In my recipe for pellet grill chicken wings, something I tested was using various ratios of cornstarch to flour. In every single case, I found that as I increased the ratio of cornstarch to flour, I liked the wings more. To the point where all I use now is cornstarch.
Aside from cornstarch and flour, another dredge I tested was baking powder; Which I didn't care for at all.
In my opinion, cornstarch works best for chicken wings - especially when making them on a grill or baking in the oven. Baking powder almost has a gritty taste that's off-putting and lacks the "crunch."
Cornstarch is flavorless, odorless, and is mostly used to alter the texture of foods.
Cornstarch is commonly used as a thickening agent. You'll find it used for soups, pies, marinades, gravy, etc.
Aside from functioning as a thickener, it's also commonly used to fry foods. In many fried food recipes, the typical ratio is 50-50 flour to cornstarch.
When grilling though, I've found just using cornstarch to be best. The result is a great golden color and super crunchy wings.
Cornstarch is almost entirely starch - where-as flour contains gluten. The more starch something has the greater the water absorption. This leads to the enhanced gelatinization of starches.
This same thing happens when starch is applied to a wet surface - like a wing. The starch granules swell and absorb water - as the wing is heated it pushes out moisture. The subsequent heating causes the granule size to increase until they can no longer absorb water and they burst.
The result is a super crunchy, moist wing.
Baking powder is a dry chemical leavener.
In terms of baking, Leavening agents produce a gas and the gas causes dough or batter to rise.
Baking powder is made from baking soda. The main difference being that baking soda needs an acid to activate. When baking, if the ingredients include baking soda, there will also be an acid too - like lemon juice or buttermilk.
Baking powder is a complete leavener. Meaning, it's made up of both the base (baking soda) and the acid needed to rise.
Most home baking powders are "double-acting." Meaning, there are two reactions - first when the baking powder comes into contact with a liquid and second when it's heated.
These are good qualities to have in our scenario. The baking powder will dry out the surface of the skin of the wing and then activate when it's heated.
Note: If you opt to use baking powder, ensure it's aluminum-free.
While I've already tested this concept before and I know the end result, I wanted to re-test this for the sake of the article.
Here's a picture of the cornstarch wings before grilling:
Here's a picture of the baking powder wings before grilling:
Here's a picture of the cornstarch wings after grilling:
Here's a picture of the baking powder wings after grilling:
Something that's worth noting is that during the grilling process, the baking powder wing "set up" faster. This could be simply due to the fact that there was less baking powder on the wing itself or it could be the inherent properties of baking powder in comparison to the cornstarch.
Here's a picture about half way through grilling the wings:
Visually, there isn't a ton of difference. However, taste-wise there is a huge difference.
The short of it: Cornstarch works much better than baking powder for wings.
I had my parents test the baking powder wings first - I also took a bite myself. The surface of the wing almost feels "sandy" to the touch and in the mouth. You can tell it wants to be crispy but is just super lacking.
To quote my Mom: "These don't hold a torch to your wings."
I then offered them my regular cornstarch wings with and without sauce and both of them remarked that they were way better. They have the crunch that my Family and Friends live for and the meat remains nice and moist/tender even when pushed to 200F+ internal.
Something that's worth noting is that corn starch is a bit cheaper than baking powder - almost half the cost.
I typically buy corn starch from Walmart and use their Great Value brand:
So you can get double the amount of corn starch for roughly the same price as baking powder.
Something I want to quickly reiterate is that I'm not you.
All I mean by that is, what I may like, you may not. However, I've quite literally made 1000s of wings at this point on my grill and everyone comments on how crispy they are - this is due solely to the cornstarch.
Baking powder isn't something I'd personally use in a dredge to make wings. If all I had was baking powder, I'd just forgo using a dredge and grill the wings naked.