Is there sugar in Buffalo wing sauce?

Buffalo wings are a popular appetizer or snack made of deep-fried chicken wings that are coated in a spicy sauce called Buffalo sauce. This tangy, vinegar-based sauce gives Buffalo wings their signature flavor. While the original Buffalo wing sauce contains just a few simple ingredients like hot pepper sauce, butter, and vinegar, many commercial Buffalo wing sauces today contain additional ingredients like sugar or high fructose corn syrup. But is sugar an essential ingredient for making authentic Buffalo wings? Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients that go into Buffalo wing sauce and whether sugar belongs on that list.

What are the main ingredients in traditional Buffalo wing sauce?

The traditional Buffalo wing sauce that originated at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York in the 1960s was a simple mixture of hot pepper sauce, butter, and vinegar. More specifically, the original recipe called for:

  • Frank’s RedHot pepper sauce
  • Butter
  • White vinegar

That’s it! Just three simple ingredients were all that were needed to produce the tangy, buttery, and spicy sauce that has become famous as the namesake of Buffalo wings. Purists argue that any additional ingredients beyond the original Frank’s RedHot sauce, butter, and vinegar mask the authentic flavors that made Buffalo wings famous.

Breaking down the three core ingredients

Let’s take a closer look at each of those three core Buffalo wing sauce ingredients:

Hot pepper sauce

Frank’s RedHot sauce provides the signature heat and tang. This vinegar-based pepper sauce was the original hot sauce used when inventing Buffalo wings. It contains aged cayenne peppers, vinegar, water, salt, and garlic powder. No sugar is used in the original Frank’s hot sauce.


Butter provides richness and binds the ingredients together into a cohesive sauce. Traditionally, salted butter is used. Unsalted butter could work too but may require a pinch of salt to achieve the right flavor balance.


White vinegar adds crucial acidic brightness that balances out the rich butter. Cider vinegar or other types of vinegar can be substituted, but white distilled vinegar is traditional.

Do any traditional Buffalo wing recipes call for sugar?

When tracing Buffalo wings back to their origins, there is no evidence that sugar was ever an ingredient used in the original Buffalo wing sauce recipe at the Anchor Bar. The famous recipe was simply Frank’s hot sauce, butter, and vinegar combined in a 2:1:1 ratio.

Other early traditional recipes for Buffalo wing sauce, like one published in a 1982 Washington Post article, also did not include sugar. The recipe calls for:

  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup hot pepper sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

Again, no sugar is specified. Searches through historic newspaper archives and early Buffalo wing sauce recipes yield no evidence that sugar or any other sweetener was ever considered an essential element of traditional Buffalo wing sauce, only the core ingredients of butter, hot sauce, and vinegar.

When and why did sugar start getting added to Buffalo wing sauce?

Commercialization seems to have been the catalyst for brands to start altering the original Buffalo wing sauce recipe by adding sugar. Though sugar may provide certain desirable traits like taming heat or adding sweetness, it was not part of the recipe originally.

As Buffalo wings increased in popularity across the United States through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, commercial sauce brands emerged to bottle mass-produced versions of Buffalo wing sauce for retail sale. With a financial incentive to appeal to wide-ranging consumer tastes, some brands likely found that adding sugar helped make their version of Buffalo wing sauce sell better.

The addition of high fructose corn syrup gave brands a cheap way to both sweeten the heat of their Buffalo wing sauce and stabilize the shelf life for bottled retail products. Other brands may have added sugar to provide greater viscosity and cling to balance out the acidity of vinegar-forward hot sauces. The sweetness factor of added sugar also helped tone down spiciness for the masses unaccustomed to assertive heat.

So while sugar may have some functional effects in commercial mass-produced Buffalo wing sauces, it was not an element that the inventors of the original Buffalo wing sauce deemed necessary. The addition of sugar to Buffalo wing sauce seems to have emerged later as a marketing strategy when commercial interests got involved.

Do all commercial Buffalo wing sauces contain sugar?

Many commercial Buffalo wing sauce brands do include sugar or high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient today, but not all do. For example:

Brands that contain sugar

  • Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce – Contains sugar
  • Tabasco Buffalo Style Hot Sauce – Contains high fructose corn syrup
  • Texas Pete Hotter Hot Sauce – Contains high fructose corn syrup

Brands without sugar

  • Tessemae’s Mild Buffalo Hot Sauce – No sugar
  • Cholula Hot Sauce – No sugar
  • Crystal Hot Sauce – No sugar

So there are still options available for bottled Buffalo wing sauces without added sugars. However, many major brands choose to include it.

Should traditional Buffalo wing recipes include sugar?

Among Buffalo wing purists, the answer is a resounding no. Adding sugar strays from the original flavor profile that anchored the Anchor Bar’s famously delicious wings.

The true Buffalo wing flavor highlights the aromatic heat of the pepper sauce, tempered by the creamy richness of melted butter. A touch of vinegar provides the right amount of acidic brightness to balance the other components. Additional sweetness from sugar throws off that nuanced equilibrium.

This doesn’t mean sugar should be avoided at all costs. In dishes inspired by Buffalo wings but tweaked to meet different tastes, like soy-ginger wings or barbecue Buffalo wings, sugar can be a reasonable ingredient to include. But for true, classic, traditional Buffalo wing sauce, it’s best to stick with the original recipe and leave the sugar out.

Tips for keeping sugar out of Buffalo wing sauce

Want to keep your homemade Buffalo wing sauce sugar-free? Here are some tips:

  • Use original Frank’s RedHot sauce, butter, and vinegar as the base
  • To tame heat, adjust the butter-to-hot sauce ratio instead of adding sugar
  • If needed for viscosity, use cornstarch instead of sugar
  • Add extra vinegar for depth rather than sugar for sweetness
  • Infuse flavors with herbs and spices instead of sugar

How does sugar affect the flavor of Buffalo wings?

Adding sugar to Buffalo wing sauce impacts the flavor in a few key ways:

  • Dilutes spice heat – Sugar has a cooling effect that helps temper the burning sensation from capsaicin in hot peppers. This tames the intensity of the sauce’s spiciness.
  • Adds sweetness – Sugar counters and balances out vinegar’s acidity with its sweetness. Too much sweetness though can make the sauce cloying.
  • Alters texture – Sugar helps thicken and add viscosity to Buffalo wing sauce, creating a richer mouthfeel.
  • Enhances Maillard reaction – When wings are baked or fried, the sugar can contribute to desirable caramelization and browning through the Maillard reaction.

So while sugar does noticeably impact the flavor, using the minimum amount needed to achieve the desired textural and visual results can prevent too much distortion of the sauce’s original tangy, buttery, spicy character.

How much sugar is in Buffalo wing sauce?

The amount of sugar in Buffalo wing sauce varies considerably across different brands. To get an idea, here is the approximate sugar content per 2-tablespoon serving of some popular commercial Buffalo wing sauces:

Brand Grams of Sugar
Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Wings Sauce 1g
Sweet Baby Ray’s Buffalo Wing Sauce 2g
Tabasco Buffalo Style Hot Sauce 1g
Texas Pete Hotter Hot Sauce 1g

As you can see, sugar content ranges from 0g to 2g per serving for the leading bottled Buffalo wing sauce brands. The sauces relying on added sugars for flavoring tend to be at the higher end of that range.

Sugar alternatives?

For those who want to replicate the thickness and mild sweetness of added sugar in Buffalo wing sauce without artificial or refined sugars, there are a few potential alternatives to consider:

  • Molasses – Provides depth of flavor along with light sweetness
  • Pure maple syrup – Adds moderate sweetness with complexity
  • Honey – Contributes mild floral sweetness
  • Fruit purees – Blending fruits like mango, pineapple, or berry can provide natural sweetness

When substituting any of these whole food sugar alternatives, start with a small amount, taste, and slowly increase to the desired sweetness to avoid overpowering the other flavors.

Can you make homemade Buffalo wings without sugar?

Absolutely! Here is an excellent recipe for sugar-free homemade Buffalo wings:


  • 3 lb chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup hot pepper sauce (Frank’s RedHot Original)
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper


  1. Pat chicken wings dry with paper towels. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil.
  2. Bake wings at 400°F for 30 minutes. Flip wings over halfway through.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk melted butter, hot sauce, vinegar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in a bowl until combined.
  4. Remove wings from oven and toss in sauce until fully coated.
  5. Return wings to baking sheet and bake for 8-10 more minutes until crispy.
  6. Toss with more Buffalo sauce before serving if desired.

This recipe sticks to the basics – Frank’s hot sauce, melted butter, vinegar, and seasonings. No sugar required for irresistibly spicy, tangy, and crispy Buffalo wings!

What’s a healthy Buffalo wing sauce substitute?

For a healthier alternative to classic Buffalo wings, you can make a lower calorie Buffalo wing sauce at home using Greek yogurt. Here is a simple sugar-free recipe:


  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp hot pepper sauce
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Dash ground black pepper


  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth.
  2. Toss cooked chicken wings in sauce to coat.
  3. For crisper wings, bake at 400F for 5-10 minutes after tossing in sauce.

Using Greek yogurt as the base provides a creamy, tangy alternative to heavy butter and oil. This lightened Buffalo wing sauce still packs a flavorful spicy, savory punch without weighed down by sugars.


In conclusion, while many commercial Buffalo wing sauce brands today include sugar as an ingredient, it was not part of the original traditional Buffalo wing sauce recipe. The addition of sugar appears to have emerged later as brands altered the recipe for mass retail production.

For authentic classic Buffalo wings true to their origins, purists argue that sugar has no place in the ingredient list. The original recipe of just hot pepper sauce, butter, and vinegar provides the ideal spicy, buttery, tangy flavor balance that made Buffalo wings famous. Yet for those who prefer a tamer, sweeter heat, adding a bit of sugar or alternative sweetener can provide that tailored taste.

When making Buffalo wings at home, feel free to riff on the classic recipe. But know that the sugars are not compulsory for irresistible wings. With the right ratios of pepper sauce, butter, and quick cooking, you can absolutely craft outstanding Buffalo wings without added sweeteners that live up to the iconic original.

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