"Let's get the wings," my friend Ben said as we slid into a plush restaurant booth to watch the game. "I need to lose 10 pounds so I'm on a low-carb, high-protein diet. I'm pretty sure wings are the only thing I can eat here."
Boy, was he misguided.
"Since we're planning to get a beer or two, why don't we just get the carrot sticks, celery, and dressing that come with the wings and call it a day?" I countered. "I don't think you realize how unhealthy most orders of wings are."
Ben agreed, but not without needing to be convinced. Here's what's up: Although wings are protein-rich, their hefty coatings of breading and trips through the deep fryer make them far from low-carb or lean. The average bone-in variety, for example, carries about 115 calories a pop, more fat than a McNugget, and as much sodium as an entire packet of salt, if not more. And who stops at just one?
But Buffalo wings weren't always an over-indulgent dish. We'd argue that they've gone way downhill in terms of nutrition since their inception in 1964. According to the National Chicken Council (yes, that's actually a thing), the concept of cooking wings in a finger-staining sauce was born at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. (Hence, the name.) One evening, co-owner Teressa Bellissimo coated leftover wings in butter, hot sauce, and red pepper as a late-night snack for her son, Dominic, and his friends. The boys enjoyed the dish so much that she put it on the restaurant menu the very next day. They were an instant hit. As the tale goes, Dick Winger, who sold hot sauce to Anchor Bar, went on the road with Dominic to promote the recipe and peddle his hot sauce. Slowly, but surely, the recipe caught on, with McDonald's rolling out their own version (which they dubbed Mighty Wings) by 1990. The next chain to follow suit was KFC, and then came Domino's Pizza in 1994. Ever since, wings have been a restaurant and bar staple across the nation—and needless to say, our collective waistlines are paying for it big time.
With football season quickly approaching—meaning it's the time of year when Americans gobble down wings by the dozen each weekend—we thought now was as good a time as ever to look deeper into the nutritional details of this greasy, deep-fried dish. This way, when you sit down to an order, you'll know exactly what you're getting yourself into—which can go a long way in helping you avoid becoming the size of a linebacker by the time the Super Bowl rolls around. And if you typically pair your chicken with a side of fried spuds, be sure to also check out our special report, Every Fast Food French Fry—Ranked, before placing your first order of the season.
HOW WE RANKED THEM
First, we identified the worst wings at each of the nation's most popular restaurants, and then we examined the profiles of each order. Then, we calculated the exact nutritional content of each individual wing. Since some orders come with 20 pieces and others come with six, that was the only way to even the playing field. Finally, we looked primarily at the calories, fat, sodium, and sugar content of each wing, deducting points from anything that carries trans fat (a man-made fat that increases the risk of heart disease, weight gain, and stroke) or doesn't reveal their full nutritional profile. We hate shady restaurants.
We also broke the wings into two categories—traditional bone-in and boneless. And since the majority of restaurants don't reveal their ingredient list, quality of ingredients did not play a role in our ranking. And if you don't see your favorite variety on here, it probably means it wasn't the worst option at that particular restaurant in that category; it's not necessarily a safe bet.
Read on to see which wing order is that absolute worst of the worst in all the U.S. of A., and to find out about more restaurant orders that deserve big, fat red flags, don't miss our exclusive report on The #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants!
TRADITIONAL BONE-IN WINGS
We ranked these traditional bites from best to worst…
Domino's BBQ Wings
Nutrition, 4 wings: 240 calories, 13 fat, 3.5 saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 620 mg sodium, 13 g carbs,1 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 17 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 60 calories, 3.25 g fat, 0.87 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 155 mg sodium, 3.25 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 2.5 g sugar, 4.25 g protein
It seems the pizza chain's recipe has remained unadulterated since it first made its debut in '94—and in this case, that's a good thing. Relatively low in calories and salt and free of dangerous trans fat, Domino's BBQ wings are the best of the "bad boy" Buffalo wings on this list. Pair three or four wings with one of the chain's salads for a complete football watching meal that won't blow through a day's worth of calories.
Buffalo Wild Wings Traditional Thai Curry Wings
Nutrition, 20 wings: 1,720 calories, 113 g fat, 32 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat, 3,050 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 166 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 86 calories, 5.65 g fat, 1.6 g saturated fat, 0.1 g trans fat, 152.5 mg sodium, 0.5 g carbs, 0.1 g fiber, 0.3 g sugar, 8.3 g protein
America may love chicken wings, but they're clucking obsessed with Buffalo Wild Wings. Known to diehard fans as "B-Dubs," the chain got its start in the 80s when business partners Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery were unable to find their favorite New York-style chicken wings in Columbus, Ohio. Since then, thousands of outlets have opened worldwide and more that 20 different wing sauces and seasoning have wound up on the menu. One of their worst creations? The Thai Curry Wings. While they are among the least offensive on this list, we can't ignore that they're one of the most caloric menu offerings on the chain's menu. If you ate a dozen of these each week, you'd gain 5 pounds of fat by the time the Super Bowl came around. Stick to the chain's plain wings to cut back on calories, sodium, and sugar. For even more must-know info about your favorite wings restaurant, check out these 13 Best and Worst Things About Buffalo Wild Wings.
Papa John's Wings with Honey Chipotle Sauce
Nutrition, 16 wings: 1,800 calories, 113 g fat, 29 g saturated fat, 3,620 mg sodium, 55 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 42 g sugar, 133 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 112.5 calories, 7 g fat, 1.8 g saturated fat, 226.25 mg sodium, 3.4 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 2.6 g sugar, 8.3 g protein
Each of these wings is the salt equivalent to 26 Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers. What's more, each one carries more fat than the chain's buttery garlic knots. Even so, they're far better for your waistline and health than the majority of wings in the restaurant realm—which is really saying a lot. For even more surprising foods overflowing with fat, check out these 20 Shocking Foods With More Fat Than a Big Mac.
Hooters Bacon Wrapped Wings
Nutrition, 6 wings: 690 calories, 42 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 1,790 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 19 g sugar, 59 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 115 calories, 7 g fat, 1.8 g saturated fat, 298.3 mg sodium, 3.8 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 3.1 g sugar, 9.8 g protein
Six wings for 690 calories and nearly a day's worth of fat? No, thank you. (Considering these bad boys are donning a coat made of bacon, we can't say we're too shocked to see these numbers.) With stats like these, we can't help but assume that the majority of the chain's waitresses aren't eating much of the food. They're all too trim and fit to be gobbling down these fatty, bloat-inducing wings on the reg. Stick to the plain order (which is actually pretty low in sodium) and split it with a friend or two.
Applebee's Double Crunch Bone-In Wings, Thai
Nutrition, 9 wings: 1,060 calories, 75 g fat, 16 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat, 2,220 mg sodium, 38 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 22 g sugar, 60 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 117 calories, 8.3 g fat, 1.8 g saturated fat, 0.06 g trans fat, 246 mg sodium, 4.2 g carbs, 0.6 g fiber, 2.4 g sugar, 6.7 g protein
While 2.4 grams of sugar per Thai-inspired wing may not seem too bad, you'd take in the sugar equivalent of eight ginger snap cookies if you gobbled down an entire order over the course of a game. That's a half of day's worth of the sweet stuff! Since it can be a bit challenging to find a solid app at the 'Bees, we suggest nibbling on a few different sides and salads while you're watching the game. Two of our favorite low-cal, high fiber combos: steamed broccoli + garlic mashed potatoes + side of grilled chicken (450 calories, 1,430 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 7 g fiber) and Garlicky Green Beans + Hearty Grains & Rice + side of grilled chicken (520 calories, 1,360 mg sodium, 64 g carbs, 6 g fiber). Just be sure to wash everything down with a big glass of water. It doesn't appear anything at the chain has escaped the wrath of the chef's salt shaker.
Outback Steakhouse Wings
Nutrition, 10 wings: 1,164 calories, 100 g fat, 31 g saturated fat, 2 g trans fat, 2,452 mg sodium, 11 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 56 g protein
*Nutrition, per wing: 116.4 calories, 10 g fat, 3.1 g saturated fat, 0.2 g trans fat, 245.2 mg sodium, 1.1 g carbs, 0.1 g fiber, 0.3 g sugar, 5.6 g protein
For 116 calories (what you'd find in just one of these wings), you could sip two Beck's Premier Light 12-ounce cans, nibble on 20 Rold Gold Pretzels, or have four turkey breakfast sausage links—none of which carry the traces of trans fat cooked into Outback's wings. Next time you find yourself at the steakhouse in the mood for an app, consider getting a side house salad or splitting the Shrimp on the Barbie (582 calories, 1,570 mg sodium) with a friend. We love the tasty sea creature for its high protein content and selenium, a mineral that helps to maintain proper thyroid function and a healthy metabolism.
Ruby Tuesday Fire Wings
Nutrition, 8 wings: 960 calories, 65 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 2,830 mg sodium, 19 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 74 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 120 calories, 8.1 g fat, 1.75 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 353.75 mg sodium, 2.4 g carbs, 0.38 g fiber, 0.125 g sugar, 9.25 g protein
If you wouldn't eat 10 hash browns in one sitting, then stay away from this salty pile of bones. Not only will you bloat like a balloon if you ate an 8-piece order of these wings every week, you'd be 4.6 pounds heavier by the end of the football season. To maintain your flat belly, kick these wings to the curb, along with these 50 Little Things Making You Fatter and Fatter.
Pizza Hut Garlic Parmesan Breaded Bone-In Wing
*Nutrition, 6 wings: 840 calories, 66 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 1,620 mg sodium, 42 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 30 g protein)
Nutrition, per wing: 140 calories, 11 fat, 2 saturated fat, 270 mg sodium, 7 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 5 g protein
One "naked" bone-in wing from Pizza Hut has just 80 calories, 4.5 grams of fat and 190 milligrams of sodium. That means that the excess calories, fat, and salt in these breaded wings comes from excess flavoring and additives your body doesn't need. The best bet for your gut is to get an order of the naked wings and top them with one of these 9 Best Hot Sauces for Weight Loss. It's a simple swap that will save you 360 calories for an order of six.
Wing Zone Original Wings with Cool Ranch
Nutrition, 5 wings: 755 calories, 76 g fat, 16 g saturated fat, 804 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 20 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 151 calories, 15.2 g fat, 3.2 g saturated fat, 160.8 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 4 g protein
Wing Zone, the University of Florida-born brainchild of fellow frat "bros" Matt Friedman and Adam Scott, serves up 16 varieties of deep-fried wings. Despite the fact that these wings are coated in a dry rub of ranch flavors—and not globs of sauce or glaze—they ooze enough fat and saturated fat to make any cardiologist uneasy. There are far leaner options in wingville, but if you're set on dining at Wing Zone, make the switch to the Jerk seasoning, which will save you 400 calories and 55 grams of fat per order.
P.F. Chang's Hunan Dragon Wings
Nutrition, 8 wings: 830 calories, 66 fat, 13 saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat, 3,670 mg sodium, 28 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 19 g sugar, 34 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 103.75 calories, 8.25 g fat, 1.6 g saturated fat 0.06 g trans fat, 458 mg sodium, 3.5 g carbs, 0.6 g fiber, 2.4 g sugar, 4.25 g protein
This new, spicy appetizer is flavored with hunan spice, chili jam, sesame seeds, and pickled vegetables—and considering it's less-than-impressive nutritional profile, likely a number of other ingredients P.F. Chang's doesn't want its customers to know about. Laced with trans fat and a fair share of salt, this is one dish your body would be better off without.
Cheesecake Factory Buffalo Chicken Wings
Nutrition, 9 wings : 930 calories, n/a fat, 14 g saturated fat, 4,420 mg sodium, 32 g carbs, n/a fiber, n/a sugar, n/a protein
Nutrition, per wing: 103 calories, n/a fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 491 mg sodium, 3.6 g carbs, n/a fiber, n/a sugar, n/a protein
Since The Cheesecake Factory keeps their nutrition information more closely guarded than the Mona Lisa, it's hard to say just how bad these wings are. But we do know one thing for certain: they are the saltiest wings we've ever seen, packing nearly six times the amount of salt as the Hooters classic recipe. Aside from spiking your blood pressure, taking in excess sodium can mess with the body's satiety cues, making you eat more than your fill. Over time, that can spell major weight gain. Just say no to these shady, salty wings.
And the #1 Worst Bone-In Wing Is…
Chili's Bone-In Wings, Creamy Jalapeño
Nutrition, 8 wings: 1,150 calories, 95 g fat, 19 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 2,390 mg sodium, 11 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 63 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 143 calories, 11.9 g fat, 2.4 g saturated fat, 0.23 g trans fat, 299 mg sodium, 1.4 g carbs, 0.1 g fiber, 0.75 g sugar, 7.9 g protein
Chili's serves up some of the country's saltiest, fattiest, most calorie-laden fare, so we can't say we're too shocked these wings are among the worst of the lot. One measly order of eight will blow through an entire day's worth of fat and nearly half a day's worth of trans-fat and calories. To put things into perspective, a 150-pound person would need to run for an hour and 40 minutes to burn off an order. I don't know about you, but there are far more entertaining ways I'd prefer to spend my time.
It's a little-known fact, but before 2009, boneless chicken wings—which aren't made with wings at all, but rather deep-fried breast meat—weren't really "a thing." At that time, wholesale wing prices soared higher than breast meat, a trend never seen before. Coupled with the fact that boneless wings had been selling like hotcakes at Buffalo Wild Wings, a slew of chains decided to add the item to their menu, too, all in an effort to attract new customers and offset the rising cost of wing meat. The trendy dish has stuck around ever since, despite its less-than-stellar nutritional profile. Here, listed from best to worst, are the saltiest, most caloric, and fat-drenched of the lot.
Wing Zone Boneless Wings
Nutrition, 5 wings: 267 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 817 mg sodium, 30 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 28 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 53.4 calories, 0.4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 163.4 mg sodium, 6 g carbs, 0.2 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 5.6 g protein
With about as many calories as a Wendy's nugget and nearly the same amount of salt, too, these aren't half bad for such an unforgiving dish. If you're going to indulge in any wings at all, these may be one of the safer bets.
RELATED: Every Fast Food Chicken Nugget—Ranked!.
Applebee's Sweet Asian Boneless Chili Sauce Wings
Nutrition, 12 wings: 930 calories, 37 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 3,290 mg sodium 108 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 48 g sugar, 42 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 77.5 calories, 3 g fat, 0.58 g saturated fat, 274 mg sodium, 9 g carbs, 0.5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 3.5 g protein
It was tough to decide which of Applebee's wing dishes to feature, as so many of them are downright shameful. These Asian-inspired wings, along with the chains' Honey BBQ wings, are two of the worst varieties you can order, and it's all due to their high calorie and sugar counts. While wings aren't inherently sugary, the sauces are basically vats of the stuff. To shave off 250 calories, 1,431 grams of salt, and 47 grams of sugar (that's literally an entire day's worth!) from your order, ask for your wings sans sauce. It's as easy as that! And for even more ways to dial back your intake of the white granular stuff, check out these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
Buffalo Wild Wings Boneless Thai Curry Wings
Nutrition, 24: 2,040 calories,133 g fat, 40 g saturated fat, 4 g trans fat, 7,050 mg sodium, 134 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 78 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 85 calories, 5.5 g fat, 1.7 g saturated fat, 0.17 g trans fat, 293.8 mg sodium, 5.6 g carbs, 0.5 g fiber, 0.4 g sugar, 3.25 g protein
Split this party platter-sized order with a friend, and you'll each take in more than a day's worth of salt, an entire day's worth of trans fat, and half a day's worth of calories—a pretty sad reality for a dish with a flavor profile inspired by something that's not anywhere near as health-harming.
TGI Friday's Boneless Buffalo Wings, Cider Glaze with Sriracha Ranch
Nutrition, 8 wings: 1,140 calories, 47 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 2,740 mg sodium, n/a carbs, 35 g fiber, 3 g fiber, n/a sugar, 43 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 142 calories, 5.9 g fat, 1.1 g saturated fat, 342.5 mg sodium, n/a carbs, 4.4 g fiber, 0.38 g fiber, n/a sugar, 5.4 g protein
"Glaze," "ranch," and "cider" are just fancy restaurant words for sugar and fat. That said, we had a hunch these wings wouldn't fare too well against their competition. TGI Friday's also drops in rankings for keeping its meals' sugar and carb information under lock.
Chili's Boneless Wings, Creamy Jalapeño
Nutrition, 10 wings: 1,350 calories, 101 fat, 17 saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 3,060 mg sodium, 61 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 49 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 135 calories, 10.1 g fat, 1.7 g saturated fat, 0.1 g trans fat, 306 mg sodium, 6.1 g carbs, 0.5 g fiber, 0.6 g sugar, 4.9 g protein
Like its bone-in cousin, these jalapeño-infused wings are no good for your gut. They may be a good source of protein, but they're also spiked with trans fat, more sodium than two servings of chips, and a staggering 135 calories a piece, making them one of the very worst wings in all of restaurant land.
And the #1 Worst Boneless Wing Is…
Wingstop Mild Boneless Wings
Nutrition, 2 wings: 220 calories, 14 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat, 834 mg sodium,14 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 1 g fiber, 9 g protein
Nutrition, per wing: 110 calories, 7 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans fat, 417 mg sodium, 7 g carbs, 0 g sugar, 0.5 g fiber, 4.5 g protein
At first glance, these wings these wings may not seem all that bad—they have fewer calories and fat than many of the other things on this list, after all. However, upon more careful inspection, you'll notice that each one had an entire half-gram of evil trans fat. That means that if you were to down a half-dozen, you'd take in an entire day and a half worth of the dangerous additive in a single sitting. Considering the man-made fat has been linked to everything from diminished brain and sexual function to heart disease, the leading killer of men and women in America, that is a devilish wing we must advise against eating. No football food tradition is worth that kind of danger.