Just in time for football season, some bars and restaurants have scrapped the 25-cent chicken wings nights and other specials for the sports-watching staple.
This is happening because wholesale chicken prices have turned upside down. The once-lowly wing is selling at a premium over what has long been the gold standard of poultry parts, the skinless boneless chicken breast.
Most experts predict that wing prices will continue to rise at least until the Super Bowl in February, when a lot of wings are sold and prices peak.
Adam Scott, a founder of Wing Zone, an Atlanta-based chain with 80 restaurants in 20 states including one in Columbia, said cheap wings might be gone forever.
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"If they can figure out how to grow chickens with four wings, we'd be in really great shape," Scott said.
The recession is the cause of the price flip-flop of chicken parts.
Restaurants, normally big buyers of breast meat, slashed orders as millions of people cut back on eating out, and breast-meat prices slumped. But demand for wings has remained strong, partly because people perceived them as a cheap luxury.
Adding to the demand: the brisk growth of restaurant chains focusing on wings, like Atomic Wings, Wingstop and Wing Zone. Several chains have been clucking this year about how much business is up in the recession.
Eventually, as the economy improves, wing and breast prices may return to their traditional places in the poultry pecking order. But for now, wing partisans are celebrating.
"Everybody was into breasts because it's lower fat," said Andrew Smith, editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. "But to me the breast is tasteless. I like fat, and most people do. The wings have fat."
The high price of wings has also accelerated a development that ruffles the feathers of wing purists: that oxymoron dipped in hot sauce, the boneless wing.
Boneless wings, increasingly promoted by restaurants, are not wings at all, but slices of breast meat deep-fried like wings and served with the same sauces - a bit like a spicy Chicken McNugget.
For wing-centric restaurants, boneless wings are a way to attract customers who may not like the messiness of wings, which have to be chewed off the bone.
And with prices upside down, the boneless wings act as a hedge, with the lower-cost breast meat offsetting higher wing costs.