A whole chicken wing is comprised of three distinct parts - a wingette, a drumette, and wingtip.
While these parts are often sold cut up into "party wings", it's much cheaper to buy them whole.
Not to mention, once you know where to make your cuts, you can cut up an entire package of wings in roughly 5 minutes.
Chickens have two wings. These wings are made up of three parts: the flat, the drum, and the wingtip.
If you're after a more nuanced breakdown of these parts, I have an article that goes way more in depth, found here.
The wingette is essentially the forearm of the chicken wing. It's colloquially called the "flat" because that's how it looks.
It has two bones that run parallel to one another and muscle/meat that runs along the bones resulting in a uniform rectangular shape.
Flats contain less meat than drums. The meat also contains far less tendons and cartilage.
The drumette is the upper arm of the chicken wing. It's colloquially called the "drum" because it resembles a smaller drumstick - which is the lower joint of the leg.
The drum has more meat than the flat and contains more cartilage at both the joint ends. The drum is also irregular in shape - it has a thicker end which tapers to a thinner end.
The wingtip or "flapper" is essentially the hand of the chicken wing.
The wingtips don't contain a significant amount of meat and are essentially all skin, bones, and cartilage.
Some folks enjoy crunching on wingtips, sucking the juices out, and eating the skin (like Me!). Most people will simply throw these away.
If you're cutting your own chicken wings, the wingtips are great for stock.
When chicken wings are sold as party wings, the wingtip is typically removed and is exported to Asian countries. The meatier portions are then sold domestically at a mark-up (more on that below).
In order to cut up chicken wings you need:
1. Start with the whole chicken wing oriented with the skin facing down. This makes it significantly easier to make your cuts at the joints.
2. Use your fingers to find the ridge where the elbow joint connects the flat and drum. Put your knife to the side of this ridge so that your knife is parallel to the drum. Press your knife through.
Note: It can sometimes be difficult for folks to understand where this "ridge" is. Instead, you can take your knife or scissors and make a cut at a 45 degree angle into the skin to expose the joint.
Once you've exposed the joint you can simply take your knife and go right through it.
3. Find the second ridge or joint that connects the wingtip to the flat. Place your knife parallel to the wingtip. Press your knife through.
In this case it's the opposite, the ridge at the carpal joint is usually easier to identify as there is way less meat/muscle at this junction.
When making your cuts, the knife should go through fairly easily. If you find yourself having to use significant force, you're likely cutting into bone. Carefully remove the knife and attempt to find the ridge/joint again.
Something I can't stress enough is that you should always buy wings that are "whole" or untrimmed. Meaning, the flat, drum, and wingtip are all attached.
The reason for this is because the above process of cutting the wings up into three distinct portions is very easy. An entire 30 pack of wings takes me 5 minutes to cut up.
A grocery store is apt to charge around $1/lb more for party wings as the meat processor has to pay for the cost of labor to separate the wings.
Granted, you could argue that you're paying for the wingtip with untrimmed wings - as most people throw them away. However, some folks do use wingtips for stock (like Me).
If you're buying wings on the same day you intend to use them, consider looking for "Mark-down stickers."
A lot of people will be dissuaded into not buying the wings because the sticker might imply inferior quality.
The sticker simply means the wings are near expiry and the grocery store needs to sell the wings. Rather than taking a loss, the Grocery store would rather incentivize your purchase by minimizing their profits.
Since 1972, the Food Safey Inspection Service (FSIS) has required poultry products to feature a date of packaging. The FSIS has allowed for a "sell by" or "use by" date. These dates describe the last date that the meat is suitable for eating at peak quality.
Whenever I'm buying wings I first look for the family or "value" packs. These typically contain 14-22 three joint wings (whole wings) per tray.
If they have a mark down sticker, that's just an added bonus.