Atlanta’s beloved chicken wing joints prepare for Super Bowl appetites

Chicken wings are a food of choice any day of the year in Atlanta, as evidenced by the amount of wing bones you can regularly spot on city sidewalks. But when the Super Bowl is in town, everyone’s got to get a bite of what has become a perennial game snack and one of Atlanta’s signature dishes.

Restaurants in Atlanta would normally be ramping up for the annual rush of Super Bowl watch parties and tailgates. With the big game being played in Atlanta, there’s an additional demand to supply parties and events n the days leading up to Sunday’s kickoff, said Paul Juliano, president of Atlanta chicken wing restaurant chain JR Crickets.

Americans are expected to consume 1.38 billion wings — both flats and drums — over Super Bowl weekend, according to the National Chicken Council, a 2 percent increase from 2018.

Consumer demand for wings peaks in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, with college football bowl games also contributing to higher consumption, said Christopher Olson, a brand manager for chicken producer Tyson’s Any’tizers line, sold in grocery stores.

Traditional Buffalo-style and lemon pepper wings are among the most popular orders at Atlanta standbys like JR Crickets and Taco Mac. Restaurants’ specialties, including Taco Mac’s roasted wings and JR Crickets’ “lemon pepper wet” recipe — a buffalo sauced wing with lemon pepper seasoning on top — are also in high demand.

Customers are ordering wings in trays of hundreds, Juliano said. Wednesday before the big game, he said JR Crickets placed the largest hot sauce order he remembers making in the restaurant’s 37 years.

JR Crickets, which has 13 franchised locations in metro Atlanta, got a boost from a Jan. 29 New York Times article about the best eats for Super Bowl visitors to Atlanta mentioned JR Crickets.

The North Avenue location alone is expected to go through nearly 94,000 medium sized chicken wings by the end of Super Bowl week, about 10,000 lbs., Juliano said.

While restaurants like JR Crickets fry their wings to order, Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in Edgewood has been working 24 hours a day for the past week to prepare enough of their signature smoked wings, co-owner Jonathan Fox said. The restaurant has brought in an extra smoker to produce the high volume of wings, brisket, ribs and other meats they need for Super Bowl weekend. The wings take three hours to smoke, and each smoker can fit between 800 and 1,000 jumbo wings at a time.

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Fox Bros. began working with its chicken supplier in September to prepare for the demand, Fox said. Because they only use fresh jumbo-size wings, they can’t start stockpiling weeks or months in advance; they have to ensure they can get enough product as close to Super Bowl week as possible.

For most of Atlanta-based Taco Mac’s 25 restaurants, Sunday isn’t expected to be significantly different than any other Super Bowl, CEO Harold Martin said. The busiest locations are expected to be those closest to the stadium— Lindbergh, Buckhead and the original Virginia Highland restaurant.

The Super Bowl is the restaurant’s busiest day for wings, Martin said.

“The college football national championship and National Wing Day are big days for us, but nothing comes close to the Super Bowl,” Martin said. “The Super Bowl is the unofficial national wing holiday. That’s the primary protein for every Super Bowl party in the country, and especially in the South where we love our chicken wings.”

But what if you want to eat some of the city’s best wings in front of your own tv? Apps like DoorDash and UberEats give customers more options besides the typical call-in to place delivery and take-out orders. Restaurants say employees managing those orders have to keep sharp eyes on multiple platforms to fill all the orders.

In addition to supplying their restaurant, take-out orders and catering, Fox Bros. also has to supply its stands inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The College Football Playoff National Championship game in January helped the company gauge how many wings — in addition to their marquee Texas barbecue — they’ll have to supply to keep Super Bowl crowds sated. But for the Super Bowl, the NFL’s security measures added a significant number of extra steps to get the wings from smoker to concession stand, co-owner Jonathan Fox said.

All of Fox Bros.’ employees transporting and selling food at the stadium had to go through background checks and credentialing processes in order to be allowed to participate in Super Bowl preparations and sales, a process that started in October, Fox said. The wings themselves are carried from the DeKalb Avenue restaurant to the stadium in a refrigerated trailer, which is inspected with a giant X-ray machine before being allowed inside the building.

After the fourth quarter ends and fans’ bellies are full Sunday night, restaurant workers will have only a few hours to catch their breath. While the demand for wings will decline from its Super Bowl peak, customers will still be rolling in come Monday.

“Not only do we have to fill orders for the stadium, catering orders and Super Bowl Sunday,” Fox said. “We have to have enough wings for the next day.”

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