Signature Dish: Smokin’ Eagle has new take on wings

Dec 21, 2015

By Matt Krueger - The Daily News

LE ROY — Thousands of restaurants in Western New York serve the classic Buffalo chicken wing, but one eatery has the audacity to shake up the tried-and-true cooking method.

Instead of deep-frying the wings and tossing them in a combination of butter and hot sauce, Smokin’ Eagle BBQ, 9 Main St., smokes its wings with a dry rub, finishes them on a broiler, and then adds one of a half-dozen barbecue sauces. There’s no frying.

It certainly sets the restaurant apart from the pack. But is it blasphemy?

When asked that very question, co-owner Jon Marcello laughed.

“I think it’s a great alternative to the Buffalo wing,” he said. “The tenderness is unparalleled by anything else out there. It’s fall-off-the-bone tender.”

He’s right about that. The wings spend three hours in a hickory smoker, making them juicy and breaking down the tissue that causes tough meat. The smoked wings miss that crispiness from frying, but that’s why the guys at Smokin’ Eagle finish them on a broiler. A hot, open flame right at the end of the cooking process leaves some crispy char on the outside.

“I’m a crispy wing guy, but this doesn’t bother me at all,” Marcello said, pointing to the plate of smoked wings in front of him. “You don’t get that huge crispiness, but you don’t want it with this product.”

The cooking process is one that Marcello and his twin brother, Mark, learned when they got into the barbecue business with their Brockport restaurant six years ago. They had hired several employees from a recently closed barbecue establishment who showed the brothers how to do smoked wings.

“Honestly, I took one bite and knew that was going to be our future,” Marcello said. “It was something I had never tasted before in my life. It was just one of those times when you know something is going to work, because you can taste it right away.”

Kitchen manager Sam Hilburger agrees. After all, he was eating the smoked wings even before he started working at the restaurant.

“My buddy dragged me down here and said ‘You’ve got to try these smoked wings,’” said Hilburger, who has been with Smokin’ Eagle for eight months. “I tried them, and I must have come back four more times that week.”

All of the smoked wings come with the dry rub, but customers have a choice of sauces including chipotle, sticky sweet, and the ultra-spicy reaper sauce. The sauces can either be basted on the wings or served on the side for dipping.

The wings have certainly proven popular. Marcello estimates Smokin’ Eagle goes through 5,000 wings a week through the catering business and in-house service.

The smoked wings sell for $10 a dozen, or $18 for two dozen. They come with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.