It’s become exceedingly rare to find a pizzeria that doesn’t offer its customers a side order of sauce-slathered buffalo chicken wings. Most of the major national chains—Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s among them—traffic in poultry. So how did the pairing come about?
According to a recent Thrillist history by Kat Thompson, the marriage of pizza and wings can be traced to La Nova Pizza, a pizza parlor in Buffalo, New York. Fittingly, La Nova was located in the home city of the buffalo chicken wing, where the Anchor Bar and Restaurant first served the wings—formerly regarded as undesirable scraps—in the 1960s. La Nova began adding wings to its menu in the 1970s and then offered them as a side dish to delivery orders in the 1990s.
The bigger chains took notice of its success: Both Pizza Hut and Domino’s introduced wings nationally in early 1995. Their support created such demand for the product that the price of wholesale wings went from 47 cents a pound to 82 cents a pound. Pizza Hut was selling 2 million wings a day.
For operators, the addition made a lot of logistical sense. Wings could be baked in ovens that the shops already had; dipping sauces complemented pizza crusts nicely. Pizza is largely a carbohydrate and wings are a protein. It seemed to resonate with the palates of consumers. To open a new pizzeria usually required no special equipment besides a freezer and some deep fryers. Most importantly, they were a messy finger food, and pizza fans were already comfortable with hand-based eating.
But wings won't work on every menu. In 2013, McDonald’s tried offering chicken wings, which it dubbed Mighty Wings, for a limited time, but the idea fizzled. People didn’t care for a hamburger and wing combo. Of the 50 million pounds of wings McDonald’s hoped to sell, 10 million were left uneaten. It might have gone better with a McPizza.