If your favorite team doesn’t make it to the Super Bowl in 2023, you can always use the day as an excuse to pig out. Super Bowl Sunday is a major snacking holiday, and wings are almost always on the menu. Chicken wings sales in the U.S. spike every year in early February. Last year, the National Chicken Council estimated that Americans would consume 1.42 billion wings while watching the big game. The meaty morsels are as much a part of the Super Bowl as the halftime show or celebrity product endorsements, but that hasn’t always been the case.
The link between hot wings and football can be traced back to sports bars. Satellite television became accessible to consumers in 1979, which is the same year the first bar to take advantage of the technology opened—in Long Beach, California. Patrons could park themselves in front of the television and watch live footage of whatever game was playing that night, even if it wasn’t being broadcast locally. Soon similar establishments began popping up across the country.
Customers watching three hours of football in the evenings were often hungry for more than pretzels and nuts. They needed something that was substantial enough to replace a meal, but also easy to share with friends. Ribs were too expensive for most bar menus, and pizza became less appetizing as the quarters passed. Chicken wings, meanwhile, ticked every box.
Buffalo wings were invented in Anchor Bar in their namesake city in 1964, but they really took off with the sports bar boom. In the 1980s, Americans favored chicken breast and wings were seen as less desirable, so bar owners were able to buy and sell them for a cheap price, By tossing them in a spicy and salty sauce, they could encourage customers to drink more beer at the same time.
After becoming ubiquitous in sports bars, the dish migrated to football fans’ living rooms. Wings are a Super Bowl staple today, despite the fact that they’re no longer the affordable snack they were in the 1980s. In an interesting twist, the food’s connection to football has boosted its popularity, and in turn its price. Chicken wings have gone from cheap byproduct to the most expensive bone-in cut of chicken per pound.
If you plan to serve celery and blue cheese with your wings this Super Bowl Sunday, you can also thank their bar food roots. Here are the origins behind the classic pairing.