Few party foods disappear as quickly as a plate of spicy chicken wings. They're tangy, crispy, meaty and so unctuous that it's hard to eat just one.

The ultimate messy food, wings come in various flavors, from kid-friendly mild to Asian-style, but the reigning flavor is spicy and hot, with a touch of vinegar. Nearly every bar and restaurant does its own riff, but since there's nothing like a pre-cooked wing in the hand for impromptu at-home gatherings, we scouted the freezer section to see what was what.

The frozen contenders range from slippery, slimy bites to crispy, seasoned nuggets of goodness. Seasoning is key -- and heat levels vary quite a bit. Some are lip-numbing, but most are mild enough to please the masses. The larger issue is how long the wings were pre-cooked. Properly cooked, the fat is rendered, resulting in a thin, crisp skin that accents the moist, succulent bits of chicken inside.

Here's the lowdown, with wings ranked for texture, flavor and overall yumminess. Nutritional information is based on a 3-ounce serving, i.e., two to three pieces.

Hip Chick Farms Sweet and Spicy Wings

So much better than any other contender, these mildly hot wings have layers of flavor thanks to a spice mix that blends pepper, salt, garlic, paprika and more. A serving has 140 calories, 7 grams fat, 574 mg. sodium. A 12-ounce package is $7.99; $5.49 on sale at Whole Foods. (4 stars)

Tyson Any'Tizers Hot Wings Buffalo Style

Nicely balanced flavors and just the right percentage of coating to protein make these a big win. They have good spice and salt, and a delicate dash of vinegar. A serving has 190 calories, 13 grams fat, 760 mg. sodium. A 1.75-pound package is $10.99 at Safeway; $6 on sale at Target. (3 stars)


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T.G.I. Friday's Chicken Wings with Buffalo Style Sauce

Cooked according to package directions, these are soggy and sticky. But extra oven time turns the extra-thick coating into crispy goodness. The sauce, which comes in a pouch, is super hot and vinegar-forward. A serving has 230 calories, 15 grams fat, 690 mg. sodium. A 15-ounce package is $6.49 at Safeway. (2½ stars)

Market Pantry Buffalo-Style Chicken Wings

These minimally coated bites have pleasant heat and a serious hit of vinegar , but if they're not cooked twice as long as the package suggests, they're slippery and muddled in fat. A serving has 190 calories, 13 grams fat, 760 mg. sodium. A 28-ounce bag is $6.49 at Target. (2 stars)

Safeway Select Honey Garlic Glazed Chicken Wings

One has to applaud the sweet, garlicky flavor that permeates the meat on these wings, but the flabby skin is unpleasant. Safeway also sells Buffalo flavored wings, but none were available for this tasting. A serving has 230 calories, 14 grams fat, 560 mg. sodium. A 24-ounce package is $8.99 at Safeway. (2 stars)

Foster Farms Hot 'n Spicy Wings

Bigger isn't always better. These extra-spicy, giant-sized wings are like balls of battered chicken fat with a bit of chicken in the middle. With an extra 20 minutes cooking time, they lose a ton of fat and become something worth serving, but they're still gummy. A serving has 180 calories, 13 grams fat, 350 mg. sodium. A 1.75-pound package is $10.99 at Safeway. (½ a star)

Banquet Hot & Spicy Buffalo Wings

Think frozen-dinner chicken with a dash of spice. These bland little nuggets are disappointing in every way. A serving has 240 calories, 15 grams fat, 690 mg. sodium. A 22-ounce package is $9.29 at Safeway. (No stars)

Reviews are based on product samples purchased by this newspaper or provided by manufacturers. Contact Jolene Thym at timespickyeater@gmail.com. Read more Picky Eater at www.thepickyeateronline.com.