It seems like common sense that if you let something sit in flavor overnight, it will definitely improve the flavor, right? Not necessarily. There’s a purpose for everything, and if you don’t do it right, you may just be wasting ingredients.
For my past couple of batches of deep fried chicken wings, I would marinate them in buffalo sauce (Frank’s Red Hot and butter) overnight thinking it would allow the spicy flavor to seep in. Not quite true.
When to marinate
Marinades are most effective when baking or grilling your wings. While you bake/grill the wings, the marinades will caramelize/glaze over the meat for a delicious coating. However, when deep frying chicken wings, the marinade often just melts right off, particularly when using a butter-based sauce (e.g. Buffalo Sauce). Imagine putting non-waterproof sunscreen on yourself and then jumping into a pool except that pool is an angry, spattering hot spring. Ineffective.
When to season
Seasoning will naturally work well with baking or grilling your chicken wings, but it is also the more preferred approach for flavoring your wings before deep frying them. When deep frying chicken, you want to draw out as much moisture as possible to enhance the crispiness. A marinade will simply make it more moist. By salting your wings overnight, the salt will help to draw out moisture from the meat. You could also apply other seasonings beforehand, though I haven’t gotten them to stay on my wings too well. I’m guessing it depends on how ground up your seasoning is. Lemon pepper is not as fine, so it did not stick on as well for me, but if you used a finer ground seasoning like sugar, five spice, etc, it probably has a better shot at staying on.
Random fact just learned: Marinade is the noun for a liquid mixture used for soaking before cooking. Marinate is the corresponding verb meaning to soak in marinade. Happy Labor Day weekend everybody!