Kansas City-Style BBQ Chicken Wings

published Jun 16, 2021
Juneteenth
Kansas City-Style BBQ Chicken
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wings on a baking sheet on top of tin foil
Credit: Brittany Conerly

I prioritize celebrating Juneteenth every year, and I think others should too. 

Juneteenth is a holiday marking our country’s second Independence Day. It commemorates the day in 1865 when General Gordon Granger revealed emancipation to the last 250,000 enslaved people located in Galveston, Texas. This announcement was almost two years after Abraham Lincoln decreed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The history of Juneteenth has been largely unknown to the broader public, but for over 150 years it has been commemorated among the African American community. Juneteenth is traditionally celebrated with outdoor festivals, cookouts, church gatherings, pageants, and even readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s a time to reflect on progress and honor the sacrifice of those who went before us.

Another essential component of the holiday is the inclusion of red foods. Red is a color that represents the bloodshed of our ancestors. A Juneteenth menu sprinkled with red foods is customary and symbolic of honoring our community leaders, trailblazers, and ancestors. 

I encourage everyone to participate in these festivities by checking out my Juneteenth Virtual Cookout, which features entrees, sides, desserts, and beverages from 40+ Black cooks that are perfect for Juneteenth gatherings. This year, we focused on a menu that reflects the cornerstone of Juneteenth celebrations: barbecue. 

We also use this virtual gathering to proudly share what Juneteenth means to us. “Black food is the basis of American food culture,” explains fellow participant Eden Westbrook of the blog Sweet Tea & Thyme. “Juneteenth lets us celebrate each other, our ancestry, and our culture. We celebrate our constant push past adversity the best way we know how: enjoying the foods we’ve created and perfected through the generations.” 

My contribution to the virtual cookout — an homage to the symbolism of red and the holiday’s heritage of barbecue — is a recipe for Kansas City-style chicken wings. I have always felt like I had the edge over others when evaluating good barbecue because I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, home of the world’s greatest barbecue (you can quote me on that!). Kansas City-style barbecue is a variety of slow-cooked, wood-smoked, or grilled meats that have been dry-rubbed with spices and served with a thick, sweet, and tangy, tomato-based sauce. 

I used the signature sweet and tangy sauce for my Juneteenth recipe for these wings. The sauce is thick, sweet, a deep crimson color, and flecked with spices that add a kick of heat. My favorite spice addition is celery seed, an ingredient I’ve exclusively tasted in Kansas City sauces. It helps balance the sweet flavors with an earthy edge.

Summer and barbecue go hand and hand, and so do barbecue and Juneteenth. But we all don’t have the luxury of toiling over the grill for long hours, so I provided both a grill and an oven option for cooking. This recipe is the perfect alternative when you want to find an easy way to bring iconic KC flavor to your summer shindigs and Juneteenth celebrations.

Credit: Brittany Conerly

Kansas City-Style BBQ Chicken

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 55 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the spice rub and chicken:

  • 3 tablespoons

    smoked paprika

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon

    cayenne pepper

  • 1 tablespoon

    garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    onion powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    Italian seasoning

  • 4 pounds

    whole or cut-up chicken wings

  • Vegetable oil, for the grill grates if grilling

For the KC-style BBQ sauce:

  • 2 1/3 cups

    ketchup

  • 1/2 cup

    packed dark brown sugar

  • 3 tablespoons

    apple cider vinegar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    garlic powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    onion powder

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground cumin

  • 1 tablespoon

    chili powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    celery seeds

  • 1 teaspoon

    liquid smoke

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 1 tablespoon

    unsalted butter

Instructions

Prepare the chicken:

  1. Place 3 tablespoons smoked paprika, 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, and 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning in a small bowl and stir to combine.

  2. Pat 4 pounds chicken wings dry with paper towels and place on a baking sheet. (If you plan to roast the wings in the oven, line the baking sheet with aluminum foil first.) Sprinkle the spice rub all over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 24 hours. Meanwhile, make the BBQ sauce.

Make the KC-style BBQ sauce:

  1. Place 2 1/3 cups ketchup, 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon celery seeds, 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1 bay leaf in a medium saucepan.

  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to combine. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf. Add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and whisk until melted and combined. Let cool and refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

Option 1: Grill the chicken

  1. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 1 hour before grilling. About 20 minutes before the chicken is ready, heat an outdoor gas grill for direct and indirect heat by heating half the burners to medium heat (about 375ºF) and half the burners on to medium-high heat (about 400ºF). For a charcoal grill, create two-zone cooking by piling the lit coals onto one side of the grill.

  2. Scrape the grill grates clean. Oil the grill grates with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. Place the wings flatter-side down on the hotter side of the grill, leaving space between each wing for the heat to circulate. Cover and grill for 10 minutes. Flip the wings, cover, and grill for 10 minutes more.

  3. Transfer a few wings to a large bowl, pour in just enough BBQ sauce to coat the wings, and toss with tongs until coated. Return the wings to the cooler side of the grill. Repeat until all the wings are coated.

  4. Cover and grill for 10 minutes more to let the sauce heat up and caramelize on the wings. This sauce contains a good amount of sugar, so watch the wings closely to prevent scorching. The wings are ready when they register at least 165ºF on an instant-read thermometer. Brush with more sauce before serving.

Option 2: Roast the chicken

  1. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 1 hour before roasting. Arrange two racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 400ºF. Line a second baking sheet with aluminum foil.

  2. Transfer half the chicken onto the second baking sheet. Arrange all the chicken flatter-side up in a single layer and space them apart evenly. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and brush all over with the BBQ sauce. Flip the chicken so the wings are flatter-side down.

  3. Increase the oven temperature to 450ºF. Return the chicken to the oven and roast for 8 minutes. Repeat flipping and brushing the chicken all over with the BBQ sauce, and continue to roast until the chicken is cooked through and registers at least 165ºF on an instant-read thermometer, and the sauce begins to caramelize, about 8 minutes more. Serve with the remaining BBQ sauce.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The BBQ sauce can be made up to 1 month ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. The spice rub can be made up to a few weeks ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.