Boneless vs. Bone-In Wings: Which Is Better for You?

Boneless vs. Bone-In Wings

Have you ever found yourself hotly debating something and then later wondered why you got so heated? Especially when the subject has little impact on your life. Okay, that’s likely another discussion for another time. But one argument that tends to pop up is boneless vs. bone-in wings, especially around game days. And people have opinions. Where do you land on the debate? And, taste aside, which one is actually healthier? That is today’s question.

Bone-in wings are more popular—more than 60% of restaurant wings are this variety. And they’re gaining in popularity—by about 6% in the past year. Yet prices have been fluctuating heavily, and during times like that, boneless wings tend to be more heavily promoted. Why? Because they aren’t actually wings, and wings are harder to find and thus more expensive.

The boneless variety are made from formed chicken breast meat, and then breaded. Yep, they’re basically a chicken nugget. This means they’re also faster cooking but arguably not as flavorful as real wings. This is because they lack skin, bone, and cartilage, which provide moisture, fat, and flavor. Boneless wings also cook faster, which means they can dry out, making you dip into sauce more.

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Boneless vs. Bone-In Wings

On one side of the debate, the boneless proponents claim this is the healthier variety. It is made up of leaner white meat and removes the skin, where the fat resides. Are they right?

Let’s start by breaking down the nutrition facts (though it does vary a lot, depending on the restaurant or brand):

Boneless Chicken Wings Nutrition Facts

  • Serving size: 4 wings
  • Calories: 210
  • Fat: 9g
  • Saturated Fat: 1.5g
  • Cholesterol: 40mg
  • Carbohydrates: 16g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Protein: 16g

Bone-In Chicken Wings Nutrition Facts

  • Serving size: 4 wings
  • Calories: 220
  • Fat: 17g
  • Saturated Fat: 5g
  • Cholesterol: 105mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Protein: 17g

Add in a couple of tablespoons of ranch salad dressing (145 calories) or blue cheese dressing (73 calories), some carrot and celery sticks, and you’re looking at around 290 to 300 calories for a pretty small serving. Both, however, do provide a respectable amount of protein per serving.

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The number of calories can also vary tremendously even in the same restaurant. For example, Buffalo Wild Wings has a number of wing options. For example, you can order naked tenders (a boneless option), which has 160 calories, 1 g of fat, and 37 g of protein for 3 tenders. Their traditional wings, in contrast, provide 430 calories, 24 grams of fat, and 53 grams of protein. This is before any sauces or rubs are added. Their breaded tenders, though, have an even larger calorie cost of 490 calories, 24 g of fat, and 35 g of protein plus 34 g of carbohydrates for just 3 tenders.

Beyond calories, bone-in wings are mostly made up of skin and fat, and then they’re deep-fat fried in refined oils. Boneless wings are likewise fried in batter. Plus, they contain refined (white) carbohydrates, so they don’t fit well with a carb-controlled diet.

In other words, neither option is healthy—at least as traditionally prepared.

How to Make a Healthier Wing

Wings, however, are a staple for game days. So, are there better, healthier options? We’re glad you asked!

Over the last few years, Coach Cristina has come to the gameday rescue with several wing alternatives that are not only healthier, they taste better than traditional restaurant wings! Here are some of our favorites:

  • Slow cooker and then grilled Buffalo Chicken Wings.
  • Chicken thighs three ways (grilled, Instant Pot, and Air Fryer).
  • If you prefer boneless wings (i.e., nuggets), then you’ll love these simple Paleo chicken tenders.
  • If you have an Air Fryer, these chicken fingers check all the boxes. Plus, they’re gluten-free.
  • One of our absolutely favorite wing recipes skips the chicken altogether. Give this baked buffalo cauliflower recipe a try. Blindfolded, you’d be hard-pressed to believe these are made from cauliflower! They’re seriously so good and good for you!
  • Finally, if you’re looking for a perfect game-day alternative that provides all of the flavor but none of the mess—and is healthy to boot—these buffalo chicken cheddar bites may become your new go-to tradition!

Boneless vs. Bone-In Wings

If the argument is just which is healthier, the honest answer is neither. This Superbowl Sunday, you may be faced with eating or not eating one form of wing or another—especially if you’re at a party. The choice, of course, will depend on your current goals and lifestyle. And remember, one food, one meal (or game) doesn’t determine a healthy lifestyle. It’s your lifestyle in its entirety along with consistently making more healthy choices. Fortunately, there are some tremendous, actually healthy options you can choose instead.

As for the big boneless vs. bone-in wings debate: if you ever find yourself in this situation, you can just walk away. After all, it’s not like wings make that big of an impact on your overall life. Better yet, invite your debate partner to chow down on some home-cooked wings to show that you’ve got better options in your corner!