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A lot of people remember their first kiss. The night they lost their virginity. The look on their loved one’s face as they exchanged vows. Science suggests that we’re often able to retain even the most acute details from the emotionally charged moments in our lives. I like to believe it’s our brain’s way of reminding us how lucky we are to be here in this complicated world. I’m not married, my first kiss was weird, and don’t get me started on my virginity. But something happened when I was 10 years old that changed me forever: I had my first chicken wing.

While my brother and I had occasionally dabbled in the meat pulled from an unsauced wing, we never took it further than that. As babes who didn’t know what we were missing, that full dish was better left to the grown-ups. But one night, as a child with a growing appetite, I asked if I could have seconds. Alas, the undressed wings were gone. In their stead, a small volcanic mountain stood with breaded chicken drumettes doused in sauce. I reached for one, dipped it in ranch, and nothing would ever be the same again.

The chicken wing is the most versatile snack of the tailgate lineup. They can be deep-fried, oven-roasted, grilled, or even slow cooked. And the sauce options are limitless: barbecue and buffalo and teriyaki and garlic parmesan. The chicken wing is the canvas; you are Bob Ross. Paint yourself the happy wing that speaks most closely to your heart.

As a Southerner, I consider myself blessed to be from the rare subset of white families who season their food. Salt and pepper lay a fine foundation, but a recipe isn’t a recipe until a little cajun shake or Old Bay enter the picture. It’s only once you add additional spices that you can see just how powerful the chicken wing can be. And with an endless array of flavors to choose from, the only wrong answer is no seasonings at all.

This weekend, we celebrate America’s independence from calling soccer football. It’s Super Bowl LIII, the Rams are facing off against the Patriots, and no matter which side you root for, we can all agree on Sunday’s real MVP: Chicken wings, the backbone of America. (Don’t argue with me about anatomy—this is a metaphor.) There is no other finger food so versatile and diverse as the wing, and yet, underneath the sauce and spices, they are generally the same, just like us.

Since that first chicken wing, I’ve altered my mom’s recipe. She deep fries hers because she likes to play fast and loose with cholesterol. Mine are roasted with a spiced dry rub before bathing in the savory nectar that is Frank’s RedHot. If you’re new to the wing game, feel free to start with this recipe and improvise as you see fit. But never forget that your wings are an extension of your soul: treat them as such, and you’ll never go wrong.

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