Georgia-born and CIA-trained Chef Aaron Siegel is comfortable straddling the high-low boundaries of chef-driven comfort food. For years he worked in upscale kitchens at night and on the burrito line during the day—learning two sides of the business (on minimal sleep). When it was time to open his own restaurant, he left Charleston’s swanky-Southern Blossom to transform a gas station into a barbecue and blues joint that serves PBR and grown-up slushies alongside meticulously smoked meats.
This high-low dichotomy also manifests in Siegel’s smoked chicken wings, originally an off-menu snack at his now 7-year-old Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ in West Ashley, South Carolina. “The wings started off as a cult item, and now it’s nuts,” says Siegel.
Instead of taking a violent 15-minute bath in a fryolator, Home Team’s wings go on a multi-step, 10-plus hour journey from their raw state to the plate. Siegel plumps his chicken in a simple brine before tossing them in a brown sugar-spice rub and smoking them in a hotel pan over native red oak. During the smoke, all the fat renders from the wings, confiting the meat in a bubbling pan of sweet-spicy-smoky schmaltz and rendering the wings “fall-off-the-bone tender.” Since the wings are cooked through, he simply flash fries them at pick-up to lightly caramelize the sugars on the skin.
Siegel’s method yields wings that are less greasy than run-of-the-mill, buffalo-style wings, and the technique lends itself to endless iterations of rubs and brines. Though the smoky character is lost, Siegel achieves similar results at Home Team Kitchen (a downtown Charleston version of Fiery Ron’s) by cooking the wings in a 225°F convection oven instead of a smoker.
When it’s time to plate up, all high-brow technique goes out the window. Siegel pairs his wings with Alabama white sauce. For the uninitiated, Alabama white sauce is a tangy, mayonnaise-based condiment that people in the great state of Alabama slather on any number of smoked meats. Siegel developed his version (Duke’s mayo, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne) while reading Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Secrets, whose Alabama white sauce recipe resembled Siegel’s cole slaw dressing. “You get spicy wings with the tartness and sweetness of the white sauce and creaminess of mayo,” says Siegel. When he started serving the wings, his team worried that South Carolinians would spurn the sauce. “We’ve had no requests for blue cheese.”
Home Team’s wings are now one of the restaurants top sellers, best enjoyed, according to Siegel, with PBR in a can, High Life in a bottle, or Home Team’s signature frozen drink, the Game Changer.
Smoked Chicken Wing Technique
1. Brine chicken wings 4 hours; pat dry.
2. Toss wings in dry rub.
3. Prepare a smoker with red oak and heat to 225°F.
4. Smoke chicken 2½ hours.
5. Heat deep fryer oil to 350°F.
6. Fry wings 4 to 6 minutes, until crispy and just caramelized.
7. Remove from fryer, shake off excess oil, rest 30 seconds, and toss with additional dry rub.