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Wings over America

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Does anyone remember the days when -- and it wasn't that long ago, really -- chicken wings were a bar food, something that would run you a dime or a quarter apiece with a pitcher of beer?

Well, not anymore. According to this story in the Sun-Times today, the price of chicken wings for restaurant and tavern owners is soaring, which means consumers are paying more, as well. Wings "used to be a throwaway item," Andy Howard, head of purchasing and product development for the Texas-based Wingstop chain, told Gannett News Service. "The poultry guys couldn't even give it away. Now prices have gone through the roof."

According to the US Agriculture Department, the average wholesale price of wings in 2009 was $1.47 a pound, up 39 percent from 2008.

According to the National Chicken Council, 12 billion chicken wings are consumed annually in the U.S. It's gotten so that the other, meaty parts of the chicken, like the breasts, are the throwaway parts. The vast majority of wings, according to the Chicken Council -- especially those destined for foodservice -- are disjointed, with the third joint (the thin part known as the flapper) being exported to Asian countries and the meatier first and second joints being sold domestically.

Prices fluctuate, too, and because of supply and demand, prices will peak around the time of the Super Bowl, the biggest wing-consuming time of the year.

With billions of wings being consumed every year (and more than 1 billion of them on Super Bowl Sunday alone!) this humble item has come quite a way from that day in 1964 when Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, cooked leftover wings in hot sauce as a late-night snack for her son and his friends. The boys liked them so much that the Bellissimos put them on the menu the next day. Served with celery slices and bleu cheese sauce, "Buffalo Wings" were an instant hit, according to the NCC. Dick Winger (I kid you not -- that's the man's name), who sold hot sauce to the bar, went on the road with Dominic Bellissimo, the owners' son, to promote the item and sell hot sauce, and the item gradually caught on with restaurant operators around the country.

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Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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