Put the Wing Bowl up there with the Mummers Parade on the list of Philadelphia’s more unusual traditions. Every year on the Friday before the Super Bowl, radio station WIP hosts an early morning chicken wing–eating contest big enough to take over the 20,000-seat Wells Fargo Center. Spectators turn out to drink, gawk at women assigned to hold plates of wings while not wearing a lot of clothing, and cheer on the competitors, who dig into more than 900 pounds of wings. Doors open at 5 a.m. for Wing Bowl 26 on February 2, when the arena expects 18,512 people — and that’s not counting the eaters, their entourages, or the Wingettes.
The winner of the first Wing Bowl, back in 1993, put away 100 wings. At Wing Bowl 25 last year, it took 409 wings for 50-year-old Bob “Notorious B.O.B.” Shoudt to earn the crown, plus $10,000 and a car. (The 2016 winner, Molly Schuyler, ate 429.) But before the competitors can start the feast, the wings have to show up at the Wells Fargo Center, fried, sauced, and ready to go. And that means local chain P.J. Whelihan’s, which has been providing the contest grub since 2008, is preparing a delivery of 10,000 chicken wings.
The wings come out of P.J. Whelihan’s Haddon Township, New Jersey, location, where P.J.W. Restaurant Group culinary director Rich Friedrich and other top staff cook them up and get them ready for transport. Here’s how it all goes down:
January 30, T minus three days:
- Rich Friedrich confirms the order with the supplier (Wing Bowl wings are smaller than what’s usually served at P.J. Whelihan’s: about 1.5 ounces and 2.5 inches, compared to 2.5-ounce, 3.5-inch wings). The crew makes room in the walk-in at the restaurant.
February 1, T minus one day:
- 4 p.m.: The wings are at the restaurant. They’re sorted, separating the drumsticks from the paddles.
- 10 p.m.: Friedrich; Jim Fris, the restaurant group’s COO; Jake Karley, special projects director; Terry Bailey, senior kitchen manager; Tim Donnellon, digital marketing manager; and directors of operation Mike Perro, John Kroll, and Chris Webb assemble at the restaurant.
- Midnight: With Friedrich and Bailey handling the fryers, the first batch of wings go in. The wings are then packed into foil pans labeled “paddle” or “drumsticks” and moved into hot boxes.
February 2, the day of:
- 2:30 a.m.: The hot boxes are loaded into a truck heading across the river to South Philly.
- 3 a.m.: The wings arrive at the Wells Fargo Center and are transferred to a staging area where they’re monitored in digital hot boxes.
- 5 a.m.: Sauce time. The wings are coated with 16 gallons of a mild sauce and plated, with each plate holding 10 drumsticks and 10 paddles. Each competitor will have access to 100 wings at all times: Two plates in front and three waiting just behind, held by a Wingette. Eleven P.J. Whelihan’s servers deliver the wings from the hot plates to the Wingettes.
- 6 a.m.: The first round of eating begins.
Leftover wings are given to the restaurant staff and workers backstage at the Wells Fargo Center. Leftover shame must be processed quickly, so Philly can focus on the Super Bowl. Want in on the raucous action? The Wing Bowl entry rules are here.