How The Great Recession Helped Create The Boneless Chicken Wing

Paper boat of boneless chicken wings
Paper boat of boneless chicken wings - The Image Party/Shutterstock

For wholesale retailers, all cuts of a chicken are not created equal. In the United States, where, according to Statista, shoppers tend to favor lean white meat, the breast is often the most expensive part of the bird, while wings and other fatty appendages are comparatively cheaper. Imagine the penny-pinching diner's surprise, then, when the price of breast meat traded places with the price of wings— that once-frugal bar snack that begs for ranch and classic honey mustard sauce — on restaurant menus during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.

Here's where things get interesting. Rather than putting wings on the backburner in favor of hawking chicken breast to cash-strapped customers, restaurants fashioned dippable chicken wing dupes out of deep-fried breast meat and dubbed them "boneless" wings -- a paradox that was lost on a shocking number of people, despite the fact that a wing is not really a wing without the bone. This distinction was beside the point for Buffalo Wild Wings, whose sport-fan-friendly menu has boasted boneless wings since 2003.

Read more: 15 Tricks For Making The Most Crispy Chicken Thighs Ever

A Marketing Ploy That Went To Court

Buffalo Wild Wings boneless wings
Buffalo Wild Wings boneless wings - Buffalo Wild Wings/Facebook

Some may see the concept of boneless wings as an innocent jest to satisfy America's wing cravings, but others are offended by the ruse. In 2023, 14 years after the Great Recession ended, Buffalo Wild Wings was sued by Chicagoan Aimen Halim, who felt victimized by false advertising. "Unbeknownst to Plaintiff and other consumers, the Products are not wings at all, but instead, slices of chicken breast meat deep-fried like wings," reads the lawsuit. It would be more accurate and virtuous, it argued, to call a spade a spade. Or, in this case, to call a boneless chicken wing a chicken nugget.

The lawsuit was preceded by a decidedly lighthearted viral public comment made by Lincoln, Nebraska resident Ander Christensen at a 2020 city council meeting, according to the Associated Press. "We've been living a lie for far too long," he quipped. "Our children are afraid of having bones attached to their meat, which is where meat comes from," he went on, adding, "We need to teach them that the wings of a chicken are from a chicken, and it's delicious."

In response, Buffalo Wild Wings took to X, formerly Twitter, to share a snarky tweet. "It's true. Our boneless wings are all white meat chicken. Our hamburgers contain no ham. Our buffalo wings are 0% buffalo."

Boneless Wings Are Still Cheaper

Person holding cash
Person holding cash - Hammarby Studios/Getty Images

Why, you might be asking yourself, would someone go so far as to hire a lawyer to persuade Buffalo Wild Wings to change the name of its boneless wings? Unlike Ander Christensen, who worries that the term will turn the children of America against perfectly tasty chicken cuts, Aimen Halim has a more plausible concern -- price. "Plaintiff and other consumers would have paid significantly less for the Products, or would not have purchased them at all, had they known [...] the truth about the Products," reads his lawsuit.

However, boneless chicken wings are still less expensive than their bone-in counterparts. According to USDA findings cited by National Chicken Council exec Tom Super, the sheer amount of breast meat available means prepared boneless wings cost around $4.99 per pound in 2023, while bone-in wings averaged $8.38 per pound. Whether you call it a boneless wing or a nugget, those prices suggest that people will continue to order bite-sized chunks of deep-fried chicken breast.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.