Growing up in the South, I ate turkey wings about as often as chicken or fish in my family’s dinner rotation. Everyone’s family had their own special way of preparing them—some boiled the wings first, ensuring they’d be tender; my grandmother did hers with a little bell pepper and onion, and would make a slurry to form a thin gravy that we’d pour over and eat with rice; and one trick I learned recently is to use dry French onion soup mix in the gravy for lots of flavor without much work.
No matter these differences, the wings always end up baked in the oven, cooking in their own juices and seasonings—this method of braising and smothering the wings in their own rich gravy makes for perfectly cooked meat that’s far more flavorful and a lot less likely to dry out than a typical Thanksgiving turkey. Plus, their size is much better for cooking for smaller crowds (and storing the leftovers).
In this recipe, the wings are first soaked in a wet brine made with salt, brown sugar, and a few herbs and spices. Wet brining isn’t a technique Serious Eats often recommends for turkey, but it works well with the wings: They’re smaller and have more surface area compared to a larger bird or roast, allowing salt and flavorings to make more of an impact throughout, plus the added water weight gained during brining guarantees juiciness even after long cooking (and those exuded liquids just end up in the gravy anyway—no harm done).
After that, I sear the wings in a Dutch oven, followed by aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot, and celery. Once cooked, they’ve softened, I transfer the vegetables to a bowl and use the same vessel to make a simple gravy, whipped up with a roasty brown roux and some chicken stock. Then, the vegetables, gravy, and wings all go into the oven to braise until the wings are tender and the gravy has thickened properly, thanks in part to the roux and in part to the collagen in the wings that breaks down during cooking into sauce-improving gelatin.
As for the wings themselves, most stores carry them, but you can usually find the best ones at a local butcher. Back home in the Southeast, I could find turkey wings all year round; both whole wings and split. But here in the Southwest where I currently live, they’re much more seasonal. I personally prefer to buy smallish wings and drums with the tips still on. Huge wings you’d find at your local state fair are still delicious, but will take longer to cook and, at least to me, don’t have the same tender texture or depth of flavor.