I’m at Buffalo Wild Wings with Emily Brink when a wavier’s walked over. Brink runs The Happy Gnome in St. Paul. It’s one of our country’s premier craft beer bars, a moonturn from the workaday beers on which Buffalo Wild Wings’ empire was built.
It’s an impressive empire (just don’t ask Panera Bread to weigh in). They’ll even let you blister your face if you so choose, so long as you sign a waiver beforehand.
The manager produced the paperwork and folded it to the signature page. I nonchalantly plucked the pen off the table and threw my name on.
“Aren’t you even going to read it?” said Brink. I shook my head.
“It basically says you can’t sue Buffalo Wild Wings if your face gets all blistered up,” said the manager.
With that, my dance card with the Blazin’ Challenge was officially punched. It was upbeat, but romantic.
Why was I even doing this?
A month ago, I swept through Smalley’s Triple 6 wings in the presence of Smalley himself. He had them delivered to the Harbor Bar after an interview for the podcast, and I delivered myself into the bowels of … if I had to guess, third circle of Hell? Had the Harbor Bar not shook up a White Russian with every ounce of lactose in Stillwater, my excretory system … anyhow …
Before that, I’d a short-lasting flirtation with D-Spot’s ghost pepper wings with the aspiration to work my way toward their Seizonsha — at 6 million Scoville units, preparing them probably causes climate change locally.
It was principle, then, that I’d face down the Blazin’ Challenge. “That ain’t shit,” I’d say. “300,000 Scovilles, not even 1/5 what the D-Spot wings are.” I’d never done it, though. My claim always had that little crack in the foundation. No more. I told myself, next time I go, I settle it once and for all.
So here I was. Brink and I came because it was the only place we could see our beloved, goddamned Miami Dolphins play Sunday. She predicted a good season; I predicted 3-13. The Dolphins had their teals on in pursuit of a sixth consecutive win. My fantasy football team fell to 2-11 this week. Never listen to me about football.
Listen to me about this, though: Lagunitas makes a beer exclusive to Buffalo Wild Wings, Fandom, that you’ll want to avoid like a Facebook political post. Give B-Dubs credit for squeaky-clean glasses, but this beer was ghastly. If you like grapefruit, I mean really love grapefruit, still don’t. The grapefruit overpowered, and left an aftertaste that made me wish I had more wing sauce leftover to drink in its place. Brink ordered a glass of pinot grigio to wash it down, and didn’t go much better.
Ooh, the wings are here!
Twelve wings. Six minutes.
If it was straight-up “Sauce Versus Tongue,” it’d be a cinch. If spicy food is your jam, you’ll actually enjoy the taste of these. It doesn’t offend your mouth at all.
No, it’s your face you need to worry about.
The wings are caked in sauce, and you’re allowed no reprieve during your six-minute drill: no napkins, no wiping your face, no wiping your hands, no drinking anything. You’re metaphorically handcuffed to these hot wings until either the basket is empty or you cry uncle. There’s the rub! Touch your eyes and you might as well call a priest for Last Rites.
I didn’t, but I had four wings down in the first minute and things were starting to get uncomfortable …
There was never any doubt I’d finish. Four minutes later, I dropped Wing #10 and took a short TV break. Only the two smallest remained. My fingers were fine, my mouth wasn’t too bad, but I’d accrued a sauce goatee that was eating its way into my facial skin like the oozes you fight when leveling up in World of Warcraft. It was already painful, though. Wings 7-10 were the painful wings. That’s the escalation. Get to that point and you’re just scorching already scorched Earth. If you do this, eat the biggest wings first. That should be obvious, though.
Just after the manager announced the five-minute mark, I dropped the last naked wing.
It was a satisfying victory, much more than I thought it would be. It’s not, as Tyson Schnitker of Skaalvenn would say, “stupid hot.” My face and digestive system won’t agree, but it’s not stupid hot. You also need open visceral space for 12 wings, which can catch the unsuspecting off-guard. Personally, I’d stacked a Bloody Mary before coming to B-Dubs and had faint doubts at the start.
They brought out the T-shirt, and a little bottle of milk. I had my ghastly beer, and my reversible Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Dolphins jersey on. I wanted more milk. I’d have even taken a Coronarita at that point, really anything but another Fandom.
Moral of the story: Keep it simple at Buffalo Wild Wings. Get your favorite flavor of wings, and get the biggest PBR they’ve got. The Blazin’ Challenge is doable, but it’s not the pushover I thought it’d be. Have your face ready.