Score Major Points With These Game Day-Worthy Air Fryer Buffalo Wings

The air fryer is an efficient and mess-free method for cooking crisp, juicy, and spicy buffalo wings.

Overhead view of air fryer Buffalo Wings
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Do not convince yourself that air-fryer buffalo wings are healthy just because they are cooked with an air fryer. A “healthy” chicken wing is not the goal here—nor is it even possible. Yes, deep frying in a big vat of messy hot oil is avoided with this recipe, but whether deep-fried, oven-baked, or air-fried, buffalo wings are still and always an unapologetically fatty, skin-on, bone-in chicken wing doused in a butter-laden buffalo hot sauce and served alongside even more sauce (preferably a chunky blue cheese) for dipping. Then again, they do come with sticks of carrots and celery, so what do we know?

Overhead view of wings cooked in air fryer
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

The reason we love the air fryer for a recipe like this is because of how effectively it converts the annoyance of deep frying to the ease of oven baking while delivering absolutely perfect, you-probably-can't-tell-the-difference-from-deep-fried results. With the help of an air fryer's powerful convection fan (because an air fryer, as we all know, is just a supercharged mini convection oven), we're able to get wings that have juicy, fall-off -the-bone meat encased within a shatteringly crisp, blistered, and bubbly skin. They can be ready in much less time and with less mess than a deep-fried or even oven-baked version. Here are a few tips to get crunchy game day worthy wings with your air fryer.

Tips for Cooking Chicken Wings In an Air Fryer

The delicate skin and super thin layer of fat make wings an ideal food for air-frying, with the air fryer’s intense, evenly circulating heat rendering the fat while the skin crisps. To make sure this happens, it’s crucial to not overcrowd the air fryer’s cooking basket. Make sure to leave slight space between each wing for even air flow and proper cooking of the wings. Depending on the size of your air fryer, this means you may need to cook your wings in more than one batch, but with a 6 quart capacity model or larger, the wings should all fit in one batch. It's also important not to skip preheating the airfryer. Those wings should sizzle on contact with the cooking basket. 

For those of you familiar enough with the Serious Eats recipe catalog, you've probably noticed that this recipe is really just Kenji's famous oven fried wings recipe with an air fryer standing in for a conventional oven—it's a simple upgrade, but a worthy one, given the improved speed and results.

Overhead view of buffalo wings in bowl
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

One of the key techniques in that original oven-fried wings recipe is dry-brining the wings with baking powder and salt before cooking. This further promotes an incredibly crispy chicken skin that seems just like it's been fried. The magic happens largely thanks to the baking powder, which raises the pH of the chicken skin to promote enhanced browning as well as the formation of micro-blisters that lead to heightened skin crispness.

Arguably my favorite part of this air-fried buffalo wings recipe is that they require almost no prep. The two-ingredient Buffalo sauce comes together in under a minute, plus there’s no pre-salting needed for the chicken. Simply season the wings, then cook. Side by side taste tests proved no difference in the browning or texture of wings that were tossed with salt and cooked right away versus wings that were salted and left in the refrigerator overnight to dry-brine. There was a slight (and expected) difference in seasoning level in the dry-brined wings, but once they were tossed in the fiery Buffalo sauce, that difference went unnoticed.

Beyond Buffalo: Variations and Serving Recommendations

Of course you can keep it classic with the buffalo sauce recipe here, but since the wings are cooked separately from the sauce, you can switch it up and toss the wings with your preferred chicken wing sauce. I recommend checking out SE’s tamarind-ginger glaze, hoisin glaze, or even the strawberry-chipotle wing sauce.

If you do stick with this recipe’s Buffalo sauce, a good quality blue cheese dip is a must. And of course you need a celery stick or two on the plate to cool your mouth off with between wings (and, I suppose one could argue, to make it a more balanced meal).

Preheat air fryer to 400°F for 5 minutes. Pat chicken wings dry with paper towels. In a large bowl, toss wings with baking powder and salt until evenly coated (see notes).

Overhead view of tossing wings in flour
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Place wings into the air fryer basket in a single layer, fatty side down, leaving a slight space between each wing. Place basket in preheated air fryer and air-fry until wings are cooked through, crisp, and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, flipping wings halfway through cooking. Repeat the process with remaining wings.

Two image collage of overhead view of chicken wings before and after in the airfryer
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and hot sauce. Transfer wings to bowl with prepared sauce and toss until thoroughly coated. Serve wings immediately with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks, conspicuously shunning anyone who says that real Buffalo wings must be deep fried.

Overhead view of whisking sauce and tossing air fried wings in it
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Special Equipment

Air Fryer

Notes

We prefer to buy whole chicken wings and butcher them ourselves, but you can also use presplit wings.

Once the raw wings are seasoned with salt and baking powder, they can be transferred to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerated, uncovered, for up to 24 hours. The final seasoning level will improve the longer the wings refrigerate.

We recommend using a 6-quart or larger air fryer. If using a smaller air fryer, you may need to cook the wings in batches to ensure even cooking and spacing.