Cincinnati’s Key Ingredient in the Buffalo Chicken Wing

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You know a food has reached iconic status when it becomes a potato chip flavor. Such is the case with Buffalo Wild Wings.   In only about 50 years it has become the American Hot Sauce. You can even get it as a pretzel flavor with Snyder’s of Hanover Buffalo Chicken pretzel bits.   Nearly every fast food brand has had a Buffalo Wild Wings sandwich.   Arby’s has a Buffalo Chicken Slider now as a limited offering.

 

On the drive back from Ontario to Cincinnati, your first stop on the other side of the border is Buffalo, New York, the city that birthed this beloved Buffalo Chicken.   And its creator is called “The Real Mother Teressa” in that area.   That’s none other than Teressa Bellissimo, who in 1964, as the story goes, created the Buffalo Chicken Wing at her Anchor Bar on 1047 Main Street in downtown Buffalo, which she owned with her husband Frank.

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Back then, chicken wings were a throwaway bit of the chicken. They were used to make chicken stock for soups, and then tossed.   The story is that one night, Teressa’s son, Dominic, and his college buddies showed up at the Anchor Bar unannounced, and she needed a quick snack to feed them. So, she broiled the chicken wings she used in making the soup, and then created the now famous hot sauce to coat them with.     She pulled the celery they served on their antipasto platter and served them with blue cheese dressing on the side to cool that zing of the hot sauce.   Later she would deep fry the wings and then coat them with the sauce, whose signature ingredient was Frank’s Red Hot, the most popular selling hot sauce in the world, to this day.

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Teressa Bellissimo, the creator of the Buffalo Chicken Wing, and her statute in front of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York.

 

Her son Dominic, in 1980 told the New Yorker a different story. He claims he was tending bar that night in 1964.   But it was a meatless Friday for the mostly Italian Catholic Buffaloians at the bar. This was pre-Vatican II times, when the Catholic Church removed meat abstinence from every Friday to only the Friday’s during Lent.   Dominic wanted to do something nice for the bar customers at the stroke of midnight when they could eat meat again. So, he asked his mother to make a snack for them.

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Teressa’s husband, Frank told a third story.   Such is the case with origin stories.     Each family member has a bit different version.     There was a misdelivery of wings instead of backs and necks that they used to make the spaghetti sauce.   He told his wife to find a use for this unexpected supply of chicken.   Well, whatever the real story, Teressa is the creator, and the Bellissimo family created the market demand that would strut the chicken wing into a premium product, and not just a soup stock ingredient.

 

And, the Buffalo Chicken wing also created a demand for Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, which until 1969, was made in Cincinnati by Frank’s Tea and Spice Company.   In 1918, Jacob Frank, went to Louisiana to learn the pepper business and find makers of a hot sauce based on the cayenne pepper, not the tobasco pepper used in Tobasco Sauce.   So, he partnered with Adam Estilette, from a Cajun farming family.   Together they set up a pickling plant in New Iberia, Louisiana, to process the peppers they grew, which were then sent to Cincinnati, where they were aged with vinegar and other ingredients in oak barrels and then processed into the sauce.   The first bottle of Frank’s Red Hot hit the shelves in 1920.   After Adam’s death, his sons Frady and Grady took over the arrangement with Frank’s.

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The Frank family sold the company in 1969, and Frank’s Red Hot brand was sold in 1977 to Durkee Foods.  As of today – July 19th – Frank’s Red Hot is now owned by U.S. spicemaker, McCormick and Company, which just bought the food division of UK based Reckitt Benckiser for $4.2 Billion.

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