I’m really struggling with our recent switch from oven baked wings to smoked wings. We hear both sides of the spectrum so far.

“They tasted like nothing but smoke”

“They were the best wings I’ve had since moving to this area”

When I talk to customers about the wings, their eyes light up. They absolutely love the idea, however the customers that are used to the oven baked wings are giving us some push back on it. We can’t decide whether to lose the smoke all together and just slowly cook them in the smoker, back the smoke down further, or just say some people will love them and some people will hate them and just hope there are more people who love them than hate them?



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What is the reason for the switch? Better product, cheaper product, less labor (probably not?), differentiation from competitors?

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The main reason we switched was that cooking 800lbs of wings a week through our double conveyors were just killing the Ovens. The amount of grease that cooks off of them at 470 degrees for 30 minutes is crazy. This led to cleaning the Ovens about every 3 weeks with a wire wheel and grinder tool.

Additionally the wings were dry and were shrinking due to the high cooking temp and time.

We decided on the smoker because it didn’t need a hood and ansul system. With the smoker we can differentiate as well with new items such as pulled pork.

Overall, it affects everything you mentioned, the labor is about the same, however the prep person isn’t tying up the oven for two hours before opening every morning so if we do get earlier orders, there aren’t any issues

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Wow! Thats a lot of wings! I can see why you wanted to switch. People don’t like change, let’s face it. Most people will adjust. Make sure you advertise /mention your differentiation so they know what they are getting. What would be wrong with lowering the smoke to get a slightly smoked wing yet improve your operations?

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We definitely are leaning that way. We would hate to tell all these people about the smoked wings then they get them and say, there really wasn’t any smoke. Rule of thumb is 1oz of wood per 10lbs of meat. Possibly going to a 1/4 of an ounce per 10lbs. Need to get it rectified quickly before people jump ship

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I have been smoking at home for for years…But no way will I smoke wings…Just never got a result I liked…I am a fan of oven baked…

That’s the thing though, these are extremely consistent and it puts out a fantastic wing

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Id keep the smoked wings, its sounds awesome, you can get oven baked wings at all the chains and alot of indy shops, have you lost any sales(meaningful sales) bc of it? I believe our goal is to make our buisness as profitable and as easy as possible, I think you nailed it on the head going with a smoker over laboring over and tieing up the oven for 2 hours, you should send GotRocks a PM hes a pro at smoking meats etc.

I’d say we’re in that feeling about period after some change and it’s just disheartening when you are working so hard to improve the product and you get complaints about them… and then also awesome comments… it’s hard to balance it out I guess

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Clearly there’s a big change in flavor from smoked wings to oven baked wings, otherwise you wouldn’t be getting these comments. Maybe you should consider offering them both ways, with the new smoked wings marketed as an LTO. Maybe offer a slight discount on them to entice people to try them. This would give you the chance to really gauge if there’s enough love for the smoked ones to continue. If all you are able to do is gain a few dozen fans of the smoked wings, take them off the menu at the end of the summer. If those that love them are really passionate about them, dangle a carrot in front of them with the promise of an LTO return next summer for BBQ season. On the other hand, if the smoked wings start outselling the oven baked wings, then maybe at that point it’s time to pull the oven baked ones off the menu. While being profitable and easy are important, your menu items have to appeal to your customers otherwise the profitability will go away.

Definitely won’t be offering both. A lot of the switch is limiting the grease going through the oven which causes all of the clogs to the fingers. We’ve decided to back the smoke off to 1/4 as the normal amount and revisit it after we run through those.

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No matter how much you love the food you are producing, it is your customers that are the final judge…You may be able to convert some while other will do without (hurts average cheque) or worse still they go elsewhere…Your numbers will ultimately decide what you need to do…

Well we found a happy medium. No smoke (for now), slow cooked in the smoker without any hickory for 2 hours. When done, they go on to full sheet pans right away and into the oven at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. This has eliminated the grease cooking off the wings and clogging the oven fingers, keeps the wings tender on the inside but crispy on the outside, and lastly, it’s not overpowered by any smoke, just a hint of hickory that is in the cabinet from when we smoke our new pulled pork.

Thanks for everyone’s suggestions, it helped get us thinking right again and with the right focus

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Steve what smoker did you go with and do you keep it outside?

It’s a cookshack, 240V. It’s inside and vented to the exhaust fan.

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Cookshack SM-160. It’s 240 volt and vented to our exhaust fan. It stays inside at all times

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I miss hearing rom GotRocks. Anyone heard from him lately?

Wings are tough. Personally, I think the best wings are lightly breaded and fried — which is not an option for us.

We’not a discount place by any means (Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, Grande, bigger portions, etc.) but every time I’ve tried to introduce a bigger, higher quality wing customers have rejected it. A smaller, dryer wing in greater quantities has been what’s sold.

I’m sure if we kept trying we could come up with something of better quality that works, but unless we were to cut out a significant part of our menu, it’s just not worth the time, effort and mess.

To follow up on this, we ended up halting the smoking wings for now. We purchased a RapidFry auto dump fryer. We are selling wings like crazy and have added other fried items as well. We’re still using the smoker for pulled pork and will look back into smoking wings, freezing, and then frying to order.

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I sold a lot of wings w/ Dominos but not because they were good- they were usually fatty & slimy- but because it was DP. They were cheap and that level of customer neither knows nor cares… fairly broad brush but fairly accurate.
We went through a lot of effort to try to overcome the poor product; pre-cooking, 2x through the oven, etc
In all fairness… oven baking at 6 minutes in a MM is not a great way to make wings, in my opinion. Poor product to start makes it worse.
Frying is… well, frying.
As that guy on TV says “You could fry a flip-flop and it’d taste good” Something like that, anyway.