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Competition Chicken Practice


In competition BBQ, your entry is judged on appearance, taste and tenderness. The chicken you turn in has to have good color and glaze, and the pieces should be neatly arranged and consistent in size and shape. Taste is subjective, but you have to remember that this is ‘one bite BBQ’, so you should go a little heavy on the flavor for that wow factor that will separate your entry from the other five the judge will be tasting that day. As for tenderness, understand that BBQ chicken is not grilled chicken. BBQ chicken skin is tender not crisp, and the meat is softer and moister. What you’re trying to achieve is ‘bite through’ skin that’s not rubbery and doesn’t pull off when you take a bite.

Here, I’m starting with some medium sized chicken thighs.

The first thing I do is remove the skin. I trim the thigh along the fat lines on each side and trim to a nice heart shape. Some people prefer square or round (as in muffin pan chicken), but this is the shape I prefer because it looks more natural.

Next, I turn the thigh over and remove the small dark triangular piece of meat that lays right on top of the bone.

This reveals a vein, which I go in and remove.

Now I fillet the fat from the underside of the skin. This takes a sharp knife and a lot of patience and practice to accomplish without ripping the skin.

Then I put the skin back on, vacuum pack and they’re ready for meat inspection.

As soon as they’ve been inspected, I unpack the thighs, put them skin side down in a foil pan and give them a liberal coating of my favorite rub. Then they get covered and go back into the cooler overnight.

Two hours, forty five minutes before turn in, I flip the thighs over skin side up and pour on some melted margarine, one tablespoon per thigh. I use ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’. I make sure all the skin gets a good coating. Two and a half hours before turn in, they go into a 275 degree cooker, uncovered.

When the hour is up, I take the thighs out shake some rub on the skin side, cover and put them back into the cooker for another hour.

Finally, the thighs come back out of the cooker, get submerged in sauce and go back in the cooker in a new pan, on a rack for ten minutes uncovered, to set the sauce.

Here’s how this batch turned out. Perfect tenderness and ‘bite through’ skin. The presentation is a little lacking in that all the thighs are not identical, but in competition I cook 24 thighs and pick the best and most similar 6. I also don’t like the bone projecting from the bottom of some of the thighs. Next practice, I’ll cut the knuckle off the bottom of the bone for better presentation.

34 Responses to “Competition Chicken Practice”

  • Joe Bailie:

    Mmmmmm. You could post nothing but Competition Thigh recipes forever, and I’m not sure I would ever tire of them. Great looking thighs, this is how I present my thighs at all my cooks. Thanks for the tips!

  • Holy Cr&p! What an awesome post! Do it again, do it again! I tried writing this procedure up the other day but this blows what I did out of the water. Thank you!

  • DMac:

    Great post; makes me want to start smoking some chicken thighs! Thanks for the info!

  • js-tx:

    Good looking chicken there. How do you keep the skin from falling off through the whole process?

  • Mister Bob:

    John, I remove the skin completely and fillet off the fat from the underside. When I put it back on, I just pull it tight and wrap it around the bottom. It stays put.

  • Erik:

    Looks like you passed the bite test!

  • Steve:

    Do you brine? I have never been involved in a competition. I thought meat inspection meant the meat had to be the way it came from the store or, I guess, that all preparation had to be done on site.

    Looks GREAT. Do you use a commercial sauces and rubs or your own secret stuff?

  • Mister Bob:

    Steve, I don’t brine thighs for competition, I don’t like the texture it produces.
    You can trim meats before inspection, you just can’t season at all.
    For this cook I used commercial rub and my own secret sauce recipe.
    I also make my own rubs, and sometimes I use commercial sauces.
    It all depends on what I’m cooking.

  • Tom:

    Wow, great read and amazing looking thighs! It really makes me want to make thighs!

    Can you leave the chicken in the vacuum pack for inspection or do they make you take them out?

  • Mister Bob:

    Tom, they stay in the vacuum pack for inspection.

  • Steve:

    Can you recommend a commercially available sauce and rub for chicken?

  • I’m with you, I think the perfectly round style thighs look too over processed or something. The natural shape you achieve looks better to me. Great tutorial.

    I’ve heard some people use a razor to remove the fat from the skin. Have you tried that? I think I would prefer a sharp knife.

  • Mister Bob:

    Steve, there are many excellent commercial rubs and sauces that work well on chicken. Plowboys Yardbird rub is very good, and so is The Slabs Birds and Bones. As for sauce, a 50/50 mix of Blues Hog Original and Blues Hog Tennessee Red has been very popular lately on the competition circuit. Head Country Original is very good too. All these products are available at The Kansas City BBQ Store online at http://www.thekansascitybbqstore.com/kc2/
    Taste is very subjective, you’ll have to decide for yourself which you like best.

  • Mister Bob:

    Thanks Chris. I have seen guys scraping the skins with a razor blade, and I actually did try it once (not very successfully). I find it easier to fillet the fat off with a really, really sharp boning knife, but it does take practice.

  • Steve:

    Thanks, Mr. Bob. Hopefully, one day, I can turn out some thighs that look as good as yours.

  • greg:

    Good job on the thighs. Could you tell me where you got the rack from that you put the sauced thighs on there at the end?

  • qdoug:

    if you were cooking boneless thighs would you adjust your cooking times?
    Thanks doug

  • Mister Bob:

    Doug, I haven’t cooked boneless thighs using this method, but they would most likely cook faster. This method essentially ‘overcooks’ the thighs in any case, but the butter bath keeps them moist as the meat gets more and more tender.

  • Mister Bob:

    Greg, That’s a cooling rack, available at most kitchen or restaurant supply stores. You can also get them on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/Heavy-Duty-Cooling-Commercial-Oven-safe-Chrome/dp/B000HLU84K/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1327539338&sr=8-9

  • Steve:

    I followed this tutorial just about step for step yesterday. Out of eight thighs only two or three had skin that shrunk or “crept” up. I guess I didn’t leave enough skin tucked under the meat. I didn’t brine at all and all pieces had bite through skin; even the ones where the skin shrunk up. My guests gave it two thumbs up and the piece I ate was very good.

    Thanks for the tips and tricks you provide here.

  • Mister Bob:

    That’s great Steve, I’m glad it worked out for you!

  • Joe:

    I like the pan and cooling rack. Where did you get the cooling rack?

  • Mister Bob:

    Joe, read the rest of the comments; the answer is there.

  • Joe:

    Thanks. I knew I read it somewhere, but could not remember where and I just skimmed to the bottom late yesterday. Sorry to have bothered you. Thanks for the advice on chicken. It was excellent!

  • Steve:

    Mr. Bob,

    How do you take care of the knuckle? Shears, a knife? Does getting rid of it introduce bone shards on your chicken?

    Thanks.

    Steve

  • Mister Bob:

    Steve,

    I rarely buy thighs so big that I have to remove the entire knuckle. When I do have to cut part of the knuckle off, I use a sharp knife then pick carefully with my fingers to remove any shards.

  • Carl,aka Smokinwilly:

    Hi Bob,
    I do my competition chicken exactly as you have described and always have great success. In answering the question, some have with the skin pulling or shrinking back during the cooking process.I use a GS Transglutaminase formula called “Moo Gloo”. It is a natural enzyme that glues protein-containg food together. Sprinkle a light amount on the bone side when pulling the skin back over the thigh. During the cooking process the skin will bond to the meat. It is safe and easy to use…Source: http://www.modernistpantry.com
    Smokinwilly!

  • Dino:

    Any tips for half chicken??? Cooking in Texas in LSBS half is the required turn in.

  • Mister Bob:

    Dino, here’s a whole chicken I did a while back http://thehogblog.com/?p=2409. The butter under the skin made a big difference, try it.
    I’m not familiar with LSBS competition, but I think that bird would do well anywhere! Good luck!

  • Jason:

    Bob, chicken looks amazing, what kind of chicken to you buy, organic, farm raised, etc.. or does it matter? I feel that when I buy them from the local grocery store, they are very big, do you ever have to cut the bones down?

  • Mister Bob:

    Jason,
    I use Bell and Evans brand organic, air cooled thighs for competition. I get them at Adams Fairacre Farms or Whole Foods Markets. They run small to medium in size so, cutting the bone is not necessary. The skin on these thighs tends to be thinner than Tyson or Perdue, and scraping is not even necessary to achieve bite through tenderness.

  • Branon:

    Those look great and the blog is awesome. What type of wood to you smoke with? Does the chicken have a smoky taste. I use the butter bath method similar to yours and find the smoke taste lacking sometimes. I have never covered them so I will give that a try.

  • Branon:

    Also do you put rub under the skin(I do)? If not, why?

  • Mister Bob:

    Branon,

    I use Royal Oak lump charcoal for all my BBQ. Because poultry absorbs smoke so easily, I don’t add any additional wood. For pork I add cherry or apple, and for beef I add hickory or oak. I use mesquite for grilling only.

    I don’t rub under the skin on my comp chicken thighs because I’m afraid it might increase the chance of the skin sliding off when the judge takes his bite. I haven’t really tested that theory, but I get plenty of flavor without the extra step.