauces.  I didn't have the BKW Pepper Blend so I used some garlic pepper seasoning that I had on hand and it worked just fine.  

Here is where the raised grid comes in handy for this cook.  The flames leaping up from small grease dripping fires isn't even touching the wings.

When the wings were about done at 30 minutes, I put them in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the sauce and tossed them to coat them.  Then it was just back on the grill for another 3-5 minutes just to cook on the sauce.

So whether you are cooking these on gas, charcoal, or kamado grill, these wings are the ticket for grilled hot wings. 

Matt is also the brains behind the Big Kahuna Wing Festival here in Knoxville.  We went this year to check it out and sample the wings from 30 different teams vying for best wing around.  It was the same day as the Gay Pride festival, a beer festival, and a few other events and we had also had a long line of storms move through so I had this crazy notion that we would get there and there wouldn't be long lines.... much for that idea. Despite the storms and competing events, throngs of people turned out for this second year event. 

The BKW Wing Festival is held at World's Fair Park under the watchful eye of Sauron Knoxville's iconic Sunsphere.  It seems to be the perfect fit for this festival for now but I suspect the success will eventually require it to move or take up the park on the other side too.

At work we have to deal with something called the Mobile Crisis Unit so we jokingly referred to BKW Seasonings' trailer as their "Mobile Spices Unit". 

There was plenty of live entertainment going on for folks wanting to take a break from stuffing their wing holes.  Here Blue Mother Tupelo plays their set.

Matt invited us to cook this year but we just didn't have enough time to pull it together.  We'll probably enter as a team next year.  There was a variety of cooking types.  Some people fried them, others grilled them, some smoked wings, and still others combined techniques.

The lines were rather long when we were there but that was mainly because there were about half the teams not serving.  Not sure if they had already cooked their quota and left or if the storms chased them off, but there were booths with not a soul there.  The lines weren't the end of the world, in fact, that was how we got to meet some nice people we wouldn't have met otherwise.  

We didn't sample all or even most of the wings, but the best one I had was from Flusterclucks.  I had their medium wings which were nice sized and had a balanced Buffalo flavor that was just well executed.  But they also had a Heisenberg wing, named after Walter White's character on Breaking Bad.  You can see the sauce was chicken wings.  Crazy right?  "You're god damned right!"   (Can you tell I miss Breaking Bad and can't wait for Better Call Saul to start?)

But the absolute BEST moments came during the awards presentation.  The winning teams were:

Third Place - Food City Grillers
Second Place - Buckethead Tavern
First Place - Phil Cobble Fine Homes/The Sports Source

The event was for raising money for the Ronald McDonald House and the Empty Stocking Fund.  These three teams exemplified heroic levels of class and spontaneously DONATED THEIR WINNINGS back to the charities!  We're not talking just a few bucks either, we're talking thousands of dollars. 

Job well done, Matt, the sponsors, and all of the teams!  This is a fun and tasty event for a good cause. Mark your calendar - the Third Annual BKW Wing Festival is already schedule next year for June 13, 2015.

You can find BKW seasonings at Kroger, Food City, Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, and Fresh Market or you can order them direct online. They are a great local company who support the community so I encourage you to support them.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer]  I received no compensation for this post and have no affiliation with BKW Seasonings.  I paid full price for my BKW Seasonings and tickets for the event.