A Recipe for Disaster
How NOT to Make Buffalo Wings
Most recipes describe how to prepare some type of food. However, in this Hub I intend to describe how NOT to prepare a dish.
Oh, the preparation is easy enough. The food in question is Buffalo Wings which are deep fried, spicy chicken wings. Contrary to the belief of some, these are not made from the wings of some flying buffalo or even from buffalo (the American bison variety, not the Asian water buffalo) meat. No, these are fried chicken wings which are a popular Soul Food (African American cooking) item. Years ago an enterprising cook at a soul food restaurant in Buffalo, New York, developed a spicy recipe for these, named them Buffalo Wings after the city of origin and they became popular throughout the nation.
My First Attempt at Making Buffalo Wings
Many years ago when I was a single father raising my two sons, who were about eight and twelve at the time, I had to do all the cooking and it was a challenge finding things that were both tasty and relatively quick to make after getting home from work. One day a friend told me about a package product containing a spicy powder mixture and a plastic bag into which you placed the wings and shook it to coat the wings with the spice mixture. You then deep fried the wings and you had a quick and easy dinner. It worked and was great, especially when I substituted added drumsticks which had more meat.
One night we got home and my younger son and I went to the kitchen to make Buffalo Wings while my other son went to his room to call friends. I took a package of small drumsticks and wings from the freezer, removed what I needed and popped what I had removed into the microwave to thaw them. I then began heating a pan of oil.
Once I started heating the oil I had my son step aside so that he was about 4 or 5 feet away from the pan of oil. When the oil was hot and the chicken thawed, I proceeded to coat the chicken pieces with the spice mixture and deep fry them. As I got toward the end of the plate of wings I noticed that the bottom ones, while thawed to the touch, still had some chunks of ice in the folds of the skin. Since the meat was thawed, I decided to deep fry these last pieces even though I had run out of the spice mixture.
BIG MISTAKE! Hot Oil, Water and Ice DON'T MIX
As I carefully dipped a wet chicken wing with some tiny pieces of ice still clinging to it into the hot oil, the oil immediately began bubbling up in the pan and flames started coming out of the pan.
Fearing that the oil would boil over onto the very hot burner on the electric stove, I quickly grabbed the handle of the pan and did a 180 degree turn to the sink (this was a small walk-in apartment kitchen) and, forgetting my grade school science lessons about not using water on a grease fire, turned on the faucet and placed the pan under it.
Fortunately I had tipped the pan slightly away from me causing the wall of flame that was created to go straight up against the wall in front of me to the ceiling and to the left and right along the counter leaving the huge flame a foot or more away from my head and upper body. Close to a third of my small kitchen was engulfed in the flame. Fortunately I only had aluminum venetian blinds, not curtains on the kitchen window (this was the home of my two sons and me so it tended to be masculinely spartan) and there were no flammable items on the counter.
Despite immediately pouring the oil down the drain, with the water still flowing out of the faucet, the fire continued.
I Didn't Panic
While both at the time and looking back now, it seemed like minutes had passed, however it was probably no more than 5 seconds between the time I first placed the icy chicken wing into the oil and the looming disaster that burned before me. I did, however, remain calm and somehow was able to analyze the situation. My brain was obviously on autopilot but, despite my first two mistakes, I was still able to figure a way out of the situation.
The fire was limited to one area and only the oil in the drain was burning – fortunately nothing else had caught fire – yet. With the wall of flame still before me, I had to decide whether to leave the fire and flee or make one last effort to fix the situation. Since the outside door was only a few feet away and nothing had caught fire yet, I chose to fight it. We still had more than sufficient time to safely exit the apartment. With our safety not in immediate danger, my concern shifted to the thought of having to explain to the firemen, the manager of the complex and my neighbors how I managed to burn the place down while making dinner. The initial temporary panic had passed, leaving me some seconds to pause, analyze the situation and find a solution to the volcano like flame spewing from the kitchen drain.
Spotting the drain stopper on the counter, I grabbed it and stuck it into the drain. This immediately cut off the air to the fire and my wall of flame vanished as fast as it had appeared. While it seemed like an eternity, I don't think my wall of flame lasted more than a second – I was moving fast even though it did not seem like I was. I then noticed the cover to the pan on the counter and realized that if I had only used that to cover the pan when the flames first started, there would have been no problem.
Shaken but Safe
Shaken, but safe, we sat down to dinner, my youngest and I having learned what not to do with hot oil (he had observed the whole incident from the safe distance where I had directed him to stand at the start).
My oldest was totally unaware of what had happened until we told him. But, with nothing more than a couple of thin black streaks on the white ceiling as evidence of our near disaster, his only concern was why I hadn't cooked the last few wings which were still sitting in an icy puddle on the plate by the stove.
My advice, in addition to being very careful with hot oil and keeping children well away from a stove when cooking at any time, is that when cooking with hot oil, keep a tight fitting cover for the pan next to the stove just in case problems arise.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2006 Chuck Nugent