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Smoked chicken wings

Chicken Prices

Everyone wants to know why chicken wings are so expensive. The first answer is that chicken in general is more expensive than we’ve seen in many years. Combining the recent increasing demand for chicken as the least expensive animal protein, and the struggling supply chain thanks to processing plant labor problems, increasing transportation costs, increasing live production costs and other market disruptions, chicken prices have hit and sustained record-high prices for the last three quarters of 2021 and early 2022 (seen in the red line below). Secondly, the chicken wing is a limited commodity that is easy to cook and makes for great finger food at parties, and thus is in high demand.

Combined average broiler chicken price, cents per # - USDA-AMS 12/31/21

Combined average broiler chicken price, cents per pound. – USDA-AMS 12/31/21

Humble Chicken Wing

The humble chicken wing has been the beneficiary of very successful marketing campaigns. What used to be considered a by-product and sold at almost-waste prices is now considered one of the most profitable parts of a chicken. Not to mention the wings taste great. The unique ratio of skin to meat in a properly prepared wing cannot be obtained with any other part of the chicken. Chicken wings can be sauced with just about anything. They can also be prepared with a dry spice rub. Enjoy the wings hot enough to burn the skin off of your lips, or mild enough that your grandma would complain they need more spice. Wings can also be prepared all-natural.

No matter how you like your wings, most know that a typical chicken only has two wings to offer. The word “typical” is used because occasionally the truly rare bird does exist with additional appendages through some random genetic mutation. However, that is not the norm and is not a genetic target for the future. So for the meantime, we are all stuck with only two wings per bird. What does this mean for the March Madness watch-parties? The burn on your lips from your secret sauce will be accompanied by a little more burn in your wallet.

Last year, individually quick frozen (IQF) party wings purchased at the local grocery store averaged $2.61 per pound in January. So far in January 2022, IQF wings were averaging $3.24/pound nationally – a little more than a 20% increase in price. What does that $3.24 get you? A typical chicken wing weighs between 3-4 oz. Once again, “typical” is misleading. Modern broilers are raised to final market weights of 4 pounds to as large as 10 pounds. There is no doubt that the wing from the latter bird is much larger than one from the former. But using the average of 3.5 oz. per wing, a pound of IQF wings should provide approximately four to five wings, costing about $0.93 per wing. This includes whole wings, drum, and flat together. Last year the same wings would have cost $0.75 per wing (before taxes and sauce, of course).

March Madness

Considering these numbers, you may need to rearrange your watch-party budget to account for the rising cost of the humble chicken wing. It will be different for everyone, but a pound of chicken wings would just get most individuals started as they hope to watch the Auburn Tigers make another historic run.

Make a point to shop early. According to the National Chicken Council, 1.4 billion wings were consumed while watching last month’s Super Bowl. This likely means supplies will still be tight.

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