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We tried Popeyes’ Ghost Pepper Wings to see how spicy they actually taste
The popular wings are made with ghost peppers, once known as the hottest pepper on earth.
A few weeks ago, Popeyes brought back its Ghost Pepper Wings nationwide for a limited time. An order of six wings ($4.99) comes with a fluffy biscuit and creamy buttermilk ranch dipping sauce to help tame the hot chili peppers once dubbed the hottest in the world.
Our verdict: Forget about the Scoville scale. It’ll barely register. These wings are not spicy and you won’t need any help from the accoutrements to inhale the juicy, crispy bites of chicken.
We recently picked up an order from a Popeyes just steps from Times Square after hearing that the chain had reintroduced the wings, which debuted in 2014. According to the company, the wings are marinated in a ghost pepper spice blend for at least 12 hours, hand battered and breaded.
Despite the lack of heat, the wings were delicious. The drumettes and tipless wings have a thin coating of breading that doesn’t distract from the meat. You’ll bite into succulent pieces of chicken that’s fried just right with a golden hue.
But where are the ghost peppers? The hit of heat does build up slightly after a few bites but even a dash of Tabasco would infinitely increase the spicy factor. You’ll have to be prepared for a letdown, especially when ghost peppers are known to be nearly 10 times hotter than jalapeno and habanero peppers—but you’d never as you take these wings out of their paper box.
We’d still order these wings. After all, Popeyes’ fried chicken is popular for good reason—and it’s not because they’re spicy.
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I compared the new wings at Popeyes to Wingstop. I couldn't believe who won — and by a near-landslide.
Posted: January 2, 2024 | Last updated: January 2, 2024
- Popeyes made wings a permanent part of its fried chicken menu in late November.
- It enters a category dominated by Wingstop , which has about 1,800 locations in the US.
- I compared Wingstop to Popeyes and was stunned by the results.
Wingstop is the King of Wings in the fast-food world.
The chain, which has more than 1,800 locations in the US, is unstoppable. In its latest quarter, sales increased 26.5% to $885 million. Each store makes about $1.8 million annually. Wingstop's digital sales are off the charts, accounting for nearly 67% of sales.
So, when Popeyes expanded its permanent menu to include chicken wings in late November, it seemed fitting to see how they stacked up to the No. 1 player in the category.
Going in, I expected a landslide win by Wingstop.
That didn't happen.
Here's what I found out:
Wingstop sells 12 flavors of wings. Popeyes offers five flavors.
To ensure a fair battle, I scoured the Wingstop menu and compared only the wings that were similar in flavor profiles to the wings sold at Popeyes.
The Popeyes vs. Wingstop matchups went as follows:
Roasted Garlic Parmesan vs. Garlic Parmesan.
Honey BBQ vs. Hickory Smoked BBQ.
Ghost Pepper vs. Louisiana Rub.
Sweet 'N Spicy vs. Spicy Korean Q.
Wingstop's prices per wing are a tad higher than Popeyes.
At Popeyes, six a la carte wings are $6.99, or roughly $1.17 per wing. Popeyes won't let you order two different wing flavors in a single six-piece box.
At Wingstop, the smallest a la carte box is 10 pieces for $12.99. That's about $1.30 per wing. Wingstop allowed me to split flavors. So I ordered five Garlic Parmesan wings and five Hickory Smoked BBQ wings.
Both chains took about 20 minutes to prepare my order.
(Note: I ordered from a Popeyes and Wingstop less than a mile from each other in Santa Ana, California. Prices may vary where you live.)
The Roasted Garlic Parmesan wings at Popeyes were crazy delicious.
The asiago cheese mixed into the sauce gave the wings a nice smoky flavor. The cheesy garlic sauce was soaked in the deep-fried coating of the wing, making for a delicious crunchy bite. There's a bit of unexpected heat that comes with these wings, as well.
The wings at Popeyes are also a very nice size.
I thought the Garlic Parmesan wings at Wingstop would be superior to Popeyes because it's such a classic flavor.
But the wings were a total letdown, from presentation to taste. The wings are noticeably smaller than Popeyes. I had to work hard to get a solid bite with a lot of meat on the bone.
I couldn't get over the clumps of Parmesan cheese laying on top of each Wingstop wing.
The Parmesan cheese was clearly dusted on top of the wing with a shaker. At Popeyes, the cheese was part of the sauce, so you could taste it with every bite.
The Wingstop wing doesn't have thick breading, so it had no crunchy texture like Popeyes. The clumpy grated cheese barely clings to the wing. Half of the Wingstop grated cheese fell to the table or on my shirt.
The Honey BBQ wings at Popeyes were sticky, but finger-licking good.
The Honey BBQ wings at Popeyes are tossed in a sauce made with a mix of tamarind, sweet honey, and molasses. The honey made these wings a sticky mess.
The tamarind and honey gave this barbecue sauce a creative kick.
I liked the innovation here. It wasn't a boring barbecue sauce.
Wingstop's barbecue wings were plain, but delicious.
The Wingstop wings came slathered in tangy sweet barbecue sauce with a hint of smoky flavor. I love smoky-flavored food, so these wings were pleasing to my palate.
But, the Wingstop chicken wings are much smaller with less meat compared to Popeyes. I'm also not a fan of Wingstop's thinly coated breading.
Winner: It was close, but Popeyes won this round.
Popeyes said the Sweet 'N Spicy wings, tested earlier this year, are the chain's "best performing product since the infamous Chicken Sandwich."
That statement speaks volumes, as the chain's chicken sandwich sparked a chicken sandwich war with Chick-fil-A in 2019. Other fast-food chains produced chicken sandwiches to compete, including KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's.
Could Popeyes' wings spark a similar chicken battle?
If the Sweet 'N Spicy wings are leading the charge, I say, "Yes." After my first bite, I could see why it was an overnight success.
The wings are bathed in a pool of chili oil. It was sticky tangy goodness in one bite. It was like eating orange chicken but with a lot more heat.
The Spicy Korean Q wings at Wingstop have a similar flavor and heat profile to the Sweet 'N Spicy wings.
The Spicy Korean Q wings are described on Wingstop's menu as a "sweet and spicy" wing made with ginger, garlic, sriracha, and crushed red pepper.
The heat level is three flames out of five on the Wingstop scale.
It was nearly identical in taste to Popeyes' Sweet 'N Spicy wings.
But the Popeyes Sweet 'N Spicy wing had more heat and bolder flavors.
The next matchup pits the not-so-hot Ghost Pepper wings at Popeyes against Wingstop's Louisiana Rub wings.
Believe it or not, the Ghost Pepper wings at Popeyes were not hot.
They are not tossed in any sauce. The heat comes from marinating the chicken for 12 hours in ghost pepper spices. It's the least spicy of the five Popeyes chicken wings. They were a big letdown, as I prepared my palate for some scorching heat.
The Louisiana Rub wings at Wingstop were lightly coated in a Cajun seasoning. They were the best wings I tried at Wingstop.
The Louisiana Rub wings had the perfect amount of heat. The seasoning on the breading also wasn't an afterthought like the Parmesan crumbles on the garlic wings.
Winner: Finally, a win for Wingstop.
Here's why Wingstop loses to chicken wings newcomer Popeyes.
I know. I'm just as astounded as you are. I really came into this battle thinking Wingstop would win this chicken wing battle by a landslide.
Instead, it was a near sweep by Popeyes. Their wings are meaty, crispy flavor bombs ready to spark another chicken war.
Still, there's no denying Wingstop is a pro at chicken wings. When I visited on a Friday night, the place was hopping. A dozen employees were working, taking orders, frying wings, tossing wings in sauce, expediting delivery orders, and cleaning tables.
The chain is a well-oiled machine.
But, Popeyes is a mighty newcomer in the chicken wings space, and Wingstop should be worried.
Popeyes is a well-known brand with 3,000 restaurants in the US. It is owned by Restaurant Brands International, the parent of Burger King . RBI is investing heavily in improving operations at Popeyes, and leaning into the chain's spicy-infused fried-chicken menu.
Popeyes is on a roll. This year, Popeyes became the No. 2 fried-chicken player in the US, leapfrogging over KFC. Popeyes is fearless about entering a new category dominated by others. They proved that with their chicken sandwich.
I can't wait for the social media slingshots to begin as Popeyes' wings gain more traction among fast food eaters.
Are you a fast-food insider with insight to share? Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at [email protected] or via Signal encrypted at 714-875-6218.
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Popeyes' Popular Ghost Pepper Wings Are Back For A Limited Time
Can you handle them?
The hand-battered and breaded wings are marinated in a ghost pepper spice blend for at least 12 hours and are served (thankfully) with buttermilk ranch. Six ghost pepper wings are going for $5.
How hot are ghost peppers, exactly? They are rated at over one million Scoville Heat Units and are considered to be 170 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.
"Our Ghost Pepper Wings have been a fan favorite amongst our guests, combining the perfect amount of spice and flavor for wing lovers,” said Sami Siddiqui, President of Popeyes North America, in a press release.
Popeyes is also offering $1 wing delivery deals like six for $6 and 12 for $12, when you order through the Popeyes website or app. And, with every order of the spicy wings, you'll get 200 loyalty points.
You'll need some dessert to pair with your wings, so Popeyes has also brought back its Blueberry Lemon Pie , which is a turnover-style pastry filled with blueberries and cream cheese, and its Strawberry Cheesecake Cup—a mix of strawberry puree and cheesecake filling in a graham cracker crust.
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Popeye's Ghost Pepper Wings are the best thing Popeye's has ever put out
Here is all you need to know about Popeye’s Ghost Pepper Wings, which has returned to its menu for a limited time: I previously thought KFC was best-in-class in the fast food hot wings category. Not anymore. Popeye’s is our new leader.
If you’re the kind to enjoy Popeye’s, these drumettes and tipless wings essentially double the appealing Popeyeness of its fried chicken. Here the crunchy skin-to-meat ratio improves, tilting in favor that craggy, crackly, surface-of-Mars batter. The only knock is it comes labeled as “ghost pepper”—one of the hottest chilis in the world—but the spiciness level here won’t knock you on your ass.
That’s not a bad thing, though. It takes the piquancy level of Popeye’s standard spicy fried chicken and intensifies it by 50 percent. Pockets of furious-red chili paste can be found wedged inside that fried batter, tasting of a clean, balanced, lingering burn that’s more mellow spiciness than sharp. (The standard sauce pairing is buttermilk ranch, a tangy and cooling counterpart to the wings, though I’m a huge fan of its blackened ranch. Opt for that instead.)
So for spice fetishists who complain “fast food hot” is too meek, the Ghost Pepper Wings rectifies that, even if just with baby steps. At least now it’s food-lover’s-spicy, not PG-13-spicy. If one approaches these as simply “hot wings,” then you’ll come away thinking it’s the best thing on Popeye’s menu, if not outright the finest fast food fried chicken we have going.
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Where Fire Meets Flavor: Covering Foods That Bring the Heat!
Winging It: Ghost Pepper Wings from Popeyes
Bottom Line: The Ghost Pepper Wings from Popeyes are tasty little bites of chicken that bring a nice kick of heat.
Popeyes is known for its fried chicken with a kick, and its spicy chicken sandwich is one of the best available in the drive thru these days. But apparently they know that consumers are really going for the spicy stuff lately, and they are kicking things up by bringing back their Ghost Pepper Wings. Those were last available in the drive thru three years ago, and I seem to recall that they came and went at my local Popeyes so quickly that I never got a chance to try them. They are back now, but only for that dreaded limited time only.
Take note that these are not wings drenched in sauce. Instead, they are marinated in a signature ghost pepper spice blend for 12 hours then hand-battered and breaded then tossed in the deep fryer. So they may not be what you typically think of as wings, but they are still worth trying.
At first bite, they taste like the usual good fried chicken from Popeyes. The meat is plenty tender and flavorful, and the wings have a flaky, crumbly crust that has good crunch. They are not greasy at all and the meat pulls right off the bone. They are also not too salty while still delivering a good kick of Cajun seasoning. The promised Ranch dressing was left off my order, but I have never been a huge fan of that condiment and the wings don’t need it. A little packet of honey drizzled over these might take them to the next level, though, and I may try that the next time. (Don’t pull these off the menu too quickly, Popeyes!)
At first, the heat from these wings does not seem to be much different than the spicy version of Popeyes regular fried chicken. But after a couple of wings you really start to notice some burn. By about the third wing, that heat has kicked up to the Medium level and your lips are tingling. And by the time you are through six of these, that heat has risen even higher. I wouldn’t call them Ghost Pepper hot, but still hotter than the Popeyes spicy blend and they get somewhere between Medium and Hot on my scale . I’d actually like it if they added the Ghost Pepper seasoning to their regular chicken pieces instead of just these smaller wing bits.
At 670 calories for a six-piece order, that may not seem too bad for the drive thru. But you know that you are going to get that combo which adds on another 200 calories for the biscuit and 270 cals for the cajun fries. Be sure to get the unsweet iced tea, otherwise you will be breaking the calorie bank with your combo order.
And let’s talk inflation. The price for the combo on the drive thru menu was $7.99, but by the time I got to the window they charged me $8.59! What would have happened if I drove around the building one more time?!
The Ghost Pepper Wings will be heading back to Limited-Time-Only-Ville before too long, probably after the Super Bowl (they make good football munchies). So give these a try now while they are still available. They may not quite reach the Ghost Pepper heat expectations, but these little firecrackers still pack a punch and plenty of flavor as well.
Tale of the Tape:
Serving Size: 6 Wings Calories: 670 Fat: 46g (17g Sat/2g Trans) Protein: 45g Carbs: 21g Sodium: 1420mg
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