When we lived in Beijing, I never would have thought to make my own chicken wings. There was a restaurant down the street, a restaurant we lovingly called “the spicy place,” which made the best wings imaginable. We were friends with the owner we were there so much. His restaurant was right across the road from our hutong, and when we were walking home at night, we could smell the very spicy pots of dry fried vegetables and meats pulling us in.

I knew it wasn’t healthy, but it was the kind of food I could imagine eating back at college. In fact, Walker and I were so sure a place like this would thrive on college campuses with its fabulous wings and cheap beer, we actually considered trying to open up a restaurant like it in a college down. If only our friend would teach us the secrets of making the wings with a hair drier, then maybe we’d have a shot.

You see it everywhere when you’re walking around Beijing – little stalls where people roast meat on two parallel wooden skewers, resting on top of a long rectangle of burning coals. As they turn over the meat, they are blowing the embers with a hair drier to stoke the flames. It’s really odd the first time you see it, but it does make for incredibly tender meat.

But in Shanghai, the food is vastly different, and there are no street food vendors cooking chicken wings with hair driers. I never thought I’d miss it, but I did. Our friend’s wings were both spicy and sweet, and when I saw this recipe at Steamy Kitchen, it reminded me of the flavors in our old hutong.

Smokey Sweet Baked Chicken Wings

From Steamy Kitchen

serves 6 as appetizer


3 pounds chicken wings, joints separated, tips removed (save for stock)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper


1. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl or seal-able bag. Add the wings and toss to coat evenly.

2. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or tin foil (Otherwise you will spend the next day trying to scrub your pan clean). Bake for 20 minutes, flip the wings and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

I served this on a bed of raw squash and zucchini (though Walker pointed out that he thought it would be more flavorful if I grilled them) with a simple blue cheese dip. I mashed up some blue cheese with one part each of sour cream and mayonnaise, a dash of lemon juice and white vinegar, and a sprinkling of chives.

They were so good that we were licking our fingers all night. Absolutely delicious and we’ll definitely be doing it again, especially because lighting up the grill on a weeknight takes a little more effort than I’d like to expend lighting a fire. Baking the wings was quick and easy, and as long as you remember to line the pan with foil, the clean up is a breeze too!