Brined, Grilled Buffalo Wings

We’ve documented our love of Buffalo Wings in the past, not only as a unique bit of Americana but also as inspiration for our Chicken Burger.  Playing around with approaches over the Fourth of July holiday recently lead to a brined, grilled variation we fell in love with. Thought we’d share.

Boneless and Skinless Chicken “Wings”

Brine: 2 cups water, bring to a rapid boil, then reduce to simmer. Add 1/2 cup sea salt, 4 bay leaves, 4 cloves garlic (smashed, skin on), 8 whole peppercorns, 1 whole dried ancho chile (seeds removed). Remove from heat and add 2 cups of ice. Resulting brine should now be near room temperature and taste like sea water (adjust salt or water accordingly).

Prepare the Chicken: This can be made with traditional wings, which are the wing assembly taken apart at the joints, but we prefer to make these with boneless, skinless thighs, cut into three long strips. Place the 2 lbs prepared chicken into the brine and allow to marinate overnight.

Next day, prepare a grill and heat to 400 degrees. Remove chicken thighs from brine and dry with paper towel. In a large sealable plastic bag, place 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon garlic salt. Add chicken and shake to coat. Place chicken on grill and cook about 10 minutes per side, until golden brown. Now if you want to get fancy, throws these on a hot smoker at about 350 degrees over applewood chips for a bit longer.

Buffalo Wings

Remove chicken and place into oven proof pan. At this stage you can refrigerate until ready for use.

Traditional Sauce: 8 Tbs. of butter (one stick), melted then whisk to combine with 1/2 cup hot sauce

Barbecue Sauce: 1 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup malt vinegar, 1 Tbs. smoked paprika, 1 Tbs. ancho chile powder, 1 Tbs. cracked black pepper, combine and simmer on low for 30 minutes.

Coat “wings” in sauce of choice in an oven-proof pan, and reheat at 350 degrees for 20 minutes then serve.

Split Whole Roast Chicken & Stuffing

Necessity is the mother of invention. It also leads to re-visiting the past. We were looking for the best way to use some excess wild rice stuffing which we had prepared for use in stuffing a kabocha squash (bit more on the kabocha here). We used wild rice from Northern Wisconsin, pre-cooked in chicken broth and tossed with sauteed onions and crumbled chicken sausage. Don’t want to waste that.



Chicken Wild Rice2

We were serving this with roast chicken, so we could stuff the bird, but stuffing the whole chicken has a few downsides. It adds mass to the bird which requires greater cooking time, which in turn leads to either an over-cooked bird on the outside to ensure complete cooking in the inside or the risk of under cooking the inside of the bird to keep the outside moist.

Memories of a recipe from Rick Bayless provided the inspiration. Chef Bayless presents his version of a Roadside Grilled Chicken, which involves removing the backbone of the chicken and flattening the bird for more even cooking. When we prepared this for the grill, we loved the flavor but also the versatility in cooking the bird.

So instead of stuffing the chicken, we split it and flattened it over a bed of the wild rice stuffing in an earthenware pan. We slid butter mixed with sea salt and oregano under the skin and slipped it into a 450 degree oven. After 10 minutes, we turned the heat down to 350 degrees to complete the cooking time. The skin was crisp, the fats and flavors ran down into the stuffing, and the chicken was kept moist by the steam rising from the stuffing. This was an ideal solution. It was also a delicious, family-style version of Great Lakes Cuisine.

Chicken Wild Rice

The process is known as spatchcock and works just as well for a turkey or any number of birds. For us, this is the easiest and tastiest way to prepare an ample amount of stuffing and still quickly prepare a perfect bird. Experiment and enjoy.

Fall Harvest Chicken

If you are driving the stretch of land between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan you will see a patchwork of farms around the town of Hudsonville and in late fall some of those farms will be harvesting winter squash, a seemingly endless variety of shapes in oranges and greens. If you happen to stumble across the white acorn squash, buy one or two. The creamy white flesh becomes wonderfully buttery when roasted. In this recipe, the squash is roasted under a brined, roasted chicken for over an hour along with carrots and onion, with the addition of late fall herbs and a bit of apple for brightness.

Fall Harvest Chicken1



Fall Harvest Chicken

4 cups unfiltered apple cider
½ cup salt
6 cloves garlic, crushed, skins on
2 bay leaves
8 whole peppercorns
16 whole coriander seeds
½ cup fresh chopped oregano
½ cup fresh chopped savory (or thyme)
4 cups ice

4 lb. whole chicken
4 Tbs. butter
1 quartered Honey Crisp apple

2 acorn squash, pealed, seeded, large cubes
4 carrots, peeled, large pieces (similar size to squash)
2 medium sweet onions, 8 pieces each
2 Tbs. vegetable oil

To make the brine: Place first 6 ingredients in a stock pot over medium high heat. Add half of the oregano and savory. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat then add the ice. The amount of ice does not have to be exact, but the brine should end up at room temperature and should have a saltiness similar to a salty broth. Remove neck and innards from cavity and place chicken in a container just large enough to hold it and cover it with the brine. Allow it to sit in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.

Fall Harvest Chicken

Remove chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour prior to cooking. Pre-heat oven to 475°F. Place the acorn squash, carrot, onion, and oil in a heavy cast iron roaster or similar pan large enough to accommodate the chicken. Sprinkle with herbs. Stuff apple into the cavity of the chicken and then settle the chicken into the middle of the vegetables, breast side down. After 25 minutes, turn chicken over and slide butter under the skin above the breast. Turn oven down to 400°F and return pan to the oven and cook for an additional 45 minutes or until an internal temperature of 160°F. The legs of the chicken should be loose and the juices run clear. Remove chicken from pan and allow to rest on a carving board.

Fall Harvest Chicken4

We served this on a bed of red kale sauteed with shallots, which provides a nice bit of bitterness to contrast the sweet richness of the roasted squash. The apple cider brined chicken, along with the Honey Crisp roasted inside, added a hint of brightness. We had house-made spiced apple sauce which we served warm alongside the chicken. Overall it was a wonderful Sunday dinner, celebrating the fall harvest, and a fine example of Great Lakes Cuisine.

Cider-Brined Chicken with Red Rice, Acorn Squash, Kale

Cider Brined Chicken1

Cider-Brined Chicken with Red Rice, Acorn Squash, Kale

2 cup apple cider (Honeycrisp, if available)
1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
5 whole cloves
2 cloves garlic, crushed, skin on
¼ cup salt
2 cup ice

1 whole chicken, cut in eight pieces
4 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbs. salt
½ medium onion sliced
1 Honeycrisp apple, cored and cut in eighths

½ medium yellow onion, diced
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 cups red rice

1 acorn squash, peeled, seeds removed, large chunks
¼ cup canola oil
2 tsp. Penzey’s Old World Seasoning (or seasoned salt)

1 lb kale, ribs removed, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
Zest of half a lemon
1 tsp salt

To make the brine, bring cider to a boil with cinnamon, bay leaves, cloves, garlic, and salt. Simmer for 30 minutes then remove from heat and add ice. Adjust salt or water to yield a brine which tastes as salty as ocean water. Place chicken in 1 gallon freezer bag or large bowl and cover with brine. Place in refrigerator for 4 hours.

To bake chicken, heat oven to 475 degrees. Remove chicken from brine and dry with paper towel. Combine salt and oregano. Cut cold butter into eight pieces and roll each piece in oregano mixture, then place under the skin of each piece of chicken. Place chicken in pan just large enough to accommodate all pieces in one layer, skin side up. Tuck onion and apples around chicken pieces. Bake for 30 minutes then turn oven down to 350 degrees.

Toss acorn squash pieces in oil and spread on baking sheet in one layer, dust with seasoning. Place in oven with chicken. Heat one tablespoon oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, but not browned. Add rice and cook for an additional two minutes, stirring frequently to coat. Add broth and bring to boil. Then cover and reduce to simmer, continue to cook until tender, approximately 30 minutes.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large fry pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, but not browned, and lemon zest, salt and kale. Toss frequently until wilted, just 2 minutes.

When the chicken has reached 160 degrees, approximately one hour, remove from pan and set aside covered for ten minutes. As chicken rests, stir the squash into the pan juices and allow to soak in the warm oven. When ready to serve, toss kale, rice, and squash together in a large bowl, then fill a platter with the mixture and top with the chicken. Serve family-style.

Cider Brined Chicken

We elected to add a bit of mulled cranberries (recipe at the bottom of our Autumn post) to the meal which added a nice, tart counter-point to the sweet squash, but this dish can be served without. Though really more of a “autumn” dish based on flavors and seasonal availability of the ingredients, we enjoyed this in the still chilly days of early spring.

Buffalo Chicken – Buffalo, New York

We have added Buffalo, New York, to our list of cities for Great Lakes Cuisine and included two iconic locations: Anchor Bar and Charlie the Butcher. Anchor Bar is the original creator of Buffalo-style hot wings which is a fairly recent addition (last 50 years) to the regional culinary tradition. As a dish, it doesn’t have very deep roots – closer to in age to Chicago deep dish pizza than many of the culinary traditions we typically feature. The better example of the Great Lakes culinary tradition from Buffalo is Beef on Weck – a roast beef sandwich served on a Kummelweck roll, a hard roll with coarse sea salt and caraway seed on top.

Nevertheless, the Buffalo-style wing is an addictively tasty little morsel. The recent break-down by of top sources of wings listed three different restaurants from our list – Greenhouse Tavern, Roast, and Anchor Bar. here is how Chef Sawyer from Greenhouse Tavern describes his take:

“First they’re cured for 36 hours in a mix of salt, pepper, sugar, and chili flakes. Then they’re gently cooked in a combination of beef, chicken, and duck fat for 12 hours in an immersion circulator. A slow cooling in the fat further melts the skin and tenderizes the flesh, ensuring moist wings. Then we let the chicken wings air-dry for 24 hours. This allows the skin to get crispy without the flesh getting soggy, leaving a delicious tender juicy wing.”

As always, Chef Sawyer takes it to another level. Incredible. In honor of the Buffalo-style hot wing, we offer our take on a Buffalo Chicken Burger, featuring both a blue cheese spread and a ghost chili pepper dusted cheese, topped with a celery relish – all the elements of the traditional hot wings, typically served with celery sticks and a blue cheese dipping sauce. We use a number of selections from Renard’s Cheese based in Door County, WI, including their remarkable Ghost Chili Jack cheese and we highly recommend ordering these cheeses online, but we have given alternatives below for convenience.

Buffalo-Style Chicken Burger

For the Chicken Burger
2 lbs ground dark meat chicken
1 medium onion diced
1 Tbs. butter
1 cup crushed corn flakes
1 large egg
1 Tbs. dried herbs (oregano, thyme, basil)

1 cup Blue Cheese Spread from Renard’s Cheese
1 cup blue cheese crumbles blended with
½ cup cream cheese and
½ cup shredded cheddar

For the Celery Relish
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced pickled sweet peppers
½ cup diced pickled onion

8 hamburger buns
Butter for toasted buns
Garlic salt to taste

1 lb Ghost Chili Jack from Renard’s Cheese, sliced
1 lb Sriracha Cheddar from Renard’s Cheese, sliced
1 lb of Pepper Jack cheese, sliced
Frank’s Red Hot sauce to taste

Romaine lettuce

In a medium sauté pan over medium high heat, melt butter, add onions, and sauté until translucent. Allow to cool and then add to ground chicken in a large bowl. Add corn flakes, herbs, and egg to the bowl and mix with hands until well mixed. Form into burgers return to refrigerator to set at least 30 minutes.

Prepare grill while burgers chill. Blend all ingredients for celery relish. Toast buns, spread with butter and sprinkle with garlic salt. Set aside.

Place burgers on grill, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook about 5 minutes per side, then top with blue cheese spread and sliced cheeses. When cheese has melted, serve on buns, topped with celery relish and lettuce.

Buffalo Chicken Burger


We enjoyed our Buffalo-style Chicken Burger with an ice-cold Pilsner from Hinterland Brewing and sweet potato fries. The Pilsner was a perfect complement and very refreshing between bites of the burger. The Ghost Chili Jack cheese creates a slow burn, that builds and builds. You should get your hands on some, and enjoy the heat.