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Drums vs. Flats vs. Boneless Wings: The Ultimate Smackdown

Professional eaters, certified wing-competition judges, a food critic and the former host of 'Bar Rescue' debate the most important question in culinary history

Look, I’m a generally healthy person, but I allow myself one big cheat: Wingstop, a wings-only chain restaurant sprinkled throughout the midwest. Like clockwork, almost every 30 days I get a craving, and I shamelessly slam cheese fries and a dozen wings down my gullet. Sitting on the toilet afterward, I hate myself even more than usual, and the really sick part is I know I’m going to relapse anyway.

Now, with Thanksgiving coming up, it’s even worse: All I can think about is wings.

Drums, flats, even boneless: They fly around my mind like meaty little sugar plums ’fore a long winter’s nap. And I’m not alone.

One thing I’ve noticed is that some people have extremely strong opinions about which type of wing is best. Curious, hungry and incapable of making a decision for myself, I sought to find out if there really was a superior wing — or if, like a burger, they’re all basically fine. So I asked the experts: two professional eaters, a food critic, a few certified wing competition judges and even Wingstop’s marketing department.

And yes, there is a clear winner. Out of everyone I talked to, I could find only one person to defend boneless — and one who prefers drumsticks. Consider that as you read on…

Molly Schuyler, Three-Time Record-Setting Wing Bowl Champion; Once Ate 501 Chicken Wings in 30 Minutes

Tastewise, I’m with the flats, hands down — I really like crispy chicken skin, so that makes them my favorite. If it’s competition, though, the drums are a little easier because you can spin (or “corncob”) them quickly. I’ll never order boneless. That’s just a chunk of chicken.

Matt Kourie, Owner of the New York Best Wings Festival

Truth is, the flat gives you more meat and a better piece to dip in your bleu cheese. You just have to remove the bones. When a wing is cooked properly the bones should come right out. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “boneless wings” — those are just chicken nuggets.

Megan Sprague, Communications Associate for Wingstop

Personally, I’m a boneless fan (I know, I’m awful), but I can defend boneless wings all day. First of all, there’s no bone to get in the way! I don’t want to work around a bone while I’m enjoying my food. Call me lazy, but I’m just not into tearing my food away from the bone and I also do not like dark meat (much to my family’s dismay). The crispy breading of a boneless wing perfectly cradles the sauce while keeping the inside tender and juicy, and sets you up for the most perfect and beautiful ranch dunk. Every. Single. Time. Plus, boneless wings are more versatile. If I’m ever feeling ~healthy~ I can chop a few up and put them on a salad with our ranch. However, I typically just order our veggie sticks (in addition to our fries, of course) and call it a day.

Drew ‘Wing King’ Cerza, founder of the National Buffalo Wing Festival

I believe in equal opportunity for all chicken parts. However, I lean a little toward the flats. They do hold the sauce better in my opinion. I have different techniques to eat both chicken parts, however, my favorite eating move is the “Slam,” where I use my thumb and index finger on my right hand to slam the wing on my plate as I strip all the meat in one swoop. The simple things in life make me happy, and the Slam is one of them.

Debra Carpenter, Wing Lover

There might be the illusion of a debate going on regarding flats vs. drumettes, but there isn’t really any question of which is better. Flats are superior in every facet: They get crispier, they hold sauce better, they’re easier (and less messy) to eat. They are the perfect little package of chicken-wing goodness and they don’t need to be big and round and misshapen to do it. That’s nothing to shake a (drum)stick at.

Jim Mumford, Professional Cook and Food Blogger

It’s pretty simple to me: Bone in is everything, and flats have more dark meat, and more surface area generally. There’s more flavor from the bone and crispier chicken skin. And, while I’ll concede it’s “more difficult” and messy to eat, isn’t that half the fun? I’ve never seen a person plowing through a pile of wings, napkins everywhere with an orange stained beer glass without a huge smile.

Matt Reynolds, Director of the Documentary Great Chicken Wing Hunt

I try not to be dogmatic about wings, but I do think real wing-lovers must appreciate both the flats and drummies. I say appreciate, because I don’t think liking them exactly the same is required, or even possible, given their clear differences. When eating wings with friends, a real wing lover should partake more or less equally of flats and drummies. Eating only flats or drummies is for amateurs and children.

That said, the differences and advantages between flats and drummies are pretty clear: The flats are tastier, given their higher ratio of skin to meat, and higher ratio of surface area to meat (meaning more sauce per unit of meat). Still, drummies are easier to eat, less work.

I consider boneless wings an abomination. The taste difference between boneless and actual wings is so stark and obvious that this point requires no elaboration. Yet I will elaborate: Meat with a bone still in it is more tender and tastier. This not only applies to wings. Think of ribs. But it’s not just taste, the presence of the bone gives wing-eating a sort of primal carnal satisfaction. Here we are, just like our ancestors, huddled together, eating meat off a bone.

The Wingstop Marketing Department

According to data provided by our finance team, when our guests have the choice between all flats or all drums, they choose all flats an overwhelming majority of the time. This stat holds true within the marketing department, where almost all of our classic wing fans prefer flats to drums. Flats are better for dipping and easier to tear into, which means they can feed [our] craving a little quicker, and that’s a win in our books.

Gideon Oji, Fourth-Place Finisher in the U.S. National Buffalo Wing Eating Championship

Flats are for softies, and they’re easier to eat in a competition. Drums give you more meat per bite, you just have to have a strong jaws to bite into them. You can’t argue having more meat. So, yeah, I’m team drum.

Taco Trav, Food Critic

Drums are considered dark meat, and due to the proximity of bone, they are loaded with flavor. But they’re hard to cook and hard to dip in bleu cheese. Plus you’ll inevitably pull a blood vein out while taking a bite, which is fucking gross. People who like drumsticks include everyday Joes who say they aren’t picky, but wear Rock Revival jeans and constantly ask for the IPA list.

  • Size: 3 points
  • Flavor: 3 points
  • Difficulty: 2 points
  • Dippable: 2 points
  • The Vein: –2 points
  • Method: 3 points
  • Coolness: 1 point
  • Total: 12

Flats, also called blades, can be served with or without the flapper. Considered light (or white) meat, they lack a little flavor as opposed to the drum. They’re easily dippable in the bleu, and easy to cook, but they’re a little smaller than the drum. People who only eat flats like dirty sex and draft beer.

  • Size: 2 points
  • Flavor: 2 points
  • Difficulty: 3 points
  • Dippable: 3 points
  • No Vein: 2 points
  • Method: 3 points
  • Coolness: 3 points
  • Total: 18

Boneless wings, let’s face it, are just sliced chicken breast. They’re undoubtedly the most bland, tasteless part of the bird and ordered by those who take selfies at baseball games and post motivational quotes on Instagram.

  • Size: 3 points
  • Flavor: 0 points
  • Difficulty: 3 points
  • Dippable: 3 points
  • No Vein: 2 points
  • Method: 1 point
  • Coolness: –3 points
  • Total: 9

Flats are the clear winner, but moving forward, let’s all just agree that ranch dressing doesn’t belong anywhere near wings, fucking ever. I dumped a girl once, solely because whenever we’d go for wings, she’d order boneless with ranch. I was willing to overlook the boneless, but not the ranch.

Jon Taffer, Host of Bar Rescue

Overall, I’m more on the side of flats being the superior cut: They have the crispiness to them, and more flavor in the skin. Years ago I used to do just a drummie, and I actually used to put a little round brand on each one with a tiny little branding iron and call them Louisville Sluggers because they look like baseball bats. So I did that to promote drummies as baseball bats, but I find that there’s a greater appeal to the full wing. I’m a full-wing guy, and the reason why is the skin absorbs an awful lot of flavor and creates a crispiness that gives the wing real character. And eating that wing off the bone is a very powerful activity that you enjoy while you’re eating wings.

Another thing: If people don’t see bones on the plate, the bones that they already ate the wing off of, wing consumption goes up over 20 percent. So if you’re a restaurant get rid of the frickin’ bones as people eat them and you’ll see people eat more wings. And if you sell wings in three flavors you’ll sell 28 percent more, because people like things in threes.

Boneless wings target women not men, because women don’t like to eat products of bone because they don’t want to have that mess on their hands or drip on their clothes. Whenever we want to sell wings to men, we never do boneless.

Wings are one of those things that can define a bar or restaurant. If they do ’em well then they probably do other things well; the freshness and sauce and how they prepare them tells you everything about the kinda place you’re in. For example, I’m a believer in knowing fresh over frozen wings. The bones of frozen wings turn dark, but fresh ones stay a natural color, so you’ll know as soon as you bite into a wing if they’re selling frozen or fresh wings.

And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, a turkey wing is not a bad thing either. A turkey wing can be freakin’ delicious. You know, how come we see boneless chicken wings but you’ve never seen a boneless turkey wing?