Cooking competition-style chicken can be time consuming. But, boy are the results worth it. You will have succulent, tasty chicken that will be the envy of all your friends.
You might be thinking about entering a competition and wondering where to start. Chicken is certainly a good meat for beginners.
There are many variations of the rubs and sauces used for this tasty dish. The preparation, however, remains the same. The best cut of the bird for this dish is the thighs. Let’s look at selecting and preparing the meat, and some of the best recipes.
Selecting Your Chicken Thighs
Buy the best thighs you can afford. The better the meat you put on your grill, the better the results will be. Ideally, you want each thigh to weigh about 5 to 7 ounces. The skin should be nice and white, and blemish-free.
Another thing to look for is that there is plenty of skin. This means when they are trimmed you will be able to have them all uniform in size.
Preparing Your Chicken Thighs
This is an important step, especially if you plan on entering a competition. It’s a good idea to prepare more thighs than you will need. This way you can choose the best for judging.
If you are preparing competition-style chicken for a cookout at home, this is not so important. However, practice makes perfect. You may even decide to enter a competition at some stage later on.
Trimming the Chicken Thighs
The final appearance you are attempting to achieve should resemble the shape of a pillow. The thighs should all look the same.
Chicken thighs have quite a bit of fat under the skin. They also have pockets of fat and sinew near the bone. The method of cooking is slow on a low heat, meaning the fat doesn’t render. This could result in a bite that is not clean, but a bit rubbery.
Points are awarded for tenderness in competition, so you need to remove the fat.
Carefully peel the skin away from the thigh. Make sure you don’t break it. You can leave it attached on one side if you want, or remove it completely.
You will now be able to see any excess fat on the meat. Scrape this off and trim off the pocket of fat visible on the side of the thigh. Flip the thigh over, so it’s skin-side down.
You can now see the bone in the center. You can leave the bone in, but be sure to use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to remove the knuckle. If you are cooking this at home, you can leave the knuckle in.
You might also see a pocket of fat and a vein near the bone. Use kitchen shears and a boning knife to remove this.
At this stage, use your boning knife to square off the edges from the thigh so it’s a uniformed, oblong shape. Flip the thigh back over, skin-side up, and trim off any scraggly bits.
Open the skin back up and scrape off any fat from the underside. You will need to hold your knife at a 45-degree angle to do this. Again, be careful not to break the skin.
You can now roll the skin around the meat—and you should have a perfect, little pillow-shaped thigh.
At this stage, if you want, you can place the thighs in brine. Brining the meat will make it moist and push in flavor. A brine is a mix of water, salt, spices, sugar and possibly herbs. The meat needs to soak in the brine for about two or three hours.
A basic brine recipe for eight chicken thighs is:
If you want more flavor, you can add other ingredients, such as chopped garlic, bay leaves, fresh thyme or black peppercorns.
Pop the thighs and all the ingredients in a sealable food bag and place them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Following this, remove the thighs from the bag and rinse them off. Pat them dry. Now they’re ready for marinating in a dry rub.
Marinating and Cooking Your Chicken Thighs
Now your thighs are trimmed, brined, and looking neat and tidy. This is the time for a rub or marinade. You can use your favorite pre-prepared rub—there are plenty to choose from on the market. Alternatively, you can make your own.
This is a typical recipe for a rub for about eight chicken thighs.
While it all comes down to taste, you can also add things like lemon pepper, chilli powder or dry mustard powder.
A good thing to bear in mind is you want your chicken flavorsome, but you don’t want it too spicy. The blend should be an even mix of sweet, salt, umami and pepper.
Rub your dry mix on both sides of the chicken thigh—not forgetting to put some under the skin. You can, if you wish, let this stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Alternatively, pop it in the fridge for an hour or so, or go straight to the grill.
You can figure out what works best for the rub you decide to use.
Cooking the Chicken Thighs
Now it’s time to get your chicken on the grill. You can add some applewood chips for extra flavor if you want.
Place a layer of butter or margarine in the bottom of a foil pan. Arrange your thighs carefully on top of the butter, skin-side up. Make sure the skins are wrapped around the thighs, covering the meat.
Smoke the thighs at about 275-300 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour, over indirect heat. Remove the pan from the grill and cover with foil. Return to the grill and cook for another hour. Again, indirect heat, at approximately 275-300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the foil tin containing your chicken from the grill. Be careful opening the foil, you don’t want to be scalded by the hot steam.
Now it’s time to sauce your thighs. You can use any ready-prepared BBQ sauce of your choice. There are competition style blends available from several sources.
You can even mix different sauces to your taste. Maybe use half-sweet and half- spicy.
If you want to make your own BBQ sauce, why not try this apricot and chili glaze?
Apricot Chili Glaze Recipe
Glazing the Chicken Thighs
Coat your thighs in the glazing sauce and place on a baking rack. Be careful not to smudge the sauce. Use utensils, such as fish forks, to dip and lift the thighs.
Return the thighs to the grill on the rack for about 20 minutes, or until the glaze sets. You want your thighs to be nice and shiny.
To ensure the meat is cooked, you can check the internal temperature with a probe thermometer. The thighs should be at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit when removed from under the foil. The final temperature, after saucing, should be about 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
You are now ready to serve your chicken.
These recipes can be scaled for other cuts of chicken, such as wings, breasts or half- chickens.
The adjusted cooking times will be: 35 minutes smoking and 35 minutes under foil for wings. For chicken breasts, 45 minutes smoking and 45 minutes under foil. For half- chickens, about one hour and fifteen minutes smoking and one hour fifteen in foil.
There is no doubt that cooking competition-style chicken can be a fiddly and time-consuming task. You can save time by using prepared marinades and sauces.
However, everyone has their own secret recipes and, like most pit masters, they won’t want to share them. Being creative and putting your own spin on a sauce is what sets your chicken apart.
Creating perfect, uniformly-shaped chicken thighs, with a bright shiny glaze, can be very rewarding. The aromas from your grill will have the neighbors peeking over the fence. They will certainly want an invite to your next cookout.
You never know, you could be winning awards before too long.