I saw the TV ad for the wing eating contest. I texted to enter. I got a text back: “You are entered into the Battle of the Braveheart Wing Off Challenge! Prepare thy gullet.”
I prepared my gullet.
As challenge day drew near, I felt like something was up. Wouldn’t they contact me to let me know I was entered?
Turns out they would have. I called Newsplex weatherman and fellow food dude Travis Koshko, who’d be emceeing the event. “So, once you texted you were entered to be chosen at random,” he told me in a text.
Bummer. The preparing of my gullet was premature. I watched from the sidelines as six other dudes (where were the women?) competed on the Fourth of July. The winner ate 12 of the hottest wings Wild Wing Cafe has to offer in eight minutes. Twelve? Please. I can eat 12 hot wings without breaking a sweat.
Thus dismissed, I decided to eat my way around town in search of the best and spiciest. Then I’d challenge myself to my own buffalo throwdown: Take the Blazin’ Challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings, eating a dozen of BWW’s hottest wings in under six minutes.
My first stop was at McGrady’s Irish Pub. No, Irish doesn’t smack o’ the wing, but hey, it’s a pub. And indeed the McGrady’s wings were pub-grub worthy. The Old Bay dry rubbed wings sounded like they’d be on point, but they read salty, and the standard hot buffalo sauce was what kept me coming back.
It’s worth noting a couple miles east there’s another Irish spot with an interesting take on wings. The Tin Whistle dresses its drummies and flats with an HP-based brown sauce. The sauce is to Britain what ketchup is to the States, and it turns out to be a bloody good wing topper.
Beer Run has long been a personal go-to for wings, so I checked in on the beer-seller-cum-gastropub. Baked rather than fried, finished on the grill with a sticky barbecue sauce and served with a tangy aioli, the wings didn’t disappoint. For another serving of nontraditional wings, I dropped in on the Shebeen. The South African grill uses peri-peri spices (crushed bird’s eye chilies) to bring the heat, but while the menu proclaims them not “for the faint of heart,” they’re not all that spicy.
I threw in an upscale wing at Oakhart Social. Chef Tristan Wraight said he put wings on the menu as a replacement for his roasted chicken this past spring, and people have responded. Now he does them two ways—Caribbean-style fried naked and Nashville-style dredged in flour, spices and cornmeal before frying—and both are brined (bathed in a salty bath before cooking).
“For me with wings it’s all about the brine,” Wraight said. “Even though they’re little, brine really helps with juiciness and flavor.”
There were the wings that got away. Timberwood, Lazy Parrot and Fardowner’s are all reported to fly right when it comes to cranking out the chicken bits, but I didn’t get to ’em. Luckily, Wings Over Charlottesville delivers their specialty, so that was easy enough to knock out. Unfortunately, hot wings are a food best served fresh, never delivered. (With apologies to the pizza joints that insist on bringing them anyway.)
I had one more thing to do before taking the Blazin’ Wings challenge. Although Wild Wing Cafe doesn’t formally host binge eating, I had to know how hot the Bravehearts were. I split an order with a buddy at a leisurely pace, interspersing them with other WWC favorites—Ragin’ Cajuns, Generals, Ranchiladas, Crazy Daisy Asians. The Bravehearts were seriously spicy. Not hallucinogenic, but the kind of kick that made you dread putting another bite of something spicy to your inflamed lips.
I was finally ready to eat hot and fast.
I sat down with my family at BWW. I told my waiter I wanted to take the Blazin’ Challenge. She looked embarrassed. She brought out a waiver. BWW would not be liable for any injury I might incur during the frenzied poultry consumption. The sauce should be kept away from children—and pets, in case you brought your hamster.
I started to get nervous. I stole glances at the kitchen to see if my nuclear wings were on their way. My family’s reasonable dinners came. No Blazin’ wings.
They finally came. Our mortified waitress sat down with an iPhone. She sheepishly said she had to sit there and time me for the whole thing. I got started.
I took down all the drummies first. I planned to finish each in two bites, stripping them from the sides, but a corn cob-type revolution was easier. I was flying through the meat and going fast enough that the heat hadn’t caught up to me.
I moved to the flats, where I figured I had an advantage. By pulling off the cartilaginous end of the wing, you can strip all the meat off the bones in one bite. I tore through the flats. The heat was only starting to creep up as I finished my 12th wing.
Time? Two minutes, 15 seconds. Heat level? Moderate at first, but it built to a decent blaze by the time I held the food down for the requisite five minutes.
No, the BWW Blazin’ wings were not the heat equal of the WWC Bravehearts, but I was proud of my speed, and Koshko called me an “iron stomach.” Maybe next year, Battle of the Braveheart.