A lot of people have asked why I’ve spent so much time lately studying consumer sentiment about chicken wings. The answer is simple: Because there aren’t as many divisive questions about bacon.

By now, we’ve covered wings versus drums. We’ve covered blue cheese versus ranch. In the final installment of this sure-to-become-a-literary-masterpiece trilogy, we look at one of the most evenly-divided questions ever uttered by your sports bar server:

“Mild, Medium, Hot, or Insane?”

The taste (or tolerance) for wing spiciness varies wildly. I’ve tried the hottest of the hot wings in my day, sweating profusely and crying until the pain goes away. That’s more of an extreme sport than a culinary one. Most people fall along a simple curve of Mild to Hot. See our results below from a CivicScience poll of 3,624 U.S. consumers:

Consumer sentiment on heat level of chicken wings

What we see here is a remarkably balanced split among Mild, Medium, and Hot – with Medium holding a slight lead over the others. 5% of the craziest consumers choose “Insane.” Meanwhile, 20% of consumers are truly “insane,” in that they don’t eat chicken wings at all.  Heathens.

Then we looked at WHO falls WHERE on the sing spiciness spectrum. Here’s what we found:

The numbers definitely vary between the sexes. Men are 24% more likely to answer Hot, while women are 20% more likely to choose Mild. Men are 45% more likely to choose Insane.

The clear correlation, however, lies in the age of respondents. Look at the cross-tab snapshots below:

What drives chicken wings' heat preference?

We don’t often see a bell-curve like this one. Clearly, Hot and Insane wings are most treasured by GenXers in the 35-44 age range, with percentages dropping the older and younger people get. A full 42% of people in the 35-44 age group choose Hot or Insane wings – more than 2.5 times the number who choose Mild. As you can see, the inverse is true among Mild wing eaters.

It raises an interesting question: Do our tastes for spicy food peak between the ages of 35-44? Or, did the maturation of the chicken wing phenomenon simply coincide, chronologically, with the maturation of the core GenX crowd? We will need to study these results over time to know for sure. Oh, we will.

Beyond that, we found a few other interesting insights.

  • Groups Who are More Likely to Choose Hot Wings = Dog owners; Democrats and Independents; People making over $75k annually; People who watch 4-6 hours of TV daily; People who read Science Fiction & Fantasy; Type A personalities
  • Groups Who are More Likely to Choose Mild Wings = Cat owners; Republicans; People making under $75k annually; People who watch less than 1 hour of TV daily; People who read Biographies and Memoirs; Type B personalities.

And so there you have it. The next time you’re out to eat with a group of friends, we’ve provided you with a full playbook to predict what kinds of wings they’ll order, which pieces of the wing they’ll grab for first, and which creamy dip they will dunk their wings in. We hope everyone will be impressed.