Photo: Kevin Pang

Here is all you need to know about Popeye’s Ghost Pepper Wings, which has returned to its menu for a limited time: I previously thought KFC was best-in-class in the fast food hot wings category. Not anymore. Popeye’s is our new leader.

If you’re the kind to enjoy Popeye’s, these drumettes and tipless wings essentially double the appealing Popeyeness of its fried chicken. Here the crunchy skin-to-meat ratio improves, tilting in favor that craggy, crackly, surface-of-Mars batter. The only knock is it comes labeled as “ghost pepper”—one of the hottest chilis in the world—but the spiciness level here won’t knock you on your ass.

That’s not a bad thing, though. It takes the piquancy level of Popeye’s standard spicy fried chicken and intensifies it by 50 percent. Pockets of furious-red chili paste can be found wedged inside that fried batter, tasting of a clean, balanced, lingering burn that’s more mellow spiciness than sharp. (The standard sauce pairing is buttermilk ranch, a tangy and cooling counterpart to the wings, though I’m a huge fan of its blackened ranch. Opt for that instead.)

So for spice fetishists who complain “fast food hot” is too meek, the Ghost Pepper Wings rectifies that, even if just with baby steps. At least now it’s food-lover’s-spicy, not PG-13-spicy. If one approaches these as simply “hot wings,” then you’ll come away thinking it’s the best thing on Popeye’s menu, if not outright the finest fast food fried chicken we have going.

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