What, exactly, is a boneless chicken wing?
Is it a wing from an actual chicken, with the bones removed for easier snacking? Or is it a chunk of succulent breast meat molded into the shape of a wing?
Whatever the answer, it’s a topic that wing enthusiasts have long debated, often over a beer or three.
It is also the subject of a class-action lawsuit brought this month against Buffalo Wild Wings by a Chicago-area man who claims the restaurant chain is falsely advertising its boneless wing products, which he says are more like chicken nuggets.
The man, Aimen Halim, purchased boneless wings from a Buffalo Wild Wings in Mount Prospect, Illinois, in January, according to a lawsuit dated Thursday.
The complaint says that Halim believed, based on the name and description of the products, that he was receiving actual wings that had been deboned. But he soon found they were not.
“Had Mr. Halim known that the products are not chicken wings, he would not have purchased them, or would have paid significantly less for them,” the lawsuit said. “As a result, Mr. Halim suffered a financial injury” because of the restaurant’s false and deceptive conduct.
On its website, Buffalo Wild Wings describes its boneless wings as “juicy all-white chicken” that is lightly breaded. The lawsuit points to two competitors of Buffalo Wild Wings, Domino’s Pizza and Papa Johns, that offer similar products. Those companies, it says, explicitly state their boneless offerings are made from chicken breast meat.
Halim, and others who would join his lawsuit, are seeking a jury trial and damages, injunctive relief, restitution and declaratory relief.
“We believe this is a straight-forward case and look forward to representing Mr. Halim and other consumers in this case against Buffalo Wild Wings,” Ruhandy Glezakos, a lawyer for Halim, said in a statement Monday.
He declined to give any further information about Halim and the circumstances around his food order in January.
Buffalo Wild Wings did not respond to questions about whether there have been formal complaints about its boneless wings in the past. However, the chain sent out a cheeky tweet Monday saying, “It’s true. Our boneless wings are all white meat chicken. Our hamburgers contain no ham. Our Buffalo wings are 0% buffalo.”
The often-spirited discussion over what constitutes a boneless wing is nothing new.
In 2020, a man in Lincoln, Nebraska, delivered a passionate plea to his City Council to remove the name boneless wings from menus in the city.
“Nothing about boneless chicken wings actually comes from the wing of a chicken,” he argued in a widely shared video. “We would be disgusted if a butcher was mislabeling their cuts of meats, but then we go around pretending as though the breast of a chicken is its wing?”
There is also the question of whether chicken wings are light or dark meat, and whether the Buffalo Wild Wings advertisement of “juicy all-white chicken” might have offered a clue about its wings.
It’s complicated. Wings are technically white meat, but they have similar fat levels to legs and thighs, according to Cook’s Illustrated, the magazine published by the America’s Test Kitchen company.
The Associated Press dwelled, at some length, on the subject of boneless wings before last month’s Super Bowl, during which it said more than 1.45 billion chicken wings would be served. The AP called them a “tasty culinary lie,” akin to baby carrots.
The AP and Halim’s lawsuit both cite the rising cost of bone-in chicken wings in recent decades as a reason for the evolution of the boneless wing.
The lawsuit cites a 2009 New York Times article describing the soaring price of bone-in wings over breast meat. Fourteen years later, the AP found much the same story, quoting a spokesman from the National Chicken Council who said the average price for boneless wings was about $5 per pound compared with more than $8 a pound for traditional wings.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service, under the USDA, has a Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book that is intended to offer guidance to help manufacturers prepare product labels that are truthful and not misleading.
Although it offers no notes about how boneless wings should be described or advertised, the agency said that wings are divided into two sections: the drum and wing itself, which is sometimes called a flat. It also says that meat and poultry products cooked with a mild or spicy sauce, containing certain spices, can be labeled “Buffalo Style” or “made in Buffalo, New York.” The agency further adds, “Buffalo wings is a fanciful term that requires a descriptive name.”
On Reddit, there are hundreds of comments debating the legitimacy of “boneless wings” as a true product, with some carefully explaining how they are different from chicken nuggets. Dozens of recipes explaining how to make boneless wings call for a variety of ingredients but typically begin with a boneless chicken breast.
Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck (short for kimmelweck, a type of roll with special toppings especially popular in upstate New York) was started in 1982 by Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery, who relocated to Ohio from Buffalo. The idea for the chicken restaurant was born from a craving for Buffalo-style chicken wings and a lack of availability in their new state.
The company officially changed its name to Buffalo Wild Wings in 1998 and is now based in Atlanta, with more than 1,200 U.S. locations.