Internal Temp of Chicken Wings: Go Above 165F!

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
October 8, 2022

In order for a chicken wing to be considered good - it should have crispy skin (a crunch is optimal) and moist, juicy meat.

While chicken wings should be cooked to at least 165F internal in order to be considered safe for consumption, they can be pushed past this while improving the eating experience.

The same can't be said for breast meat which only becomes drier as the temperature climbs past 165F.

The first thing to understand is that white and dark meat are cooked differently. However, chicken wings are unlike other cuts of chicken.

Chicken wings have the highest skin to meat ratio of any cut, they also feature lots of fat and collagen.

Chicken Wings are White Meat

Visually, chicken wings are white meat - like breast meat - but cook like they're dark meat - like the legs and thighs.

drum vs flat
Whole Chicken Wing

White and dark meat are dictated by Myoglobin content; Dark meat contains more myoglobin than white meat.

Dark meat is comprised of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Slow-twitch muscles like the drumsticks and thighs are used by the bird for extended periods of time - they use them to walk, sit, and stand.

Meaning, they need a consistent energy source like oxygen to function.

The protein myoglobin stores oxygen in cells and provides muscles with oxygen required for activity. Myoglobin can have differing effects on species of animals, however, in general it's a reddish hue - hence "dark meat."

White meat is comprised of fast-twitch muscles. Chickens are flightless birds - granted, they can fly to some extent, but not for extended periods of time.

Meaning, parts of the chicken like breast and wings aren't used as much and require very little myoglobin. Rather, for quick bursts of energy these muscles use glycogen stored in muscles.

Just to further illustrate my point - birds like ducks fly a lot. The meat from their breast and wings are dark.

A cut of meat like a wing will have a "glass" like quality when it's raw. Once it's cooked, the proteins coagulate which results in white meat.

Chicken Wings and Collagen Content

The reason the above is important is because typically white and dark meat are cooked much differently from one another.

Chicken breast is cooked until 165F internal for food safety - going past this number will cause the meat to dry out as moisture is forced out of the muscle.

Chicken thighs and legs can be cooked until 175-200F and be rendered juicy and moist, all while having crispy skin. This is because these muscles have more connective tissues (collagen) that can render into a gelatin.

probing flat
Probing flat at 199F internal

What makes Chicken wings unique is that they have the highest skin to meat ratio of any part of the entire bird.

flat or wingette
Chicken Wingette or "Flat"

The primary component in skin is collagen.

The biggest complaint you'll find people have with wings is that the skin is "rubbery" and that the meat is hard to cleanly bite from the bones - this is due to fat content (below the skin) and collagen (connective tissue).

By cooking the wings to 175-200F you render more fat from under the skin and render the collagen/connective tissues into a gelatin.

The result is crispier skin and more tender meat.

Why Internal Temperature is a Bad Guide for Wings

Aside from the food safety aspect - again wings are considered safe to eat at 165F - wings can be annoying to probe.

probing drum
Probing drum at 190F internal - A 9F difference from the flat

To list a few of my qualms with probing wings:

  • When probing wing meat you have to probe the meat not the bones. Depending on the instant read thermometer, this can be troublesome to do.
  • The wingettes are smaller than drumettes - meaning they finish faster; Usually their temperature will vary by as much as 10-15F (like the two wings above).
  • Chickens aren't uniform and their wings aren't either. Meaning, you'd have to probe every single wing; This isn't an issue for 5-10 wings but for 60-100, it can be.

Rather than using internal temperature, start looking for visual queues.

Wings that are "done" will usually have the following traits:

  • Fat from underneath the skin will bubble (the main reason the skin is chewy is because the fat hasn't rendered).
  • The skin will be brown and be crisp to the touch - you can audibly hear this if you drag a knife/probe/tongs across the skin.
  • The meat has started to pull away from the bones.

You could also opt to be more strategic with your bone placement. Meaning, have the drumettes closer to the fire and the wingettes further away. This way the drums finish at around the same time as the flats.

The above queues will come with time. If you're someone who is new to making wings or you're cooking a small number of them, there's absolutely no shame in using a probe to verify internal temperatures.

My best advice though is to ensure you're probing the meat, not the bone.

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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