More Chicken Wings, Anyone?

New meat cutting processes promise a 50% increase in wing parts per bird.

Mmm … chicken wings, fried and dipped in hot sauce. The tasty morsels are so popular with wing lovers that chicken producers have difficulty keeping up with demand. After all, chickens have only two wings each -- with two edible parts per wing.

So-called boneless wings -- small bits of breast meat fried and served with sauce à la wings -- are acceptable substitutes for some folks, but true wing aficionados say they’re no replacement for the real thing.

Now comes perhaps a more promising solution to the wing shortage -- meat cuts that include the two scapula bones and their surrounding meat and skin. A protruding bone joint makes each piece easy to pick up. Add the two scapula parts to the four wing parts and presto -- a 50% increase in edible “wing” parts per bird.

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Third Wing LLC, a Dacula, Ga.-based firm, manages the licensing of a patent covering the scapula cut. The company’s Web site notes that its product features whole white meat and less bone, gristle and cartilage.

Meanwhile, a robotics process that aims to automate the process of producing more pieces per bird is in the works at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Gary McMurray, project director, says, “We are verifying the core technology. Next year, we are going to develop a stage 1 functional prototype that will be able to run a couple of hundred birds easily.”

Will the scapula meat win over wing lovers? Jeff Brown, aka Lord of the Wings, is taking a wait and see … er, taste … attitude. But clearly, he’s intrigued: “What do these new wings look like? Do they have the same meat-to-skin ratio? Is the flavor the same? If it is similar to the traditional wingette/drummette, then this could be great for everyone. Otherwise, it might lead to the ‘watering down’ of an order of chicken wings.

“It sounds exciting, though,” says his lordship, who reviews and blogs about chicken wings from his base in Ottawa, Canada.

A large new supply of “wing” parts promises to be good for chicken producers, too. Wholesale wing prices are up nearly 40% since 2008, pushing up retail prices as well, but wing lovers aren’t about to go cold turkey, so to speak.

Brown notes that while Canada isn’t experiencing the shortage felt in the U.S. -- at least not yet -- “the cost of chicken wings has definitely been on the rise. What was served more as a cheap appetizer is frequently priced as a full priced entrée,” he says.

Neema P. Roshania
Researcher-Reporter, The Kiplinger Letters