Digging into the cluckin' awesome world of our favorite fried food.
I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much. I started seeing signage at the McDonald's locations around Atlanta advertising Mighty Wings, and—much like you're doing right now—wondered, "WHY?!?"
Then I learned that the deep-fried bone-in wings were a limited-time test item available only in metro Atlanta, and—much like you are thinking at this moment—thought, "Well, THAT's weird." Then I found myself devouring a huge pile of them on a recent Friday night, and—much like you will if they ever make it out of the trial-market phase—admitted, "Holy crap, those are really freakin' good."
Mighty Wings debuted at Atlanta-area McDonald's locations in early August and will be available here (and nowhere else) for an unspecified length of time. The company is making no promises, though, about when or even if they'll roll the wings out nationally. (Make of that what you will... but it's hard to imagine that this is just a one-time gift bestowed upon the people of Atlanta "just because.")
Longtime fans of the Golden Arches may remember that Mighty Wings did appear intermittently in a few U.S. markets in the 1990s, but the current iteration is supposedly bigger and meatier. Judging from the official publicity shot, the emphasis isn't on the fry job, despite the use of the word "crispy" right in the marketing materials.
Those look lightly fried at best, with a thin skin-coat that certainly wouldn't offer much in the way of crunch or taste. Or so I can only assume... because in actuality, this is what I was given:
Yowza. That's some seriously-craggy crispiness, with lots of little nooks and crannies of deep golden brown awesomeness. I daresay that's a more saliva-inducing piece of fried chicken than you'll find at many "real" restaurants in Atlanta, a town that has a well-documented love affair with the stuff.
Either I need to be the one shooting McDonald's official PR pics or the ad team needs Store 5043 to be supplying the props for the next photo shoot, but that is sexy, no?
Thankfully, the beauty here is more than just skin-deep. Prying into one of the almost-absurdly huge drumettes revealed juicy, tender meat. And lots of it. None of that pressed-and-processed extruded-chicken-goo. These are, true to the McDonald's literature, "big and meaty... high-quality" bone-in wings.
The skin is crackly and crunchy, good enough that I found myself scrabbling after the bits and pieces of shrapnel that fell away. And perhaps surprisingly, they have a genuinely spicy kick. They wouldn't qualify as "hot wings" in my estimation, but they bring enough heat that neither of my kids would eat them. Put it this way: the skin around my lips felt a gentle burn for much longer than I would would have expected.
Both the drums and flats (10 drumettes and 8 flats in the 18-piece meal; a nice ratio) boasted lots of juicy meat and tender morsels of fat hidden around the joints, waiting to be discovered as you pick the bones clean. Though I didn't put Mighty Wings in a side-by-side taste test of fast-food wings, I'd unquestionably rank them in the top tier, surely better by far than the pizza chains' offerings, and perhaps on par with what the big chicken shacks are cranking out.
A word about sauces. While wings that drip with red-hot buffalo dip are what many wing nuts hold in highest regard, I'm a dry guy who prefers that the chicken and the skin do the talking instead of the atomic jet fuel they're tossed in. But you saucy types do have some choices for wings-drenching: Creamy Ranch, Honey Mustard, Spicy Buffalo, BBQ, and Sweet & Sour. Oddly enough, bleu cheese—the quintessential wing accompaniment—is nowhere to be found.
My Mighty Wings weren't perfect; there were some disappointing moments here and there. Some wings showed patchy bare spots, but considering that's what I had half-expected the entire wing to look like, I could chalk this up as an occasional inevitability.
A few wings sported what almost looked like an unattractively-scorched burn mark. Not the end of the world, but these were certainly the wings I picked around. Luckily, I had 18 to choose from; had I ordered a 3-piecer and seen a black patch on even one, I would have been pretty pissed.
I realize we're talking about a brand-new menu item that's just two weeks old, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that I had a wait for mine. Mighty Wings are available as a 3-, 5-, or 10-piece*, and I requested one of each. The 3- and 5-packs ($3.19 and $4.99, respectively) were boxed immediately, but I was told that I'd have to wait for the order of 10 ($9.19) to be "dropped." It took nearly 10 minutes to get all 18 wings bagged up and in my hot little hands. That's not fast enough for a fast food order.
Beginner's curve? Of course, that's to be expected, but in a primetime dinner rush, an order of 18 wings shouldn't bring the kitchen to a grinding halt. Wings need to be coming out in huge multiples without hassle, and plenty of places do it without missing a beat. If McDonald's is hoping to lure the tailgating crowd, Ronald better have a gameplan to get his team to churn out an order of 50 or 100 before a Georgia Tech Saturday or Atlanta Falcon Sunday.
*Mighty Wings are such an experimental item that there isn't even real packaging for them. The 3-piece comes in a Chicken Selects box, and the 5-piece comes in a plain white carton... with only a numbered sticker labeling them as wings. And Mickey D's doesn't even have packaging for a 10-piece order; I was given two boxes of five.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my Mighty Wings, I feel like McDonald's could have a perception problem to overcome if they are to go wide. You can't eat these things while you're driving, so all of us grabbing road food in the drive-thru line are out of luck. Mighty Wings are a dine-in or carryout option. And who dines in at the Golden Arches long enough to mess around with a platter of bone-in chicken wings?
This isn't Hooters or Buffalo Wild Wings, where my buddies and I could conceivably camp out for an entire afternoon. And while I'd go so far as to put McDonald's Mighty Wings equal with—and maybe even ahead of those places in the taste department—there's simply no amount of restaurant redesign that's getting me to sit through an NFL doubleheader at Mickey D's.
So that leaves carryout. I can see this as a legitimate option, because again, the wings really are that good. But we're back to the quantity thing. They need to speed up the process so I can be back home with the grub before kickoff.
I hope McDonald's irons out these issues. They have something pretty damn good here. I hope the rest of you get to try Mighty Wings at some point in the future (although the chain has said no other city will sell them in 2012).
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.