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Call early for wings or you won't have a prayer

If you're planning to pick up chicken wings for a Super Bowl party Sunday, do yourself a favor: Call ahead.

Or don't, and risk missing the first quarter while you wait with the maddening crowd for your order.

Super Bowl Sunday, no matter who is playing, is a huge day for takeout, especially when it comes to wings, barbecue and pizza. This Sunday, more pizzas will be delivered than any other day of the year. The only other occasion when we make bigger pigs of ourselves is Thanksgiving.

So don't think the cooks at Chili's or the wing-ding joint around the corner will be twiddling their thumbs waiting on you.

Some chains can handle your order if you call an hour before you want to pick up. But small independents need more notice.

Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg, a popular spot for wings in the shadow of Tropicana Field, starts taking orders for wings at noon on Super Bowl Sunday. The earlier you call, the more chance you have to pick up your wings when you want them. After the orders start piling up, Ferg's assigns the pickup time.

"We can put out 300 wings every 15 minutes," explains bartender Trish Snyder. That means 20 orders for 50 wings can't all be ready 30 minutes before kickoff, which is 6:25 p.m.

Compare that with Chili's, which will take orders both the day before or an hour before the game, or any time in between. Restaurants with big kitchens are better-equipped to handle lots of orders at the same time.

The Beef "O'Brady's in St. Petersburg's Northeast Shopping Center has been taking orders for Super Bowl parties since last week. Aaron Carricato, one of the owners, says most will be picked up between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m. The kitchen there can make 500 wings every 15 minutes.

If you're new to the wing thing, here are some suggestions to make sure you get what you want.

Figure on about six wings per person if you are serving other food.

Ask if blue cheese or ranch dressing and celery come with the order. Some restaurants charge extra for those.

Prices vary quite a bit. A 50-wing order at Ferg's is $18.99, without blue cheese or celery, and the party platter, with dip and celery, at Chili's is $32.99.

Ask what type of container the wings are packaged in. Foam clam-shell containers, which are often used for restaurant leftovers, trap steam and make wings soggy. Chili's, which artfully arranges about 56 wings on a large covered plastic platter, will package wings in aluminum containers if asked. So will Beef "O'Brady's and others.

To keep large orders of wings warm, transfer them from buckets or foam into baking dishes and put in a 250-degree oven. Make sure they are covered and don't keep them in there for more than about 30 minutes or they'll overcook. If you pick up wings very early, store them in the refrigerator and reheat at 275 for about 30 minutes. Again, keep them covered and use oven-safe containers.

Run reconnaissance, either in person or by phone. Call today and find out how orders are being taken for Super Bowl Sunday; ask your questions when people have time to answer.

Or better yet, go eat wings tonight. Check out the independent down the street or go to Quaker Steak and Lube in Pinellas Park for the first time. After all, you're the best judge of what you like.