Last week, Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouse posted a mouthwatering photo of their Mommoo wings on Instagram with a conspicuous note asking for a handful of people to come out to their Park Road location for free wings. As a chicken wing connoisseur (seriously, my dying meal would be wings and an IPA), I immediately sent in a “pick me!”

The purpose of the event was to taste two plates of their famous Mommoo wings. One of the plates contained wings tossed in homemade Mommoo’s sauce, and the other, an outsourced version. Would we be able to tell the difference? And, more importantly, which did we prefer? I was up to the challenge.

What are Mommoo wings?

Mommoo wings are Duckworth’s claim to chicken wing fame. The wings are based on a secret family recipe that dates back at least 60 years to owner Rob Duckworth’s grandmother, whom he called Mommoo when he was growing up because he couldn’t pronounce grandma.

“It seemed like every time we went to our grandparents’ house, we had Mommoo’s chicken,” Duckworth said. “They’d buy small, bone-in chicken breasts and grill them with the sauce. We’d have that with deviled eggs, green beans and mashed potatoes.”

While the original grilled chicken breast version of Mommoo’s chicken isn’t on the menu, Duckworth claims that the jumbo chicken wings are the next closest thing. The chicken breasts his grandma cooked were smaller than the ones we buy today. Thus, the proximity of the meat to the skin and bone of a chicken wing is closer to what Mommoo cooked.

Mommoo wings are fried and then charred on the grill with Mommoo’s sauce, which itself is parts sweet, tangy and spicy.

According to Duckworth, the sauce works well with anything that has a charred finish like chicken or ribs.

“The brown sugar adds a caramelization,” says Duckworth. “Put it on the last few minutes of the cooking process though, or else it will burn it up due to the oil.”

Up until about 18 months ago, the sauce was made in-house when Duckworth decided to outsource it.

“It came down to scalability,” says Duckworth. “Because it’s a family recipe, only my wife and I can make it. We couldn’t keep up with volumes between our five locations.”

Why wait until now to host tasting focus groups?

Two reasons: First, a former employee returned to the Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouse team and mentioned that the outsourced version tasted sweeter than the homemade version. Second, Duckworth plans to bottle and sell the sauce. Before he does so, he wants to make sure the sauce is right.

Although both sauces are based on the same recipe with the same ingredients, taste can change due to scalability from home kitchen equipment to industrial equipment. The outsourced version also contains an additive to prevent the sauce from separating.

Was I able to tell a difference?

Each taster was presented with two plates of four wings labeled A and B. We were asked to sample both plates and then fill out a simple questionnaire, answering which we preferred and why.

Plate A, which I later learned to be the homemade version, I found to be a bit too runny and sweeter, albeit a bit more robust in its flavor.

On plate B, the sauce stuck to the wings better (less messy) and had more of that vinegary tang that I remembered loving about Mommoo wings.

Overall, the group was split eight to three with the majority leaning towards the outsourced version. The results mirrored a previous Mooresville focus group where there was a nine-to-three split favoring the outsourced version.

Now that the tests are complete, Duckworth plans to adjust the recipe before the final product is bottled. He estimates that you’ll be able to find bottles of Mommoo’s sauce on the shelves of your favorite local grocer and at Duckworth’s Grill and Taphouses sometime in the next year. Until then, ordering Mommoo wings off the Duckworth’s menu will have to suffice.

Photos: Bryan Richards