I’m currently trying to plan a trip to someone’s island in the middle of nowhere. What island? I have no earthly idea. But, I know I wanna be on it with my man, a “drank” in my hand, and sand all up in my business. Can you you give me tips or recommendations? I’ll pay you with this recipe for my favorite Caribbean Grilled Wings!
My Soldier, and our kids, love chicken wings. I love making wings because of how economical (read: cheap) and fast they are to make. Since they’re so easy to throw together, they’re usually the go-to meals for weekend dinners. I catch the whole, unprocessed wings when they go on sale at my grocers and stock up the freezer. Grilled, also known as, “I ain’t heating up this doggone house anymore than I have to,” wings are even mo’ better. Caribbean means I can escape to the beach whenever I choose, no exorbitant ticket price necessary (ya hear that, United).
Now, because I’m practical, I understand why a lot of folks opt for those pre-cut, pre-cooked, frozen deals in the bags. Buying the wings already processed is easier than cutting the wings, seasoning, and cooking them. I hear you. But, after a quick scan of my local supermarket; I realized that buying pre-cut and seasoned wings will cost me more than $2 more a pound! And how can you compare the taste of pre-seasoned, processed foods to what you make in your own kitchen? You can’t. So don’t. I won’t let you.
Oh! Does the sight of raw chicken skeeve you out? I’m sorry. I should’ve warned you. No matter! In order to have grilled wings, we need to actually process the wings. That means we need to start with raw wings and cut them up. Immersion therapy at its finest.
A chicken wing has three segments. Pictured, left to right, are the tip, flapper and drumette of the wing. In between each of these segments are joints- much like what you have on your body. Let’s, for a second, imagine this wing is your right arm. The hand is connected to radius, which is connected to the humerus, which is, in turn, connected to the scapula. (You totally just sang that song, didn’t you?) Hold on to your weaves, because I’m really going to weird you out. Let’s pretend as though we’re going to hack off our own arm. BUT DON’T DO IT!!! Like, for real. If I get a comment about how you ended up in the ER because I told you to butcher your arm, we’re going to have problems. It’s an EXAMPLE.
So, you would be cutting the joint between the wrist and the radius (and throwing it away because no one bothers with wingtips…unless, of course, they’re shoes). Then, finally, cutting in between the radius and the humerus. This would be our wing. But since we’re not Hannibal Lecters, we will do this to our chicken wings. You can feel the joints in between each section where you need to make your cuts. Key tip: where they bend is where you cut. Easy. Knock all of these out the same day that you come home from the grocery store, then bag them in freezer storage bags for later use. You’ve just saved yourself $2+/lb.
That is, without exaggeration, the most difficult part of this recipe.
There’s a style of marinating in the Caribbean islands that lends itself, perfectly, to being grilled. The combination of the acids and the spices used give it an umami that deserves a more island term: “upapi”, or something super-chill like that.
A classic Caribbean island spice blend is comprised of onion and garlic powders, dried oregano, Sazón, Adobo, and black pepper. No salt, because the sazón and Adobo already contain enough salt. Always marinate in a glass or ceramic bowl. Since most marinades contain acid, you want to avoid using a metal bowl which will react with it and cause your food to take on a tinny flavor. Plastic bowls like to absorb the pungent flavors and it’s a bear to truly get rid of them. Glass is the way to go.
I add a white wine vinegar for the acidic kick. I highly recommend sticking with either white wine or white distilled vinegar, although you can use pretty much any vinegar, with the exception of balsamic. You can even use a blend of orange and lemon juices, if you fancy.
Lastly, we add extra-virgin olive oil to create the marinade and prep the wings to go straight from the bowl to the grill. Whisk all of this together.
Toss your “perfectly” (because you’re an awesome wing break-downer) cut wings, that you saved $2 a pound on, in your marinade. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the fridge for 4 to 24 hours. Obviously, the longer they marinate, the more flavorful the wings will be.
Any Puerto Rican or Nuyorican (a New Yorker of Puerto Rican decent)- heck, any Caribbean-native- will tell you that pinchos are a part of life for us. Many cultures around the world have their versions of grilled meat-on-a-stick. The Japanese have their yakitori, the Lebanese their kefta, the Aussies have “Shrimp on the Barbie!” Ha…ha…I just annoyed a lot of Aussies. Anywho, meat-on-a-stick is a global tradition, but for those of us of the Puerto Rican/Caribbean persuasion, we know them as pinchos.
Now, pinchos can be made with any meat you wish- chicken, seafood, pork, or beef. The “pincho” in pinchos comes from the act of impaling the pieces of meat onto a wooden or metal skewer. Why am I giving you a lesson in global meat-on-a-stick? Because, there’s a sauce that a pincho vendor slathers on to his/her pincho that turns people into loyal devotees to their little stand or cart. I’m about to drop mine on you. Soon, you’ll be out slinging grilled meat-sticks slathered in this sauce and making beaucoup bucks. I want a commission.
My base starts with sautéed garlic followed by bottled BBQ sauce. Sure, we could make our own, but we won’t. Follow that up with the addition of a copious amount of guava jelly (the Caribbean element). You can find it in the Hispanic section of most grocery stores. If you can’t find the guava jelly, use guava paste instead. Hot sauce is then added (omit if you’re not a fan), followed by orange juice, onion powder, dried oregano, crushed red pepper flakes (also optional), salt, and ground black pepper. Whisk all of this together in your pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and allow to simmer and reduce for 10 minutes. Reducing a sauce means you’re allowing the water in the sauce to evaporate, thereby intensifying (or fortifying) the flavors. In laymen’s terms: you’re killing it (in the best way possible).
Divide this sauce into three separate containers: one for basting halfway through grilling, one for the final baste, and a portion for dipping your grilled wings in. Why the need for three? Food poisoning. After having had three different cases of it, I’m not a fan. Because of that, I don’t EVER baste from a batch of anything if I’ve used the basting brush on meat that wasn’t fully cooked. I like to err on the side of caution in cases such as this.
Now, all that’s left to do is grill the wings. A medium grill (325°-375°F) means you can hold your hand 5″ from the grill’s surface for about 5-6 seconds before the heat becomes too unbearable. A traditional, or infrared, thermometer will help as well. Place your wings on the grill and cook for 10 minutes. Flip the wings over, baste with first batch of the sauce, and grill for an additional 10 minutes. Once again, flip the wings and baste with the same batch of sauce (discard this batch once you’re done). Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Increase the grill’s heat (or use your grill’s searing box). Flip the wings, once more, and baste with second batch of sauce, cook for 2 minutes before flipping and basting a final time (same batch). Remove the wings from the grill.
Allow the wings to rest for 15 minutes before sprinkling with chopped cilantro and serving (and enjoying) with the reserved batch of sauce. Is this worth the cost of your vacation ideas? I think this little jaunt to the Caribbean islands was well worth the effort, don’t you think? Pin this recipe for later, drop your island recommendations in the comments below and help me get outta here!
Caribbean Grilled Wings
Yield 2 dozen
A sweet and savory guava BBQ sauce coats these flavorful grilled wings.
1 tbsp +1 tsp Adobo seasoning, separated
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp + 1 tsp dried oregano, separated
3 packets Sazón seasoning
2 tbsp + 1 tsp onion powder, separated
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, separated
3 lbs chicken wings, cut into flapper and drumettes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups BBQ sauce
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup guava jelly
1 tbsp hot sauce (optional)
2 tsp soy sauce
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, optional
charcoal for grilling
chopped cilantro, for garnish
- In a large glass bowl, combine 1 tbsp of Adobo, garlic powder, 1 tbsp of oregano, sazón, 2 tbsp onion powder, pepper, vinegar and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Whisk to combine. Toss the wings into this marinade and refrigerate, covered, for 4-24 hours.
- Once the chicken is almost finished marinating, make the sauce. In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the crushed garlic for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the BBQ sauce, orange juice, jelly, hot sauce, soy sauce; and the remaining adobo, oregano, and onion powder. Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and divide into three portions.
- Preheat a grill with oiled grates to 350°F, prepare a holding pan by lining a sheet pan with foil, have a spray bottle with water on hand for flare-ups. Place the wings on the grill and cook for 10 minutes. Flip and baste with the first portion of BBQ sauce. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Flip and baste with the same portion of BBQ sauce. Grill for 10 minutes more. Increase the heat to sear. Flip and baste with the second portion of BBQ sauce using a NEW (or cleaned) brush. Sear for 2 minutes. Flip, baste, and sear an additional 2 minutes.
- Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly. Serve with the third portion of BBQ sauce and garnish with the chopped cilantro before enjoying.
- Servings are based on size of wings. This may vary.
- Wings should be marinated for 4-24 hours.
- These wings may also be baked at 350°F for 25-30 minutes, following the same cooking and basting instructions.
Once you’ve grilled up your wings, try out these other recipes to enjoy with them:
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