The symbiotic relationship between a man's fingers and a chicken wing is at its best when the sauce covers both, camouflaging a melding of man and bird as one. That is, until the wing is shoved into the mouth, meat in cheek, leaving only bones and cartilage, like ruins of an ancient civilization, discarded and spent. At least the first wing is like that, but what about the 208th in 12 minutes. That is how many wings Joey "Jaws" Chestnut ate at the first ever Eastern Shore Wing War sponsored by Mountaire Farms in beautiful Wicomico County, Maryland. This post is neither about Joey's latest world record, nor the gigantic succulent Mountaire Farm wings (competitive eater Wild Bill Meyers -- "These are the largest wings I have ever faced in completion -- did they come from hawks?"). This post is about dissecting the classic chicken wing -- the drumstick and paddle (or flat). Reading this you will get no sauce on your shirt, but you may have a few chickens on crutches very mad at you. Continue at your own peril, but know that in the end, you can beat every ½ priced wing night at your local bar and earn the respect of men, the fear of poultry, and be treated by women pretty much the same as before.
The Pork in the Park event had it all including a $300 Cornhole contest (despite it's ominous sounding name, Cornholing is a benign bean bag toss game -- like horseshoes but softer). It had BBQ trophies as large a small children in front of award winners Smokin Dudes BBQ, Phat Boyz Catering, and Jacked Up BBQ where candied bacon counted as a vegetable option if piled on pulled pork. Not even my Major League credentials could get me into the competition tent. I stuck my head through a hole and now know what Heaven smells like. In the tent, like Willy Wonkas of Poultry, folks were creating waffle battered fried chicken wings and something called, "the eggplant parm wing" (Wild Bill Meyers, upon eating that piece of chicken announced that it tasted, "just like eggplant parmesan.") The Pork in the Park event is the largest BBQ festival on the East Coast and has turned the Q world on his head, or on the spit, or some other metaphor -- how did Wild Bill get into the cooking competition tent?
Before Joey's 208, I was unexpectedly handed the microphone by MC George Shea and asked to riff on the chicken wing for the six minute amateur undercard. It was all there on stage - the crowd favorite in his "Risky Business" glasses double fisting wings with the fury of Prarie Prince on drums - and the girl to his left, cleaning the bones as if her mouth was a vacuum, turning her tray into tiny archeological dinosaur offerings. I launched into something I learned in Buffalo New York at the Labor Day Buffalo Wing festival in 2004. I presented Drew Cerza, the Wing King, with a sauce stained torn loose leaf paper forever known as the Magna Carta of Meat. Here is the shocking news: The drumsticks, despite visually appearing larger than the flats, have only a .49 meat-to-bone ratio, while the flats have a .66 ratio. I had dissected 100 wings in batches of 20 in the back of a Tiki Bar and yes, it was very scientific -- I wore latex gloves and safety goggles.
The amateur contest was no contest as the cleanly lass beat the messy boy handily. The pro round would feature similar results but adding a pro-eaters speed to the equation changes the results. Sonya Thomas, with by far the fastest manual to oral dexterity, would clean the wings 65 percent but her speed would lead her to 159 and second place. By comparison, from the Drexel Hill, PA Wing Bowl circuit, Wing Kong would clean his bones 98% (Wild Bill - "They looked petrified when they came out of his mouth.") Plus Wing Kong stacked them neatly in his 24 pound bowl, adding OCD to the long list of alleged disorders at the competitive eating table. Wing Kong finished 5th in the 140 range, proving that it takes just as long to take a good bite as a bad bite. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the meatiness of the wings and instead of cleaning them ala Wing Kong, cleaned them only 53 percent and slowly, finishing in 10th place. Wild Bill, perhaps cleaning at 59 percent finished just below me (Wild Bill to me: "I almost beat you this time, you still have to buy the funnel cake though"). As the confectionary sugar settled on Wild Bill and my now substantially increased girth, as Sonya lined up for pictures with fans, as Joey was interviewed on TV holding a two-tiered trophy, I thought about the Magna Carta of Meat. Could I have been wrong? Is the wing simply both the perfect and impossible competitive eating food at once? Before I could doubt myself and my fowl research, Eater X approached and said, "I think we need to twist the wing, pre-masticate, split the bones, and meat umbrella at 79 percent and we can catch Sonya and Joey." I nodded in agreement and handed him the rest of the funnel cake.
Crazy Legs Conti's travel schedule is reflected at www.majorleagueeating.com . So is his diet.