For baking, you can make a buttermilk substitute by mixing vinegar and milk, but when it comes to brining meat, only real buttermilk will do. Made from cultured milk, buttermilk is thick and creamy, with a noticeable tang. Soaking Buffalo wings in buttermilk makes them more flavorful and tender. Toss the wings on the grill and you've got memorable party food in 30 minutes or less.
The Science of Buttermilk
Buttermilk has long been a Southern favorite for brining fried chicken, but it works equally well for grilled Buffalo wings. The calcium in buttermilk helps break down muscle tissue for tender, juicy wings, while enzymes and acids add subtle flavor. Buttermilk can also mellow the heat in chili pepper-based sauces so you get a kick of spicy flavor, without the five-alarm fiery heat.
A Long Soak
You can soak wings in nothing but buttermilk, but a better solution is to combine the buttermilk with other ingredients. Combine buttermilk with hot sauce or beer at a ratio of about 1 cup buttermilk to 1 cup hot sauce or beer. Add a combination of sweet and savory flavorings, such as liquid smoke, salt, brown sugar, paprika, dried onion, garlic or honey. Add a bit of oil so the wings don't stick to the grill. Place the wings in a baking pan and pour the brine over them. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the wings for six hours or overnight.
Rub It In
One of the best ways to ramp up the flavor of Buffalo wings is by layering seasonings. A zesty brine penetrates the meat, making it juicy and slightly spicy. Follow the brine with a rub and you've just added even more taste. Remove the wings from the brine and allow them to drain well. Use a commercial rub, or make your own by combining powdered onion or garlic, chipotle chili powder, paprika, brown sugar and salt in a bowl. Sprinkle the rub over the wings and use your fingers to massage it in. Let the wings sit at room temperature for 20 minutes as you heat the grill.
Brining and rubbing might seem like a lot of work, but you'll love the results. Heat the grill to 350 Fahrenheit or medium heat. Add the wings and cook them 20 to 25 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking time. Move the wings to the top rack if they start getting too brown. It's hard to use a thermometer on chicken wings because they're so bony, but they should reach an internal temperature of 165 F. Remove the wings from the grill and top them with chopped parsley. Serve wings with a tangy ranch or blue cheese dip.
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Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."