The Grill Flavors
The Hooters signature flavor is tangy and faintly sweet, coming in much closer to barbecue chicken than Buffalo, and the grill marks (they get a quick stint on the grill after frying) add to the backyard vibe. Ordered "naked" (no breading), they come out rather scrawny – which isn't a problem on Tuesday all-you-can-eat wing nights, but at six for $7.99 with celery and carrots extra, you're paying for the (ahem) ambience more than the wings. For some, that’s still a bargain. The Daytona Beach wings don’t have much heat, but just like your Hooters Girl, there's just enough that this flavor can leave you with a little tingle.
This one comes off as a hotter version of Daytona Beach, with the same tangy flavors that suggest a barbecue sauce, but without the cloying sweetness of the ones called BBQ. They’re slapped on the grill to leave grill marks and a bit of a charcoal taste that’ll have you thinking Fourth of July. There’s some noticeable heat in there, but it’s probably not worthy of the four-flame rating on the chart.
The Buffalo (and near-Buffalo) Flavors
This is the most logical starting point for most lovers of the Buffalo style. Best had on naked wings, this sauce is the one that best approximates the classic Buffalo wing flavor. The tanginess is the most dominant player, with heat that's noticeable but under control. It's smooth and arguably lathered on a little too thick. Even though the buttery aspect that's a key component of traditional Buffalo wings is missing here, it's an agreeable sauce with heat that has room to grow but still has enough oomph to make you reach for your beer mug every now and then.
This low energy representative from the Buffalo class may be lacking in Buffalo flavor, but it is not without its merits. The most traditional Buffalo sauce has but two ingredients – Frank's hot sauce and butter – so toning down the heat by ramping down the hot sauce leaves more flavor from the butter, and what's wrong with that? There's something to be said for taking a crisp wing and adding more moisture by adding a mostly neutral sauce with hints of butter flavor, even if it's not real butter. There's only one Hooters sauce that does use real butter; keep reading to find out which one.
Full disclosure: This is the only Hooters wings sauce I didn’t actually try. Once you’ve had both the Mild and the Hot, you can pretty much figure out where Medium will fall, which for me falls to the bottom of the list of which wing flavor I’d go for next. Either go for more butter (Mild) or more heat (Hot); this one's stuck in the middle. Which is why they call it Medium.
Another Buffalo wing sauce, this one is similar to Hot, only hotter, and with a fiercer vinegar jolt to match and a really pleasant natural fruitiness from the peppers that rounds it out nicely. If you like Buffalo and you like heat, this is the one to get. A good rule of thumb is to think of the Mild as butter, the Medium as Mild, the Hot as Medium, the 911 as Hot, and 3 Mile Island as hotter, but in a different category.
3 Mile Island
This one is remotely in the Buffalo family, but much more complex, and arguably hotter than the 911, even though it’s one class down on the official heat scale. There's more brown color, and while the liquid has a little less body and a little less tartness, it’s filled with many more chunks of peppers and spices that give it more sting, with a roasted quality that’s much truer to chipotle than the sauce labeled as such.
The Rub (and near-Rub) Flavors
This one isn't listed as a rub (there are two that are), but it certainly appears as such, yielding crisp, unsauced wings on the plate with a very thin puddle of sauce beneath. The rub seems to be a mix of cayenne, black pepper and salt, with salt the leading flavor. If you're onboard with the high salt level, as I am, it's irresistible as long as you can catch it when the exteriors are crisp and the interiors are moist; when both are in play this Hooters wings flavor will convince you that there’s really no need for more sauce. It’s a personal favorite that’s well worth trying no matter what your preference is on the heat spectrum.
One of the two Hooters dry rub flavors, this makes the chicken taste a lot like KFC when ordered with the batter on. There’s intense brightness from the sour backdrop, but only token hints of pepper. This is a good wing flavor to try when you’ve had a few hot flavors in a row and want to cool things down a bit.
Here's another dry rub flavor that's also a little like KFC when breaded; it has similar seasonings on top. I expected lots of Old Bay, and I thought I detected a little undercurrent, but it was mostly just salt and cayenne. Chesapeake is another nice change-of-pace flavor that’s a better choice than Lemon Pepper if you don’t like tart, but I’d give Cajun the first look.
The Asian Flavors
This sauce works best on a breaded wing, where the crunch simulates the Chinese food classic it's named after. General Tso's tastes vaguely Asian, with a mix of recognizable heat and mostly sweet, without the tang and garlic that appear in the Chinese version. With hints of nuttiness and caramely sweetness, it's like a chicken wing equivalent of Cracker Jack. There are hotter sauces and sweeter sauces, but this one comes closest to what it's trying to accomplish, and for that reason it’s one of my favorites.
This one was probably the biggest surprise of all. I’m not a fan of teriyaki sauce on wings, but the Hooters interpretation goes thicker, slicker and sweeter than most, resulting in a flavor that reminded me more of a McDonald's barbecue sauce with a little sweet and sour thrown in (for this reason it's the one sauce to choose when choosing boneless wings, which are a little McNugget like). It's somewhat similar to the General Tso, only with less nuttiness and much less heat.
Like the other Asian flavors, this is another Hooters wings sauce that works well on big, breaded wings. It starts out like a typical chili sauce, but with a really interesting backdrop that’s heavy and almost cheesy. It turns out that it’s not cheese at all, but butter – Honey Thai is the only Hooters wing flavor that uses real butter, and it comes through loud and clear.
The BBQ (and near-BBQ) Flavors
It's brown, it's sweet, it's viscous and it tastes almost exactly like any bottled barbecue sauce you can get at the supermarket. If you're not a heatseeker and are really into this style of sauce on wings, go for it; otherwise, look to the dozen-plus other sauces on the menu that are far superior. Or at the very least, look to the flavors that combine barbecue with a complementary addition.
On some nights, this one tastes like habanero about as much as I resemble Brad Pitt, which is to say not at all. There's faint heat in there, but smooth fruitiness, probably enhanced with some high fructose corn syrup, is the leading player. It's the kind of sauce that those who like their pulled pork sandwiches extra sweet tend to like a lot. On other occasions, the heat did come through, but gloppy-sticky sweetness prevailed. Whether it’s the inconsistency of how it’s mixed or how heavily it’s applied, this sauce is a crap shoot. The good nights are worth the gamble, but it’s a gamble best taken when you’re sharing among a group – the perfect hedge.
A little sweet and a little heat. Pleasant enough, but neither chipotle nor honey came through with real commitment. It's a good choice when you want heat with sweet but want a diversion from the superior General Tso.
This is the perfect sauce for someone who thinks the Chipotle Honey is too hot. It has the flavor of BBQ, with just enough honey to make it a little different. Okay, very slightly different.
The Garlic Flavors
It's thick and yellow-tan and dotted with spices, just like a mustard. It looks a like a mustard, but before the wings hit the table, you’ll get a whiff and know that this is no mustard. But it's very strong in cheesy and garlicky aroma and flavor. I see this as more suitable for roasted turkey panini than wings, but everybody’s palate is different.
This one is very different from the Garlic Parmesan. There's some heat in the surprisingly thick sauce, but it's lingering in the background, offset by a stronger lemony flavor at first. As for the garlic, it's recognizable, but fairly mild; it falls well short of shrimp scampi garlickiness. It's only after a couple of wings that you'll notice the sneaky heat really starting to kick in, adding to the fun factor.
The Uncategorized Flavor
Triple Dog Dare
Here we have a sauce with intense heat, embedded in a pasty mix that reminds me of Italian and Korean flavors. The strong pepper jolt has a smoked quality that gives this sauce the most muscle of the bunch. The fierce heat dissipates quickly from the tongue and throat, but the tingle on the lips tends to linger. Triple Dog Dare is not for beginners, so have ample beer at the ready before digging in.
The Bonus Flavor
Bacon Wrapped Wings
Unless you specify otherwise, this special option (not available on the all-you-can-eat special) uses the Daytona Beach sauce and wraps bacon around each wing, and the results are a lot better than you’d think. The bacon is crisp, clings to the wings without falling off, and doesn’t interfere with the chicken flavor while adding plenty of its own.
Try them at home!
Yes! You can also try your hand at getting the Hooters flavors at the comfort of your home (minus any hooting, I assume though..)
Hooters has a lot of stuff on sale that lets you try cooking some of their flavors at home. You may not get as much variety as the eat in menu, but it definitely is one of the BBQ favorites of a lot of people and could spice up a party the right way.
A Few Observations and Comments
1. Carrots and celery aren't automatic, so when your Hooters Girl asks if you want them, understand that you'll be charged an extra buck or so if you say yes.
2. Blue cheese and ranch also get offered, but those are gratis. That's not to say that you can't ask for a different dipping sauce: my go to move is the Hooters “O-Ring” sauce that comes with the onion rings and fried pickles, which is also the same sauce that comes with the fish tacos. It's creamy, tangy, a little spicy, and has just the right pizzazz to amplify a wing even more, especially with the bacon and dry rub options. It’ll cost you a small add-on charge, but it’s well worth it.
3. Don't be afraid (or too stingy) to get extra sauces for mixing and matching, whether adding on top of your sauced wings or for using to create a "sauce flight" for unsauced or Mild wings. They'll stay a lot crunchier this way too.
4. Wings should be ordered in conservative quantities, even if you're taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat option on Tuesday nights (bone-in) and Thursday nights (boneless). There are actually two different advantages to order in more rounds, but in smaller quantities. The first reason is that the wings will retain their heat and crispness better over the duration of the round (this is especially true for all-you-can-eat nights, when the wings are cooked ahead of time to keep up with demand). The second reason is that more rounds means more interaction with your Hooters Girl, which is always a plus.
5. About that interaction with the Hooters Girl: it’s very easy, when ordering “naked” (unbattered) wings or “hot” wings to lapse into the obvious double entendres. You might think you’re the first person to say, “I like my wings hot and naked, just like my Hooters Girl,” but she’s probably heard that line dozens of times. If you feel you need to use humor and pick-up lines, go for it, but at least be original. And respectful.
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