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Crispy, tangy, juicy lemon pepper wings the way I learned to make them in Atlanta. The wings are fried with a zesty lemon pepper seasoned flour and tossed in lemon pepper butter sauce, made with fresh lemon juice and zest. A perfect game day appetizer or game night snack!
When we lived in Atlanta, lemon pepper wings were basically a well-known local delicacy. They're literally at every diner or casual restaurant, especially a mom and pop.
And when Donald Glover's Atlanta showcased the famous Lemon Pepper Wet Wings from J.R. Crickett's, the lemon pepper wing phenomenon went absolutely nuts on the mainstream stage. We were still living in Atlanta when this happened and we literally met tourists who came to Atlanta looking for lemon pepper wings.
So who better to show you how to make these cult classic wings, complete with Atlanta's famous lemon pepper wet sauce than the Southern Belle herself, honey!
Origins of Lemon Pepper Wings
Lemon pepper chicken wings are tangy, crispy, flavorful chicken wings that are fried (or baked) and often are tossed in a delicious zippy citrusy lemon pepper butter sauce!
The actual origins aren't clearly documented, but many people believe that lemon pepper wings were first created in Atlanta, Georgia.
The story goes that local people used lemon pepper seasoning on their buffalo wings to cool the spice down, as lemon helps negate spicy food. Didn't know that? Now you do!
It eventually caught on as it's own flavor, and boom, a food craze was born!
Ingredients for the Wings
Chicken wings. Getting them segmented, or cut into 'drums' and 'flats', will often be called party wings when you look for them in a pack. At Costco I was able to get about 6 pounds of wings for 20 bucks, so check there for them!
Smoked Paprika. Brings such a great flavor and easy to find in the spice aisle.
Eggs and Milk. Dip the wings in this mixture so the seasoned flour will stick. I add hot sauce to it for flavor. Layers of flavor, y'all. Layers.
Flour, Cornstarch, and Baking Powder. These three together make the crispiest, crunchiest crust on your wings! Argue with your mama on this one, this is science.
What is lemon pepper?
Lemon pepper is a popular seasoning blend made with lemon peels, freshly ground black pepper. Depending on your blend it can also include granulated onion and garlic, salt, different types of pepper, paprika, real lemon juice crystals (which I actually really enjoy, it adds a bright, tangy flavor!), and other spices.
Many store bought lemon pepper blends have preservatives and artificial lemon flavorings, which I find to have a chemical aftertaste that I can't stand, so I have my own recipe for homemade lemon pepper seasoning that I think absolutely wins on lemon pepper wings.
How to Make Lemon Pepper Wings
This recipe is incredibly easy and only requires four steps: egg them, flour them, fry them, toss them. Easy, right?
Season the egg mixture with garlic powder, lemon pepper seasoning, and a little hot sauce. I use sriracha, since it's more mild hot sauce.
Next, toss the wings in your seasoned flour. But this flour is special, it's not just a seasoned flour, it also includes corn starch and baking powder, just like in my southern buttermilk brined fried chicken recipe.
Y'all, if you want insanely crispy wings that holds up to a delicious, buttery sauce you need cornstarch and baking powder.
Cornstarch absorbs some of the water on the chicken, swelling up and locking in the rest of the juiciness inside the chicken, like a starchy shield. Then, when the wings fry, the water evaporates from the cornstarch, making that shield create a complex little starch network that expands and crisps up.
Baking powder (powder, y'all. Not baking soda!) is a leavening agent, meaning that it makes things rise, especially in baked goods. So in fried chicken and chicken wings, the baking powder creates a crispy, light crust by bubbling up, making tiny air bubbles all across the crust so it's lighter in texture and super, super crispy.
After flouring the chicken wings, let them rest for a few minutes while the oil heats up. This allows the cornstarch to work its magic before we cook the wings.
I like deep frying in a few inches of vegetable oil in a cast iron dutch oven. Dutch ovens keep consistent heat, hold onto heat, and heat evenly, so the oil's temperature won't drop drastically when you start frying the wings.
Frying is easy, simply let the wings cook for 6-7 minutes on 350 degrees F (180 degrees C), then place them on a wire rack to cool over a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Setting them on a wire rack helps the wings cool down and drip off any excess grease without becoming soggy.
Now, y'all...let's talk about that lemon pepper wet sauce!
How to Make Lemon Pepper Butter Sauce for the Wings
To ask for 'lemon pepper wet' wings just means that the wings are tossed in double the amount of sauce at your local Wingstop or wing restaurant. And since you're making lemon pepper wings at home, you can make as much as you want!
My lemon pepper butter sauce is a super easy mixture of butter, lemon zest, lemon pepper seasoning, and smoked paprika. I love the paprika for its smokiness, bringing depth and a different flavor to the bright and tangy lemon pepper.
Toss the wings in just a small bit of sauce for Atlanta style 'regular' lemon pepper wings. But pour on about ¼-1/3 cup of lemon pepper sauce and give a hearty toss to make the famous lemon pepper wet wings.
Ingredients for Lemon Pepper Butter Sauce
Butter. I like using clarified butter, it helps keep the wings super crispy. But regular butter is just fine!
To clarify butter, melt it in a saucepan over medium low heat, and skim off the milk solids that float to the top until the butter is no longer bubbling and has no more foam or solids.
Garlic Powder. Optional, but we love that extra garlic flavor!
Making Baked Lemon Pepper Wings
Okay, so maybe you don't do 'fried'. That's fine, honey, I got you! Here's how you bake these wings:
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then put an oven safe wire rack over that. This helps keep the chicken crispy!
- No flour here, all seasoned cornstarch and baking powder! Do about 1 cup of cornstarch and 2 teaspoon baking powder. Season as directed in the recipe. Pat the chicken wings dry with paper towels then coat them thoroughly in the cornstarch mixture.
- Line them up on the wire rack in one layer without any wings touching. Season them up with more lemon pepper seasoning!
- Let them bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and crispy! Serve with the lemon pepper wet sauce either tossing the wings in the sauce or serving it on the side.
What to Serve with your Wings
These wings are too good just to save for a game day, so here are a few menu ideas to serve with your wings year round:
Family/Friends Game Night
- Bacon Mushroom Tortellini is a great pasta dish that goes so well with zesty lemon pepper flavors. It's not super saucy and takes only twenty minutes to make so it's perfect to serve up on game night.
- A fresh and fruity cocktail like Strawberry Gin Smash or a Paloma is perfect here. Don't drink alcohol? Try the Iced Guava Passionfruit Starbucks copycat drink, it's so delicious!
- For a great dessert for game night, make these Magnolia Chocolate Chip Cookies, straight from the Magnolia Table cookbook! They're super easy to make, require no chill time, and are chock full of chocolate chips!
Game Day Lineup
- Finger foods are in for this menu so let's make these delicious Hot Ham and Cheese Sliders with Garlic Butter Sauce. Another easy recipe and one that the kids will probably inhale, so make two of them.
- Next, what about Hot Spinach Dip, French Onion Dip, or White Cheddar Cheese Dip that goes perfectly with either Pretzel Bites or Homemade Soft Pretzels. Ugh, I'm hungry thinking about it now.
- I honestly love a warm and cozy dessert, especially since Super Bowl is usually during the colder months. Warm and comforting Southern Bourbon Peach Cobbler, gooey Cinnamon Rolls, or an easy Bread Pudding with Brown Butter Bourbon Sauce really fit here. Everyone can just scoop some dessert onto their plate and eat!
- For drinks let's make a pitcher of Sparkling Apple Cider Sangria for a sprinkle of fall, Brazilian Hard Limeade for a citrusy boost, or make classic Southern Sweet Tea, you can never fail with that!
Serve these chicken wings with easy and tasty sides and a simple dessert that everyone will be happy with!
- Serve up some greens with Lemon Garlic Sautéed Asparagus or my favorite Strawberry Spinach Salad. This is the salad that makes salad haters like eating salad (or at least, this one).
- If you want to carb it up, my famous Southern Baked Mac and Cheese or Ultimate Bacon Mac and Cheese will definitely satisfy that craving.
- For family-style drinks, make a pitcher of Sparkling Strawberry Ginger Lemonade or Southern Arnold Palmer! They're really refreshing.
- Need dessert? A super easy Chocolate Mayo Cake requires very few ingredients but is super moist and mega chocolatey.
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- 3 lbs chicken wings, segmented
- 3 large eggs,
- ¼ cup milk
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoon lemon pepper seasoning
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoon onion powder
Lemon Pepper Wet Sauce
- 1 cup (2 sticks, 16 tbsp) butter
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- In a large dutch oven, pour in about 3 inches of vegetable oil. Begin heating the oil to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C) while dredging the chicken wings.
- In a large mixing bowl beat together the eggs, milk, and hot sauce. Then, in a gallon sized zip top bag, or in another large mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients for the seasoned flour together until well combined. .
- Take the chicken wings and put them into the egg mixture in batches, ensuring all the wings are coated in egg.
- Take about 5-6 egg-coated wings and put them into the seasoned flour. Give a really good shake (if in the zip top bag) or toss and stir them well (if using a bowl) to coat the wings in flour. Let them rest on a plate while you continue coating more batches of wings, until all the wings are done.
- When the oil has come to temperature (using a candy/frying thermometer is important here) fry the lemon pepper wings in batches, about 5-6 at a time, so you don't overcrowd the pot and lower the temperature of the oil.
- Line a baking sheet with paper towels and then place a wire rack on top for the cooked wings to rest on.
- Fry the wings for about 7 minutes per batch, then use a slotted spoon or tongs to take them out of the oil and place them on the prepared wire rack. Repeat with all the chicken wings until all of them are done frying. Make sure to check on the temperature before every batch, we don't want the heat to be higher than 360 degrees F (182 degrees C)or lower than 350 degrees F (176 degrees C).
- Mix the melted butter, lemon zest and juice, lemon pepper seasoning, garlic powder, and kosher salt in a small bowl. Put the wings in a clean mixing bowl and pour some of the sauce over the wings. Give them a really good toss, and if you want to make lemon pepper 'wet' wings, add all the sauce to the wings.
- Serve hot, with any leftover sauce on the side to dip in.
Want to reheat any leftover lemon pepper wings? Put them on a baking sheet in one layer, on a wire rack and reheat at 300 degrees F in your oven until they are warmed through.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 492Total Fat: 60gSaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 35gCholesterol: 280mgSodium: 3351mgCarbohydrates: 56gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 45g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.