Chicken wings have an indelible association with the Super Bowl. This year, Americans consumed a reported 1.42 billion wings for the big game, even as prices rose. (The wholesale price was $2.61 per pound ahead of the big game, compared to an average five-year pre-pandemic price of $1.76.)
But for some restaurateurs, the Super Bowl is just the start of chicken wing season. Erin Smith, chef, owner, and general partner at Feges BBQ in Houston, held off on selling wings at the start of 2022 because the price was so high.
Smith began selling 100 pounds of wings a week. The most intriguing sauce is a high-intensity concoction that evokes the childhood favorite: peanut butter and jelly.
Smith’s background does not suggest chicken wing chops. The Houston native started her career at fine-dining spots such as Per Se and Babbo in New York. She had no serious background in barbecue (or wings) before she and her husband Patrick Feges opened Feges BBQ in 2018.
Three years later, Feges landed a spot on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 Texas BBQ Joints with their second outpost. Its menu features whole hog cooked over post-oak, as well as not-so-standard dishes such as charred cole slaw and a barbecue sauce that uses the Korean chile paste gochujang. “We incorporate smoke into a lot of our food, but it’s not always straight barbecue. We do chef-driven dishes that incorporate the use of our smokers,” says Smith.
She got the idea for PB&J wings at a pool party with fellow chefs about a decade ago, when they were in need of a sauce. “I ran back to my apartment and came back with peanut butter and orange marmalade—which is also good with the wings,” she says. “We thought it would be the stupidest thing we ever did. We couldn’t believe it was so delicious.” Smith has since updated the recipe with a more traditional peanut butter accompaniment: grape jelly.
Make the wings and you’ll see. The thick, sticky, mahogany-colored sauce is ridiculously simple and well suited to wings, and begs the question: Why don’t more people mix peanut butter and jelly into a sauce? Key to the dish is in the ratio of ingredients. Peanut butter is the driving force and suggests the popular Thai sauce, while the sriracha contributes heat. The grape jelly sweetens it up and adds a satisfying stickiness. Then it’s just a matter of roasting the wings. Use an air fryer if you’ve got one—or even better, smoke the wings as Smith does to add a toasty accent to the meat.
Although Smith makes a point of saying Feges isn’t a sports bar—“we show black-and-white Westerns”—the NCAA basketball games will air, and she expects wing sales to keep climbing. She also sees the PB&J snack as good for Oscar parties; she’ll be watching with a plate of wings. “Every time someone thanks the Academy, I’ll eat a wing.”
Tester’s note: Smith says the sauce is best made the day before an event to allow the flavors to meld. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated for three weeks. You can also double the amount of chicken wings if you wish to serve more.
Serves 6-8, with leftover sauce
¾ cup (7 oz) creamy peanut butter17.5 oz jar grape jelly3 tbsp sriracha2 dozen chicken wings and drumettes (about 2 lb.)Salt and freshly ground pepperVegetable oil, for cookingToasted chopped peanuts, for garnish
In a food processor, combine the peanut butter, jelly, and sriracha and mix until smooth. (There might be some lumps, depending on the type of jelly you use.)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss the chicken wings with vegetable oil and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet. Season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until they’re cooked through.
Alternatively: Cook the wings in an air fryer according to manufacturer’s directions. Or you can smoke the wings until they’re cooked through—about 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the wings.
Let the wings cool slightly. In a shallow bowl, toss the wings with half the sauce, and transfer to a platter. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts and serve with a little more sauce.