What Price Chicken Wings? The economics of production in fixed proportions

Sesame coated chicken wing held in chopsticks above a plate of similar wings

Professor Wally Thurman
Wally Thurman

Time was when chicken wings were barely a thing, appendages that nobody much wanted to eat. Chickens were bred to deliver big breasts and wings were an afterthought until the advent of Buffalo wings in the 1960s. Now, and especially in the run-up to the Superbowl and March Madness, wings are in much greater demand than breasts, which is reflected in much higher prices for wings.

I wanted to understand how the market copes with changing demand for the different parts of the whole bird, so I turned to Professor Wally Thurman, of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University.


  1. Purdue University (no relation to Perdue chicken) published a nice piece back in June 2001 explaining the complications that arise because Chicken Wings Come From Actual Chickens.
  2. Of course I skated over the true history of Buffalo wings. If Calvin Trillin can’t get to the bottom of the story, who am I even to try?
  3. In our conversation, we touched briefly on “wing-like things,” made from lower-cost breast meat. Just last week, I read about a class action lawsuit brought against a restaurant chain by a man who suffered “a financial injury” because he truly believed he had bought wings that had been deboned, rather than pieces of breast meat cunningly cut to resemble a wing. Nice try.
  4. Here is the transcript.
  5. Cover image adapted from Wikimedia Commons. Banner image from Ang Sarap.

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