No matter if they're honey-dipped, sauce-slathered, mild or volcanic, chicken wings will cost more for Super Bowl party hosts and pub patrons across America this year.
That's mainly because the most severe and extensive drought in 25 years blazed a path of destruction through the Midwest during the sizzling summer of 2012. It damaged and destroyed major portions of fields, caused crop prices to rise and created a domino effect on overall food prices.
"The prices of corn and soybeans went way up. That caused many of the [chicken growers] to cut back on production," said David Harvey, an agricultural economist and specialist in poultry at the United States Department of Agriculture.
Corn and soybeans are "the primary components of chicken feed, and chicken feed is probably the single biggest cost of growing the chickens," according to Harvey.
Harvey said that the average wholesale price of wings in the Northeast market is up 26% to $1.90 a pound in December, an increase from $1.51 this time last year. In supermarkets across America, that translates to an average of $1.48 per pound according to a recent Consumer Price Index, up 10.6% from what it was a year ago, according to Bureau of Labor and Statistics economist Ken Stewart.
Still, wing fans won't be deprived of finger-licking goodness on game day. While chicken production is down 139 million pounds, Harvey insisted there would not be a shortage of chicken wings for the showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
Reports claiming there would be fewer wings available sent fans into a wing-snatching frenzy at supermarkets and tackling pre-orders from their favorite wing-centric restaurants. But while the fate of the 47th Super Bowl championship lies in the hands of the football gods one thing seems certain: despite the higher cost, Americans will still get their wing fix on Sunday.
According to the National Chicken Council, Americans will consume 1.23 billion chicken wings during the game. The lobbyist group crunched numbers based on chicken production estimates, data collected from Nielsen reports on supermarket chains, and National Purchase Diary consumer reports, according to council spokesman Bill Roenigk.
Fans who "chicken out" on hosting super soirees, or simply don't want the hassle, venture out to their favorite bar or wingery and fight to sit in their lucky seat.
Oscar Torres, manager of a popular Buffalo Wild Wings chain in New Rochelle, New York said, "We expect a more than usual crowd especially for the Super Bowl, as it's one of the biggest sporting days of the year." Torres said out of 16 flavors and five spices offered at the wing chain, the "Honey B" or honey barbecue, is the most popular.
"We already have over 40 pre-orders," said Terry Mohamed. He's the manager of one of 20 New York City outposts of Atomic Wings, a chain named for their explosively spicy wing sauces that range from mild to "abusive," "nuclear" and "suicidal." His particular franchise sold 200,000 chicken wings during last year's Super Bowl.
The price of wings generally escalates around the Super Bowl, Mohamed explained, but not as much as it did this year, rising one whole dollar a pound. Customers were warned about the price hike, and while some complained, Mohamed said, "They just want to get their wings and get back to their football."
New York Giants fan Greg Grasso has been serving up his own chicken wings at Super Bowl parties for over a decade. He plans to make as many as 150 wings this Sunday for his family and friends in his New Jersey home. On the menu are wings in five original homemade sauces; lemon pepper parmesan, French toast, wasabi teriyaki, mango chutney curry, and "hot."
When it comes to paying a higher price for wings Grasso says he doesn't have much of a choice.
Grasso gave a play-by-play of his wing making strategy. He dumps the wings into a fryer for 12-15 minutes, puts them in a pan, and slathers each wing with homemade sauce. Then he covers the pan with foil and bakes for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. His favorite is the French toast wing, undoubtedly a splendid blend of sweet secrets.
Could there be a Super Bowl without chicken wings? Grasso believes so. "There will always be one. It would just be less super."