With the big game fast approaching, lots of dips are in the making, and over a billion pounds of chicken wings are in the process of flying off grocery store shelves. Because if there’s one dish that has become a signature football meal, it’s wings—and perhaps the most iconic form of them all: Buffalo wings. But where exactly did they come from, and when were they invented? And how did they become such an illustrious snack?
A lot of different foods have controversial origin stories. One person will claim they invented it, while another establishment will say they made it first. When it comes to Buffalo wings, the controversy is a little bit different. Many accounts suggest Anchor Bar was the birthplace of the Buffalo wing, but exactly how Anchor Bar came to make what’s become a nearly ubiquitous appetizer is a little more mysterious.
According to Anchor Bar, the official story is that on March 4, 1964, former owner Teressa Bellissimo whipped up the original batch. Late that night, friends of Teressa’s son, Dominic, a bartender at the restaurant, came to see him. Because they were so hungry, he asked his mom to make a late night snack for his friends. She went to the kitchen where she deep fried some chicken wings and mixed them in a special, spicy sauce. They were an instant hit with Dominic’s pals, and over the course of the next 55 years came to be the game day staple they now are.
Anchor Bar Buffalo Wings, 50 for $129 on Goldbelly
These come with extra wing sauce, plus celery and Anchor Bar Bleu Cheese.
Okay, so where’s the controversy? Well, apparently, there have been rivaling accounts to come out of the Bellissimo family over the years. One tale suggests that Frank, Teressa’s husband, and co-owner of the bar, asked his wife to make something special for his predominantly Catholic crowd to enjoy once the clock struck 12 a.m. Many of the patrons were abstaining from meat, and he wanted to show his appreciation for their patronage. She went to the kitchen, and came out with Buffalo wings. Still another account offered by the Bellissimo crew throughout the years suggests that Anchor Bar received a surplus shipment of wings that week, so Frank asked his wife to make something with the extras.
What’s the full, real story? Who knows. Unfortunately, no one is still around to set the record straight. But one thing seems pretty clear: Teressa Bellissimo made the first Buffalo wing on March 4, 1964. Now, at this point it’s important to specify what constitutes a Buffalo wing. A traditional wing is made with parts of a full chicken wing. First, the drumette, flat, and pointer are separated from each other. Then, the drumette and flat are deep fried. Next, they are tossed in a sauce made of butter, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce. Finally, they are served with celery and blue cheese.
This distinction is important because there’s another origin tale floating around that suggests the Bellissimos didn’t actually invent Buffalo wings at all—John Young did.
An Alternate Origin Story
According to a story that ran in The Buffalo News, Young laid claim to inventing the Buffalo wing prior to the Bellissimos. The thing is, his wings don’t resemble what we now know of as Buffalo wings. While he deep fried his wings, they were whole, dipped in batter, and sauced with a tomato-based, tangy Mambo sauce (with no butter). What’s more, they weren’t accompanied with blue cheese or celery.
As a result, I think it’s clear that John Young certainly helped make wings popular as a consumable, sought after part of the chicken. Before you scoff, this was actually no small feat. Prior to the 1960s, wings were either discarded or used for stock since they have far less meat than breasts, thighs, and legs. He also likely paved the way for the plethora of sauces that we now put on drumettes and flats, from BBQ to teriyaki. But he didn’t invent the Buffalo wing. That honor goes to the Bellissimos.
The Rise of Buffalo Wings
Since that night in 1964, Buffalo wings have been on a wild ride. Through the 1970s, folks would mostly encounter the dish in the western part of the Empire State. Later, in the ‘80s, transplants brought the wing down to Florida and opened Hooters. Then, something big happened for Buffalo, and its wings. The Buffalo Bills made four straight Super Bowls. During that amazing run (I know they didn’t win; it’s still amazing), Buffalo wings got some serious publicity, with camera shots of the hometown favorite making their way to the rest of America. This started the great wing proliferation. It’s what’s allowed the Buffalo wing to seemingly be on every corner, and become America’s preferred football-watching food.
This year, when you sit down to watch the Big Game with a plate full of wings, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing where they came from. And if you find yourself at a party, you’ll have some interesting repartee to add to the occasion. Finally, if you’ve ever thought of making a batch yourself, here’s an Easy Buffalo Wings recipe to try. They’re broiled instead of fried, so they got that going for ‘em. Which is nice.