Innovations in Chicken Wing Processing

Whether you call them hot wings, Buffalo wings, or simply plain old chicken wings, these tasty treats are absolutely a staple of the American diet – especially in the casual dining and retail ready-to-eat sectors. Just to underscore how truly popular chicken wings are with the populace, one only has to take a look at how many chicken wings are consumed during, say, the Super Bowl.

It was estimated that during the last Super Bowl event, Americans consumed a whopping 1 billion chicken wings over the course of the weekend alone! Wings also happen to be the priciest part of the chicken, up 14% since 2011.

Improvements That Make Offering Chicken Wings on the Menu More Lucrative

The last few years have marked vast improvements for the poultry industry. Along with increased efficiency and better management practices, carcass sizes have vastly increased due to improved genetics. Predictably, chicken wing sizes have gotten bigger and meatier as well. In fact, it is estimated that more than 30% of the market is harvesting chickens over six pounds – with 18% over eight pounds.

Aside from the increased quantity of meat that these larger chicken wings produce, the increased sizes have the added benefit of allowing the use of more efficient and automated processing technology as well. The larger size of today’s modern chickens allows the wing to be cut into three sections (the tip, mid-section, and the drumette).

The ability to segment wings in this way is particularly beneficial to restaurants, who typically serve wings by the piece rather than by the pound. As a result, the segmentation process is something most restaurants are willing to pay a little extra for.

Differing Types of Innovative Processing for Chicken Wings

Segmenting the wing into its three key parts can be done through a variety of different automated processing techniques. One style is the overhead in-line wing cutting system. The wings are first stretched and cut into sections before the rest of the carcass is cut up. This system has the added benefit of creating very uniform cuts. The downside of this style is that removing the wings doesn’t leave anything for the machine to grab on to in order to chop up the rest of the carcass.

Another style of automated wing segmentation is the wing portioner. This is a small, stand-alone system that requires manual feeding and positioning of the wings into the machine. The circular saw then portions the wings into its segments. This is a very space saving option, but has the downside of needing the handler to position the wings properly in order to get the right cut.

Problems to Watch For as a Result of Wing Segmentation

There are a few issues to watch for if you opt for wings which have been segmented in this way. The first is that if the wing is not positioned properly in the machine, bone and bone marrow end up getting exposed. If the bone cap is removed, the meat ends up shrinking around the bone during cooking and can result in a health hazard to the consumer.

The other problem with bone marrow is that it contains a lot of heavy metals such as iron.  These heavy metals can cause increased rates of oxidation (even in frozen wings), thereby reducing shelf life.

The final consideration in all of this is the need to buy wings which are uniformly sized in order to avoid a potential health hazard, since different sizes demand different cooking times in order to destroy pathogens.

The end result of all of the innovations in processing and segmenting technology is quite simply to supply the public with the copious amounts of chicken wings that they demand. Restaurants should consider wing sizes as an important factor in being able to serve the public with their insatiable appetite for chicken.

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