Why Is It Called Buffalo Sauce? The Origins of the Spicy Wing Sauce

Buffalo wings are a staple of sports bars and game day spreads across America. But have you ever wondered why that tangy, spicy sauce is called Buffalo sauce? It may seem odd for a style of hot wing created in New York to be named after the city of Buffalo.

As it turns out, the origin story of Buffalo sauce involves some creative naming by the dish’s inventors back in 1964. The now-famous sauce was first whipped up at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York as a way to spice up a platter of chicken wings. The wings became a local hit, and “Buffalo” became intrinsically linked with the peppery cayenne sauce used to flavor them.

Although Buffalo sauce has evolved over the years into various recipes and spin-offs, the name has stuck. Today it’s nearly impossible to imagine “Buffalo shrimp” or “Buffalo cauliflower” being called anything else. The city of Buffalo and spicy hot sauce have become permanently connected in the culinary world.

Want to learn more about how Buffalo got its saucy claim to fame? Keep reading as we explore the birth of Buffalo sauce at the Anchor Bar and how it became a sensation across the country.

Buffalo Sauce Was Born at the Anchor Bar

Back in 1964, the Anchor Bar was a neighborhood tavern in Buffalo, NY owned by Italian immigrant Frank Bellissimo and his wife Teressa. According to legend, one Friday evening the bar had run out of typical snacks to serve. Teressa decided to whip up something using chicken wings, which were then considered waste cuts used mainly for stock.

She deep fried the wings and tossed them in a special sauce made with melted butter and hot pepper sauce. The wings were an instant hit with the patrons, and a new menu star was born!

Teressa’s original Buffalo wing sauce recipe contained just 3 simple ingredients:

  • Melted butter
  • Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
  • Cayenne pepper

The mixture of buttery richness cut by vinegar and spice was the perfect complement to the crispy fried wings.

The Dish Caught On Like Wildfire in Buffalo

Word quickly spread about the tasty chicken wings at the Anchor Bar. By the 1970s, Buffalo wings were being served at pizza joints and bars all over the city. Local food companies even began bottling the signature sauce for home use.

Buffalo native John Young is credited with putting Buffalo wings on the map nationally. As owner of John Young’s Wings ‘n Things, he franchised his buffalo wing recipe throughout the country in the 1980s.

Suddenly, Buffalo wings were appearing at pubs and restaurants across America. But no matter where they popped up, they kept the name of their birthplace—Buffalo.

Why “Buffalo” Wings Instead of Buffalo “Style” Wings?

Interestingly, the dish adopted the name Buffalo wings rather than Buffalo-style wings. This direct connection to the city of Buffalo cemented the link between the location and the sauce.

Using the format “[City] [Food Item]” was common at the time for dishes with a unique local spin. For example:

  • Philadelphia cheesesteak
  • Cincinnati chili
  • New England clam chowder

Calling them Buffalo wings helped distinguish these saucy, peppery wings from other regional wing styles like barbecue or teriyaki.

Buffalo Sauce Evolved Beyond Wings

Originally, Buffalo sauce was synonymous with chicken wings. But over the decades, chefs and home cooks got creative with new ways to use the popular sauce.

Soon, spicy Buffalo versions of shrimp, cauliflower, pizza, salad, and more joined bar menus across the country. The name Buffalo sauce became a catch-all term for any dish featuring the butter/hot sauce mixture.

Branding of Buffalo Sauce Was Key

A key factor that helped establish Buffalo sauce as a distinct product was Frank’s RedHot launching a ready-made bottled version in the 1980s. This allowed home cooks and restaurants to easily recreate the Anchor Bar’s original recipe.

Seeing the Frank’s logo on bottles of Buffalo wing sauce cemented the connection between Buffalo, NY and spicy cayenne pepper flavor. It may have helped inspire all the spin-off recipes as well.

Common Characteristics of Buffalo Sauce

Although recipes vary, authentic Buffalo sauce is known for a few key characteristics:

  • Cayenne pepper heat
  • Abundance of butter or other fat
  • Vinegary tang
  • Slight sweetness
  • Thick, coating texture

Anything labeled Buffalo sauce should feature that perfect balance of flavors. Too much butter without the tang makes it mild. Skipping the butter robs it of that signature rich mouthfeel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is Buffalo sauce originally from Buffalo, New York?

A: Yes, the original Buffalo chicken wing sauce was invented at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY in 1964. The city’s name became linked to the sauce.

Q: What makes Buffalo sauce different from other hot sauces?

A: Buffalo sauce contains butter or other dairy which gives it a rich, creamy texture to balance the heat. It also has vinegar for tanginess.

Q: What type of pepper is used in Buffalo sauce?

A: Most Buffalo sauce recipes call for cayenne pepper as the spicy ingredient. Occasionally habanero or other peppers are used.

Q: Does Buffalo sauce have to be put on wings?

A: No, while it’s still mainly associated with wings, Buffalo sauce can be used on all kinds of foods like shrimp, cauliflower, pizza, and more.

Q: What’s the best way to make Buffalo sauce at home?

A: The classic easy method is mixing equal parts melted butter and hot sauce like Frank’s RedHot. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for extra kick if desired.

The Takeaway

While the ingredients of Buffalo sauce have evolved over the decades, its name has stuck to honor the city where it all began. The Anchor Bar put Buffalo on the culinary map when they first tossed those wings in spicy butter sauce.

So next time you dig into Buffalo wings, shrimp, or cauliflower, thank Teressa Bellissimo for having the creative spark to deep fry chicken wings and douse them in hot sauce one fateful night in 1964. That’s how the city of Buffalo, New York became synonymous with spicy pepper flavor.

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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