Food & Nutrition

Why Are Buffalo Wings Called Buffalo Wings?

Rumor has it they were the invention of a resourceful mom with a hungry kid.

bbq buffalo chicken wings with beer ranch and celery shot top downJoshua Resnick/Shutterstock

Ah, the rare winged buffalo. Native to those elusive parts of the range where unicorns coalesce. For as few people who’ve spotted them, it’s a mystery how we manage to devour so many of their delicious wings. I mean, 1.35 billion during Super Bowl festivities alone.

Alright…you got us. Why are buffalo wings called buffalo wings? Turns out, buffalo wings have nothing to do with the more accurately named bison, who roam around South Dakota looking like they’re wearing big furry hats and neck scarves. Learn about the surprising birthplaces and origins of 19 more foods you see everywhere.

Going beyond Buffalo, New York

If you guessed they’re named after Buffalo, New York, you wouldn’t be wrong. Rumor has it an eating establishment called Anchor Bar in Buffalo invented them—or rather, their owner Teressa Bellissimo did—after being accidentally shipped wings instead of other chicken parts and, as such, the now-famous snack was invented out of a desire not to waste perfectly good poultry. Food born from necessity is a common theme among these 14 dishes with surprising origins.

A reported spin-off of this story is that Teressa’s son, Dominic, in true college-kid-visiting-home form, asked his mom if she’d whip up a snack for him and his friends late one night. After all, isn’t this when all the good recipes come about? The most likely exhausted mom probably suggested the kids make themselves some PB&Js, but my guess is they showered her with compliments about her exceptional cooking skills, and she folded, throwing some unbreaded chicken wings into a deep fryer and then dousing them in hot sauce before retiring to bed to watch HGTV, or whatever the equivalent to that was in 1964.

Unfortunately, there is no immediate family member of Teressa Bellissimo alive today to verify these stories, so a bit of mystery still shrouds the elusive buffalo wing.

What’s with the celery and blue cheese?

Unfortunately, all that exists are guesses as to these side dishes’ histories. One would think the celery and blue cheese helps cool your palate after setting your tongue on fire with the hot sauce coating. It could be that’s all that tired Teressa had in her fridge and she, like most moms, wanted her child to eat some doggone vegetables once in a while. It’s also a given that cheese goes well with anything, and blue cheese doesn’t often get the spotlight, so perhaps Teressa decided to let it have its 15 minutes of fame next to the wings. We think it’s time to shine the light on blue cheese again with these 55 recipes sprinkled with the good stuff.

Whatever the reason, buffalo wings were quick to catch on, perhaps because they were cheap to buy and make or perhaps because people loved that it was now acceptable, encouraged even, to eat sticky sauce-covered bird arms with their fingers in public. Wings were declared the official food of sports-watching and beer drinking, and restaurants dedicated entirely to the eating of chicken wings took off in popularity.

What’s in buffalo sauce?

Buffalo sauce itself, typically some combination of hot sauce, vinegar, butter, Worcestershire sauce, and spices, has been found to deliciously coat things beyond wings, like pizza, meatballs, dips, meatloaf, deviled eggs, and even salad, and has even been made into a soup. In Buffalo, New York, where it all began, former Mayor Stan Makowski declared July 29 as National Chicken Wing Day. Wing fanatics can find free or super cheap wings throughout the city on this day.

Of course, any day can be National Chicken Wing Day if you make them at home. Here’s our recipe for traditional Buffalo Chicken Wings. Or, if you want to save the rare winged buffalo, you can go with these Five Spice Chicken Wings instead. Got food on the mind? Here’s how other iconic foods got their names.

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