Wing Madness: The Fiery Four Compete for a Shot at the Championship

Our chicken wing regional champs face off in the semifinals

chicken wing bracket
Paul Hope (left) and Perry Santanachote taste hot wings in CR's range lab in March 2020.

It’s time for some cross-kitchen competition.

Up until now in CR’s Ultimate Hot Wings Tournament, our teams (that is, cooking methods) have been battling it out against competitors in their respective regions—on the grill, under the broiler, roasting in the oven or in a countertop appliance.

Check the highlights if you missed the Savory 16 and the Tasty Eight.

Today, the very best method we found in the oven—Convection—challenges the best under the broiler: wings that start with a quick stovetop boil in salted water, then finish at a low broil. Then, the best technique we found on the grill takes on the small but mighty air fryer.

Read on for a rundown of this week's winners—and losers.

As of April 2, our #WingMadness Tournament has wrapped.
Catch up on each round:

Selection Sunday
Savory 16
Tasty Eight

Convection vs. Boil + Broil, No Rack

Winner: Boil + Broil, No Rack

This match was definitely one of the juiciest we’ve seen. We were hoping for an opportunity to use an overtime analogy—and we got it. This matchup was neck and neck right up until cleanup.

Remember, we really hate scrubbing wire racks, which were used in every Convection batch. But before we declared this a defeat for Convection, we made a batch without a rack. And that, friends, is how Convection decidedly lost. The tops crisped up but the bottoms didn’t (even after flipping halfway through).

The rack-free Boil + Broil wings broke all the rules to get here. Broiled foods are usually best when they go into the oven dry and elevated (so the hot air can circulate). But this unique combination resulted in wings that were tender from the boiling and uniformly crispy as a result of some time under high heat. Tasters noted how the wings perfectly held onto the sauce—no dripping.

Grill, Indirect + Direct vs. Air Fry

Winner: Air Fry

We had two teams from totally different worlds. In fact, it’s almost like they were playing completely different sports. The grill did its best to tenderize the meat over low heat, then crisp it right at the end, but its cavernous size and imprecise heat was no match for the confines of a 400-degree air fryer.

In the end, all that flipping and turning and fine-tuning on the grill was in vain, because the air-fried wings made shot after shot with near-perfect precision.

Admittedly, the air fryer is something of a hand-picked successor to deep-frying, which is largely regarded to be the best method of all time for making wings. The air fryer doesn’t have the advantage of submerging wings in hot oil for a perfect, uniformly golden exterior and juicy meat, but you know what? It comes really friggin’ close with nothing but air. Nothing. But. Air. And it scores extra points for requiring no preheating, unlike the grill.

Here's a look at the bracket as it stands:

What can we expect to see in the final match? The air fryer seems unstoppable, but Boil + Broil, No Rack has surprised us every step of the way, so we’re not ruling it out. This might be a matchup for the books.

Next, we'll cover the Chicken Wing Championship, and reveal which method takes it all—just in time for you to make your own wings as the real March Madness comes to a head.

See which cooking method comes out on top.

And place your #WingMadness bets for the final game on Instagram (tag @ConsumerReports).