Skip to main content

Chicken wing festival is a fowl success -- 85,000 flock to Buffalo

By Stephanie Gallman, CNN
Click to play
Chicken wing festival a success
  • "The chicken gods were looking down," says the festival's founder
  • The 10th Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival drew visitors from all 50 states, over 39 countries
  • More than 50 tons of wings prepared at least 100 ways fed the 85,000 wing fans

(CNN) -- One hundred, eighty-three chicken wings. In 12 minutes.

That's what it took for Sonya Thomas of Virginia to beat her opponents -- including Joey Chestnut (currently ranked No. 1 by the International Federation of Competitive Eating) -- to win the United States Chicken Wing Eating Championship.

Thomas' victory Sunday broke her previous record of 181 wings and took top honors at the 10th annual Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival in Buffalo, New York.

"This is the Super Bowl for the chicken-wing industry," said Drew Cerza, self proclaimed "Wing King" and festival founder.

The event this year drew 85,000 visitors from every state in the nation and over 39 different countries, a feat that's hard for Cerza to believe, considering the festival's meager beginning 10 years ago.

Despite the Buffalo wing's invention in Buffalo at the city's Anchor Bar in 1964 -- "with," according to Cerza, "a sauce of Frank's hot sauce and butter" -- Buffalo was without a wing festival for decades.

"Then this movie -- 'Osmosis Jones' -- comes out," Cerza said.

The Farrelly Brothers' 2001 movie was about a junk-food-loving dad, played by Bill Murray, who was trying to get to a national wing festival in Buffalo.

Only there was no such festival, much to Buffalo writer Donn Esmonde's dismay. In one of his columns, he called for someone to start one.

Cerza didn't see the column until he was outside cleaning his garage and was moving a stack of newspapers. But once he read it, the former food promoter, began to put the wheels in motion.

"I had no money. But I bought all of these turkey fryers, I had to fly restaurateurs in and put them up in hotels," Cerza remembers.

"I would've lost my house if it rained."

Luckily, it didn't rain, and the festival has continued to grow over the years. So big, in fact, that one year it ran out of wings altogether.

"We went around to the different restaurants in town and bought all of their chicken wings."

Cerza's decision to start the festival and his commitment to it earned him a spot in the festival's "Hall of Flame," along with the actor that inspired it all, Bill Murray.

Murray couldn't make it to the induction ceremony, which was a part of the weekend's festivities, along with a music performance by Sand Ox with Duff Goldman of Food Network's "Ace of Cakes."

There was also plenty of competition -- a Miss Buffalo Wing pageant, a sauce-off contest, and a "bobbing for chicken wings" contest.

The bobbing-contest winner, Angel Daniels of Brooklyn, pulled 15 chicken wings from a kiddie pool filled with blue cheese dressing in three minutes.

But wings obviously were the main attraction -- more than 50 tons of wings, prepared at least 100 ways, brought out the crowds.

"The chicken gods were looking down," Cerza said.