A hand reaches for a single hot chicken wing on a plate.
Photo: Stephen Yang

Over the course of Wing Madness, our tasters admirably battled their way through 18 pounds of chicken wings, 5 cups of Frank’s RedHot sauce, and more butter than we’re comfortable admitting—all in the service of determining, once and for all, the best way to cook hot wings at home without a deep fryer. 

Three weeks ago, we began this tournament with a field of 16 cooking methods, and only two contenders remain. Some very popular cooking methods have had to head home, leaving just Air Fry and Boil + Broil, No Rack, to duke it out in the championship.

Besting the grill in the Fiery Four was a notable win for the air fryer, but beating out a powerhouse team from the range?

More on CR's March Madness Cook-Off

That would unquestionably raise the air fryer’s profile. Everything’s on the line.

Boil + Broil is a strong contender that has already whooped three conventional methods (roasting, grilling, and baking) to get here. It’s a method that has historically shied away from the spotlight, so we’re excited to see it come so far in this tournament.

These wings have nothing to lose, which always makes for an exciting matchup.

Air Fry vs. Boil + Broil, No Rack

It was a heck of a showdown. Both methods put up flawless performances.

As the tasting came down to the wire, we called a time-out and whipped up some deep-fried wings—a reminder of the ideal we’re aiming for here. “Oh my gosh, the crispness is so thick, it’s like a shield,” one taster said. “It’s crispy, it’s falling apart, it has just the right amount of sauce,” another said. One taster almost lost his mind: “The power that this has, the intensity that this has, the flavor that this has, the sauce that this has, the impact that this has!”

Right, so which of the nonfried wings came closest to this perfection?

In overtime, the air-fried wings won with a thunderous dunk, defeating the range just like it did the grill. It was a close one, and we still love the boiled-and-broiled wings, but the air fryer was faster and more convenient, and it proved to be less of a fuss when it came time to clean up. 

Here’s your “One Shining Moment,” air-fried wings. Cut down the net, baby.

The takeaway: If you have an air fryer—or you’ve been on the fence about getting one—it’ll turn out the next best thing to deep-fried wings.

It’s true that air fryers use the same convection technology that ovens do, but the air fryer’s small capacity and special basket allow more hot air to circulate around the food, allowing for more even browning, faster. Here are three top performers from our air fryer tests, listed in alphabetical order, that are a cinch to clean.

Quick Take

Elite Platinum EAF-1506D 3.5 Qt Digital

Price: $95

Cleaning
Controls
Noise
Unlock Air Fryer Ratings
Quick Take

Ninja AF100

Price: $100

Cleaning
Controls
Noise
Unlock Air Fryer Ratings
Quick Take

NuWave 6-Qt 37001

Price: $130

Cleaning
Controls
Noise
Unlock Air Fryer Ratings

And if an air fryer isn’t in the cards, or you plan to host a larger gathering in the future (an oven can cook more than twice as much food as a standard air fryer), your range will get the job done using the Boil + Broil, No Rack, method that had an impressive run.

Here’s how to boil and broil wings:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F—the same temperature of a low broil.

  2. Boil a pot of salty water (like you’re cooking pasta). Add wings and reduce heat slightly. Simmer for 7 minutes.

  3. Drain the wings and dry them very well with a paper towel.

  4. Place the wings directly on a metal sheet pan (or lay down a sheet of foil first for easy cleanup) with the fattier sides down. Put them in the oven for 25 minutes, then flip the wings and return them to the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the skin looks golden and crisp.

  5. To finish the wings, simply follow the instructions on the Frank’s RedHot bottle.


Relive CR’s Ultimate Hot Wings Tournament bracket and see how air-fried wings clinched the title, as well as whether the other chicken wing cooking methods flourished—or flopped.