Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition? If you've ever wondered how BBQ teams get those perfectly sized, glossy chicken thighs, we'll walk you through the basics of trimming, seasoning and saucing competition-worthy thighs.
An American pastime, BBQ competitions are held across the country at various sized venues every year. From ribs to brisket, the key to any BBQ competition is creating flavorful, perfectly cooked and consistent products. The most eye catching protein you'll see served up are the glossy, perfectly shaped and textured chicken thighs.
If you've ever cooked chicken thighs, you know they don't come perfectly square or smooth. We'll walk you through the basic steps of trimming, wrapping, seasoning and saucing competition worthy chicken thighs. You only get one bite to impress the judge, so you need to make it count. Here’s how we get there.
For competition thighs, bone-in thighs are used most often. Chicken thighs have more fat content, which means they're going to be juicier and more flavorful. Chicken breasts can also be used, but it's tricky to get them cooked just right, and will have less flavor after the smoke.
Trimming the thighs is essential to making a thigh that has a good even texture without any fat, gristle or tendons to bite into. First, we remove the skin and set it aside while we work on the meat. We eliminate any tendons and excess fat collection from the meat leaving only the clean flesh.
Then, in the interest of consistent size, we square up the top and bottom of the thigh, taking off part of the bone. The bone is used as handle to pick up the chicken thigh. Once that is done, we tuck the meat under the bone to give us an even shaped thigh.
The skin itself also has a lot of fat on it. This fat will not render off in the smoker like it might when roasting because the smoking temperature it too low. Using a chef knife, we’ll scrape away as much of that fat as we can, leaving a very thin layer of skin only. Once that is done, we will wrap it around the seasoned, trimmed chicken thigh.
Any number of combinations and flavors can be used in competition BBQ. Sweet and spicy is one of the most popular combinations out there. Along those lines we decided to go with out Bee Sting Hot Honey Rub finished with Bourbon Barrel Whiskey BBQ Sauce. Season the thighs before putting the skin back on them, and then again on top of the skin. Try to get as even a coating of seasoning as possible for the same reason we do everything else in this process…consistency is key!
Using a hardwood blend, we set our smoker to 275 degrees F. We don’t want any marks on the chicken, so place the thighs in an aluminum pan and place them on the smoker. ½ hour on the smoker will add a good amount of smoke flavor to the meat. After that, we’ll add some butter to the pan and cover it with foil for an additional 60-90 minutes, or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees.
To avoid slowing the cooking process down at all, we heat up the BBQ sauce before applying it to the thighs. Adding butter to the sauce while warming it up will give even more flavor and help with a nice glossy sheen once applied.
When saucing the thighs, do not use a basting brush or mop. We don’t want any marks on the thighs, so dunk them into the sauce and let them drip off excess sauce before placing them on w ire rack and back on the grill. This should only take 15-20 more minutes on the smoker to tack that BBQ sauce to the meat.
The final product will be an evenly cooked, seasoned, sized and textured chicken thigh. Our spicy sweet combo will wow anyone you present it to. It’s not hard to make these at home on your smoker or pellet grill, so give it a go and really impress the judges...even if they're your family and friends.