The basic components of Buffalo wing sauce are hot sauce and butter. Heat plus fat. But not just any old hot sauce will do. They've got to be made with the slightly thick, spicy but not blow-your-head-off, super vinegary stuff in the style of the original Frank's (you don't want to make Buffalo wings with say, Tabasco, for example).
Frank's, Texas Pete's, and Crystal are the three biggest contenders in this style, and though harder to find in stores, the self-proclaimed birthplace of wings, Anchor Bar, makes a bottled wing sauce as well (despite the fact that their original recipe was based on Frank's).
When doing preliminary research, we quickly learned that most brands produce both a regular hot sauce and a bottled "Buffalo Sauce," intended to go straight onto the wings, no mixing with butter required. We tried both varieties, in pursuit of the most finger-lickin' formula.
First step: Ordering a bucket of 100 sauceless fried wings (man, does it feel good to order 100 of something). Then we doused them up real good with the seven sauce variations.
Hot Sauces + Real Butter: For these three, we followed the recipes on the back of the bottles and added the recommended butter amount—usually a stick of butter per cup of sauce. Just about all of them did better than any sauce from the "Buffalo Wing Sauce" category.
- Frank's Red Hot Original Sauce
- Texas Pete Hot Sauce
- Crystal Hot Sauce
Buffalo Wing Sauces: These four had "natural butter flavor" already added to the hot sauce base.
- Frank's Red Hot Wings Sauce
- Texas Pete Buffalo Wing Sauce
- Anchor Bar Buffalo Wing Sauce
- Crystal Wing Sauce
The sauce should be tangy with a nice vinegar hit, taste rich of butter, and of course have heat. We like when it lingers on the lips, gently sizzling for a bit. We made sure the sauce saturated the wing skins, practically dripping, so you could really taste the sauce. No point deductions were made if fingers and nails remained red-stained the rest of the day, even after several washes.
Why the Losers Lost
In the Hot Sauce category, there weren't any huge losers. For the most part, they all got the job done, with varying levels of tangy, spicy, and sweet. As for the "Buffalo Wing Sauce" category, the biggest issue was fake butter taste. Is this movie theater popcorn or a chicken wing? If you have to ask yourself that, you should not be eating it.
Best Hot Sauce: Frank's Red Hot Sauce
"The most balanced," agreed tasters. A classic Buffalo wing sauce that will have you stacking up the wing bones like Jenga pieces in no time. Mildly sweet with a sour kick and spicy aftertaste that stays awhile. Tingle. Definitely big on the vinegar—it scored the highest on the tangy-ness meter. "Strong glutamate flavor," said one taster, noting the unctuous-ness of the umami from the saltiness of the hot sauce and added butter.
Best Wing Sauce: Anchor Bar
This one won because it lacked the artificial butter flavor that its competitors in this category suffered from. Phew, it didn't make us think of squirting golden butter juice all over theater popcorn. Though a little sweet, it was rounded out with heat. "Almost fizzy, it was so vinegary," said one taster.
Truthfully though, don't bother with the Wing Sauces. Stick with regular hot sauce plus real butter. It's a minute or two of extra work, but well worth the effort.
Not Into the Buffalo?
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