Thursday, August 8, 2013

Competition Chicken

My favorite smoked chicken to eat at home is a spatchcocked whole bird that is brined, simply seasoned, and mopped in the light hickory smoke with a vinegary sweet mop.   

That bird won't fly in BBQ competitions.  

Oh sure, you could submit a turn in box with pulled chicken and sliced chicken but that usually doesn't fare well with the judges.  Judges tastes a lot of BBQ in a short period of time so you really have to amp up the tastes to overcome the flavor fatigue and stand out.   It is referred to as "one bite bbq". 

Typically what gets turned in are thighs or frenched drum sticks with a glistening glaze.  The taste profile is mostly sweet, VERY sweet with a mix of spices and heat at the end.  The texture wanted is moist, tender chicken with bite through skin.  The quickest way to turn off a judge (other than raw chicken....ick) is for them to bite into your chicken and pull off all the skin in one bite.  

I mean, who wants a rubbery piece of chicken skin hanging over their chin?  

This past weekend I practiced my competition brisket and chicken.  After having three great briskets in a row, I wasn't happy with this one.   But the chicken was good and I would give it an 8-8-9 (9-9-9 is perfect) as a judge.  

I ran out of time and didn't brine the chicken thighs.  Next time I might inject some infused, clarified butter.   The most important step in prep is probably the most hated chore in competition BBQ - trimming the chicken.  Malcom Reed has put together this great video on How To Trim Competition BBQ Chicken but the long and short of it is
  • Remove the skin
  • trim off the fat on the meat
  • remove the vein/tendon
  • scrape the fat off of the back of the skin
  • wrap the skin back on.  
trimming chicken BBQ competition
The pile on the left is everything that came off this ONE thigh.

BBQ competition chicken
Trimmed and re-assembled.

The skin trick is what gets you the bite through skin and scraping it off is pretty gross because the amount of fat is stunning.   I like to scrape it off even when making chicken at home now just because I can't deal with eating it with all the fat still on.

The rub was pretty simple and sweet.
  • 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp garlic pepper seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried chipotle chile powder
BBQ competition chicken

Since I already had my Egg smoking from doing the brisket, I just upped the temperature and cooked them with hickory smoke.  In an actual competition, I'll have to have a second cooker for the chicken because I cook the other three meats (ribs, pork, brisket) at 250f and the chicken at 300-325f.

I eschewed the butter braising (aka muffin pan chicken) that I have tried the last few times and did a straight smoke the whole time.  

I went very basic by doctoring Sweet Baby Rays with apricot preserves, butter, rub, and corn syrup.

BBQ competition chicken

BBQ competition chicken
Back on the smoker to finish.

I didn't box these up in a turn in box but I need to start practicing that more often.

BBQ competition chicken

bite through skin, bbq chicken, competition chicken
Perfect bite through skin!
I've got some work to do on my trimming but I'm happy with my taste and texture.

Upcoming Competitions
If you haven't been to a sanctioned BBQ contest, I highly recommend visiting one near your or even better, volunteer for one to get more of an inside look at what goes on.  Here is list of all upcoming KCBS events.   A few in particular:

Mountain High BBQ Festival and Car Show - Franklin, NC
The Great Smoky Mountains naturally have smoke wafting across the mountains and valleys but this weekend (8/9 and 8/10) it will be supplemented with smoke from the best pitmasters around.  One of my favorite local teams Rocky Top BBQ (Grand Champion of Sam's Club Tour regional event, Tryon's KCBS event, and others) will be there with a chance to win the Triple Crown of the Smokies (highest cumulative score of the Tryon, Maggie Valley, and Franklin events).  Walt will be facing stiff competition including BBQ Pitmasters Judge, Myron Mixon's Jack's Old South.

Music City Festival and BBQ Championship - Nashville, TN
August 23-24, 2013
Being the home of country music, you know that a Nashville music festival will have the biggest and fastest rising stars on stage.  This is a dual event, meaning there will be two competitions in one, a KCBS judged event and an MBN contest.  I will be judging on the KCBS side and want to try to arrange a meet up during the event.  If you're going to be there or in the area let me know.

Riverfest 2013 - Decatur, AL
September 13-14, 2013
My friend, Ken Hess of Big Bob Gibson's BBQ, is the Chairman of this year's Riverfest and it is jam packed with events other than the BBQ contest.  This has a Backyard Division if you are interested in trying competing in a BBQ competition for the first time.  You don't want to miss this one, it is worth a 3-4 hour drive.  Get there!  I'll be judging in the Backyard Division. 


  1. your chix look perfect Chris. Never dreamed a thigh had all that fat. Good luck with the comps.

  2. Beautiful looking chicken. I just took the class to be a registered BBQ judge. What a lot of info in a short time. Will be judging for the first time on Sunday. Should be fun.

  3. Chris - You are really becoming an expert on BBQ. I've never heard of skin trick before so thanks for sharing that tip. I will definitely try it soon! Stunning how much fat is really there. Loving that last pic with the perfect bite through skin. Looks delicious!

  4. A lot goes into winning a competition and you've explained it very well, including the dreaded chicken cutting. Like the others, I never knew thighs had that much fat.

  5. That is some gorgeous bbq chicken! And thank you for the insight to how it's all done. :)

  6. Looks decadently delicious. I'm looking forward to trying this rub and technique!

  7. I think it's so cool that you do these competitions!!

  8. I thought about you this week while camping in Monterey, CA. We didn't make chicken but we did cook over a wood flame three meals a day for three days. The smokey taste amazed me. I know I should know how great fire cooking is, but I was truly amazed. Simple preparations even amazed me. One night I took a whole cauliflower, drizzled it in olive oil and tossed in a lot of garlic cloves and then wrapped it all in foil. I threw that packet into the embers for 20 minutes or so, then moved it to the grates while we grilled the rest of the meal. We had shrimp on skewers (of course they were great) but it was that simple cauliflower that (I'll say it again) AMAZED me. GREG

  9. Your skill with your chicken thighs is looking good. While labor intensive, attention to detail will pay off in the end. We are certified BBQ judges - the one thing we would suggest is that you might even out your sauce/glaze so it isn't quite so blotchy in appearance. But honestly - you have us drooling for a bite!! Nice post with great explanations and details.

  10. oh my GOSH! I can't believe how much work goes into just prepping the meat. (Not that I thought the competition would be a simple thing, but still!) I would happily pay for a bite of that perfect looking chicken. Your family is lucky to have you!

  11. Good luck with the competitions! I know you are going to bring home a trophy.

    Your chicken looks really good.


  12. I have never been a chicken thigh person due to that fatty taste. Your visual representation is eye opening. But now I now something to do about it. I never realized the competition side. Great post.

  13. The first thing I noticed was you did not square the ends for equal size. Uneven presentation might be the difference between an 8 or nine. We almost always get thighs. The breast is too risky to dry out.
    i find myself trimming chicken thighs at home now. It is a lot of work. Ms. Goofy is pretty tough with that score card.

  14. What a process you go through with each thigh!! You are dedicated my friend. The dry rub sounds amazing and I love the idea of mixing Baby Rays with apricot preserves. Finger licking good. Bookmarked.

  15. Nice, step by step tutorial.

    What's that round thing you scraped the fat onto?

  16. Another post that has my drooling at 6:48 am. So glad you are headed into the comp arena - you deserve to be there! I had no idea about the skin thing...wish I could do that to myself! I dare say MY thighs would produce just a tad more! I know...Ewwww...

  17. I've always wanted to try it this way since I saw Malcom's film on it a long time ago. You did an excellent job of condensing and shooting the process. My question is do you think it too much work for just the family and friends at a backyard BBQ?

  18. As I was prepping the chicken the way the video showed,I thought "never again, too much work". That was before I tasted the end result. Now I say" never again will I do it the fatty way". The difference is amazing.

  19. The best BBQ chicken I've ever seen in my life. Wish I could get that result in my oven


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