You Can Thank Atlanta For The Creation Of Lemon Pepper Wings

Buffalo and its eponymous sauce may reign supreme in the world of chicken wings, but if there is one regional specialty that gives it a run for its money, it's the Atlanta favorite lemon pepper. A tangy, spice-rubbed counterpoint to the hot and saucy wing from upstate New York, lemon pepper wings have been around for decades. However, they have ridden a wave of popularity in the past 10 years, becoming the Southern ying to Buffalo's yang. Its glory is not just extolled by one source, either, as the praise comes from hip-hop hits, NBA stars, and TV shows like FX's "Atlanta." But where did these wings actually come from? And how has Atlanta claimed them as its own?

The origins of lemon pepper seasoning are not really clear. Lemons and black peppercorns come from India, and the combo of lemon zest and pepper is sometimes used in Indian dishes, but there is no obvious story on how the two made the jump to the states. What we do know is that its cachet evolved from an intricate web of hip-hop culture and the unexpected quality of food in the strip clubs of Atlanta, particularly the landmark club Magic City. The chefs at Magic City took extra pride in the quality of the Southern cooking, and during the '90s, the club became a hot spot of the city's up-and-coming music scene, helping to spread lemon pepper wings popularity throughout the city.

Lemon peppers wings were a way for Atlanta eaters to tame hot sauce

There is no "original," spot that created lemon pepper wings in Atlanta, or at least not one that has come forward to claim so. Instead, they seem to have been an innovation born out of flavor necessity. While lemon pepper wings usually use a dry rub or a buttery sauce along with the spice mix, in Atlanta, there is a popular way of making them called "lemon pepper wet" that mixes Buffalo sauce with lemon pepper seasoning. This is the style that was featured on "Atlanta," from another wing institution called J.R. Crickets, and this seems to be how lemon pepper was first popularized. According to local fans, lemon pepper seasoning was a way to temper the spice of hot Buffalo sauce. 

As for when the dry-rub style took off, it's speculated that it had to do with the messiness of the original, especially during the early 2000s, when white tees were a popular look in rap and hip-hop. From there, they have been mentioned in songs from artists like Lizzo, Drake, and Rick Ross, who famously loves Wingstop's lemon pepper flavor so much that he owns almost 30 franchise locations. Whatever the exact origins of lemon pepper in Atlanta, the spice and the wings have become the signature flavor of the city, and the rest of us wing lovers all get to enjoy the results.