The Sauces Are the Stars, but What About the ‘Hot Ones’ Wings?

The trickiest challenge that most of us will face when it comes to finding hot wings is what bar has a kitchen open past 2 a.m., but “Hot Ones” has the opposite problem. The popular interview series hosted by Sean Evans, which forces a level of at least physical vulnerability on its celebrity subjects through the process of eating increasingly spicy wings, sometimes has to shoot starting at 8 a.m. What wing places are open that early?

The success of “Hot Ones” has led to its own branded lines of wings and sauces, but the First We Feast producers of the show can’t just pull from their own kitchens. Filming location, dietary restrictions, and shoot times all determine where “Hot Ones” finds its wings; according to series executive supervising producer Domonique Burroughs, the producers have a curated list of 24-hour wing spots in New York and Los Angeles that can provide unsauced wings good enough to eat while talking about someone’s career.

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The show doesn’t just need wings at all hours but of infinite varieties, too. “The order is always the same. Fifty wings, unsauced — but the actual food can vary. We’ve had bone-in, boneless tenders, vegan nuggets, vegan wings on a stick, breaded cauliflower, baked wings, fried wings, beef tips, and even fish sticks. There is never a dull moment when it comes to sourcing our wings,” Burroughs told IndieWire.

The wings also put a number of constraints on “Hot Ones” to make the production of the show all the livelier. The series obviously can’t shoot multiple episodes over the course of a single day. In fact, the most episodes the show has ever shot in a week is three, so that Sean’s stomach has recovery days. There’s a whole other world of setup that happens for the show alongside getting the cameras and lights ready, too.

Sean Evans and Anitta seated across from each other on the set of 'Hot Ones'
‘Hot Ones’First We Feast

“Food warmers are turned on [in the kitchen prep area] and the wooden paddles are placed in plate warmers to be nice and hot. The wings arrive approximately 20 minutes before the guest does, and they are placed in mini-warming ovens to stay fresh,” Burroughs said. Once a guest arrives, the wings and paddles are tossed in a second set of plate warmers until they’re brought to set right before the interview starts. The whole process is, by this point, down to a well-timed science that has those 50 wings, unsauced, spiced up, on the table and ready to go in 10 to 15 minutes.

As has been seen occasionally on “Hot Ones” itself, there’s a necessity of keeping sauce only on the wings and not in anyone’s eyes. The show’s production team has that down to a science, too, not just with the eye shields or safety gloves one might expect. “A pro tip is to use two bowls when tossing your wings in the sauce — one bowl for the wings and another to cover the top — this prevents splatter,” Burroughs said.

Sean Evans and John Mulanney sit across from each other on the set of 'Hot Ones'
‘Hot Ones’ First We Feast

Hot sauce shouldn’t be spread around, but Burroughs has seen that sharing the wings themselves is part of the fun of a “Hot Ones” shoot that helps create the space for the interview conversations to go to the places they do. “Often, the leftover wings from a shoot are given to the talent’s entourage or to our crew, and it’s so fun to see everyone trying the wings and hot sauces. It’s almost as if the wings have a second act every taping — the whole experience really brings people together,” Burroughs said. “The wings are an integral part of the show and the team puts a lot of care into them.”

As such, the “Hot Ones” criteria for what makes a good wing has truly been battle-tested over the course of the series 350-plus episodes. “For us, a good wing is categorized by three components: size, texture, and taste. A moderate sized wing allows for the surface area for hot sauce to coat it evenly. A crispy, not burnt, wing provides a good vessel for the sauce; you don’t want them to get soggy once we doused them. And the taste is obviously important — if Sean says ‘these taste really good,’ we know we’ve got a winner,” Burroughs said.

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