Now You Can Make Some of Chicago’s Best Wings at Home

It’s not too late for one more dinner at the grill

October 24, 2023 6:01 am
WIngs on a plate
Oakville Grill & Cellar wood-grilled chicken wings
Lindsay Eberly x Eberly Film Lab, LLC

The Oakville Grill & Cellar may be a newcomer to the Fulton Market District, but chef Max Robbins is anything but. The former Beat Bobby Flay champ is bringing a taste of Napa Valley to his hometown of Chicago with his Oakville, a collaboration with Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants. Here, he’s inspired by the local ethos and casual luxe ambiance of California’s wine country, albeit with a reliance on top-notch Midwestern ingredients and live-fire cooking techniques. It’s no wonder that his wood-grilled, locally sourced chicken wings are already one of the menu’s stars.

“Some people have religion or hobbies, or interests — I have wings,” he says. “I’m a Buffalo boy for life. Always have been, always will be.”

This sports bar staple nevertheless gets a bit of a makeover in Robbins’s capable hands, beginning with a simple yet flavorful brine composed of salt, sugar, paprika, garlic and Mexican Valentina hot sauce.

“Valentina has a really deep flavor,” he says. “But in this application it adds a beautiful red hue to the wings that comes out when you cook them.”

After chilling in the brine for 16 hours, the wings are ready to cook: first over the grill for a nice char, and then in the fryer for that signature crispy skin. Blue cheese dressing is a no-brainer; Robbins makes his with local Maytag, adding a bold, piquant kick to the base of sour cream, mayo and buttermilk.

“It’s a very artisanal and classically flavored blue cheese without being too challenging,” says Robbins of his choice, while noting that Maytag also offers the ideal echo of the restaurant’s very theme.

“It’s Midwestern,” he says of the cheese. “But the owner of Maytag blue cheese was actually one of the original investors in a lot of Napa Valley wineries!”

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While wings and beer might seem like they go hand-in-hand, given Oakville’s 750-reference-strong wine list, Robbins understandably has another suggestion.

“Since it’s Oakville, we have to enjoy some wine with it,” he says. “Our partner and wine director Richard Hanauer recommends a not-too-serious zinfandel or a nice toasty chardonnay.”

Wood Grilled Chicken Wings

Servings: 32 wings

  • For the wings:
  • 32 jumbo chicken wing pieces (drums and flats separated)
  • 8 celery stalks, cut into sticks
  • For the brine:
  • 8 cups cold water
  • ½ cup salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 cups ice
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle hot sauce, Valentina recommended
  • For the blue cheese dressing:
  • 1¼ pounds blue cheese, crumbled, divided, Maytag recommended
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 dashes hot sauce
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
  • Chives and black pepper, for garnish
    1. For the brine, combine the water, salt, sugar, paprika, garlic and hot sauce in a pot, and bring to a boil. Stir well, then remove from the heat and add the ice. Whisk until cold. Add the chicken wings and store in the refrigerator for 16 hours. 

    2. The next day, make the blue cheese dressing. Add 1 pound of the blue cheese to a food processor along with the sour cream, mayonnaise, buttermilk, red wine vinegar, hot sauce and Worcestershire. Pulse until smooth. Fold in the remaining ¼-pound cheese and chill.

    3. Preheat the grill, and cook the wings until lightly charred on all sides and until the internal temperature reaches 160º F. Remove from the heat and chill completely.

    4. Preheat a pot of oil to 350º F and fry the wings until very crispy and warmed through, about 4 minutes.

    5. Garnish the blue cheese with chives and cracked black pepper, and serve the wings with the blue cheese dressing and celery sticks on the side.


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