Chicken wings have gone from appetizer to industry. Multiple bars and restaurants have been built around wings, with much attention paid to special sauces and secret recipes.
On Sunday at high noon, 16 local pubs will gather at the Nutty Irishman in Bay Shore to celebrate the specialty and start a new tradition at the inaugural Long Island Buffalo Wing Festival.
"I thought there's not one wing competition on Long Island, and two weeks before football season would probably be a good time to start," says festival founder Daniel P. Wiseman, owner of Even Flow Bar & Grill in Bay Shore. "This is definitely going to be an annual event."
For $20 a ticket, tasters can sample wings from different establishments, while listening to live music by BigBandJoe and Czech Funk. A dunk tank and a mechanical bull add to the festivities; proceeds will go to Long Island Cares, a nonprofit group that fights hunger on the Island.
Pubs often are identified by their own brand of wings, and there are plenty of styles to go around.
"With so many different flavors now, people like to choose," says Drew Dvorkin, owner of T.J. Finley's in Bay Shore, which serves Thai-peanut and garlic-chili wings. "People are looking for alternatives in food. We have opened up as a culture on Long Island and are willing to experiment with different things."
Wiseman's menu boasts more than 40 flavors, ranging from peanut butter and jelly, French toast and pizza to habanero bourbon barbecue, spicy orange marmalade and Jamaican jerk.
"Anything that I could get to stick to a chicken wing, I would test," says Wiseman. "Over half are my original recipes you won't find anywhere else."
One of the Nutty Irishman's signature dishes is its jumbo wings coated in homemade Irish whiskey barbecue sauce.
"We are pretty proud of our sauce," says Mike McElwee, owner of the Nutty Irishman. "Every place has its own little special thing."
HERE COME THE JUDGES
Three wing contests will be held during the festival: best traditional Buffalo wing, best unique flavor and crowd favorite. Each attendee will get a token to drop in the box of the pub they like the best. The pub with the most tokens is named the crowd favorite. Meanwhile, for the other two contests, a panel of judges will determine who will be granted wing supremacy.
"I don't like too much sauce because it can get messy and soggy," says event host and judge William M. Kucmierowski, otherwise known as former pro-wrestler Brimstone from the web series "Food Hound: Tidbits." "You want just enough seasoning to make that taste really zing to get that flavor behavior going."
Derrick Prince, from season two of "MasterChef," also will be a judge. "When it comes to wings, there's no rules, but I definitely want some heat," says Prince. "You must start with juicy chicken but at the same time you want a crispy outer crust. That crunch is really important."
When it comes to seasoning, John McLaughlin, of the artisan sauce and spice company Heartbreaking Dawns, is known to be a bit of an ace.
"What's impressive is when someone takes everyday, run-of-the-mill stuff and turns it into an ultra-dynamic wing," says McLaughlin, who was featured on season 10 of "Chopped." "I'm not looking for specific ingredients, but rather the way they make them play all together."
FEEL THE BURN
A couple of wing-eating contests will be open to those who don't mind a face full of sauce. The first will be for who can finish a dozen the fastest. The heat gets turned up in the second round, when the wings are bathed in sauce that's rated 1 million on the Scoville scale of spicy heat.
"An ultrahot wing isn't about burning your mouth," says Kucmierowski. "It's important to be able to enjoy every aspect of the flavor dancing on your taste buds."
WHEN | WHERE Noon Sunday, the Nutty Irishman, 60 E. Main St., Bay Shore
INFO $20, 631-665-9696, liwingfest.com