Chicken the Nemesis?

One thing that a competition BBQ team needs each time out, is to have a consistent cook.  Getting your name called in a category is fun, but everyone there wants to hear their name called last. You don’t have to win all four categories, but just have a strong cook in all. I was doing well in the pork & rib categories, but struggled in the chicken & brisket categories, I think it is these cuts of meats that most home cooks do not have experience with. Coming from the backyard into cooking competition BBQ, I had never cooked a brisket till I was in my first competition…we did not come in DAL, but…enough said. Chicken on the other hand, everyone has cooked chicken at some point in their lives, but cooking to competition standard…now that’s a different story. To many, chicken is the arched enemy of BBQ teams, there are many steps that need to be followed to achieve results that will please the judges. The procedure to get your chicken to that point, can be quite time consuming, some folks take longer then others, I have spent 5 hours prepping chicken for a competition, but of course, as time went on the more beer I drank, the more socializing I was doing, well you get the picture.

I try to do a chicken practice cook, when ever I can, and chicken is one meat that my family still enjoy, with practice comes results, I am probably most proud of our first place chicken award at our last competition. This was our first call EVER for chicken, backyard or pro, we got RGC at the event, but I keep telling everyone about our first place chicken!!!

Work paid off :)

Our take for the day in St Cloud, FL.


I was happy with where we were going with our chicken, but I still had to try it again, just to make sure it was not by accident that we did so well in chicken, you can do the exact same procedures each time your out at a competition, and come home with different results each time. I want to do everything I can on my end to give the judges something to work with, if they score me down from what I turn in, at least I know that I have done everything I could have done. A couple of weeks ago I was taking, online, with a friend of ours here at Hogs Gone Wild BBQ, C-Dub’s BBQ Rub.

Great folks, check them out!!!

I have not had the opportunity to check out their great rubs, but I plan on doing it very soon, but I hear it is GREAT on chicken. Anyway, C-Dub’s and I were taking about chicken prep, online, and it got the urge to do a practice cook going again for me. C-Dubs and I exchanged a couple of ideas, then it was off to the drawing board. Thanks C-Dub’s!!! :)

I will be happy to share how I prepare my competition chicken with everyone, most things here can be found, more in depth trough out the internet, this is just a basic guide to do a couple of things that I feel are necessary to create competition style chicken. I will not be able to share certain, “proprietary” secrets, and flavoring will need to be something that everyone should do to their liking, but I did give you a good hint above!!! (Another hint…I do not use muffin pans!!!)

Let’s begin, I always cook thighs, white meat is fun to try out and experiment with, I have even thought about wings, but I always come back to thighs. There are many teams that have used wing, with good results, I’m just happy to get the thighs where I like them. Thighs stay juicy and have a good flavor, I do not take the bone out. I started off by cutting the “knuckle” joint off, but I have decided to stop doing that, I do not like the way the bone is exposed on the end piece.

Chicken straight from the package.

I look for the package of chicken, that has the most uniformed pieces, the skin looks good & does not have any discolorations. Some chicken skin will appear to be yellow, I try to stay away from those brands, I want the skin to be as white as possible.

I take special measures with chicken, I store it sepetate from all other meats, I use different cutting boards & work ares designated just for my chicken. The first thing I do is wash the chicken, then I take the skin completely off the piece of chicken. I just pull it off, some folks say it is better to cut it off, but I like to preserve as much skin as possible. I trim the fat from each side of the chicken, and make the piece nice and uniformed shape.

Keep all the skin for use later.

From the under side of the thigh, there is a small loose piece of meat, commonly referred to as the “oyster”, I always remove this piece. When a judge bites into the piece of chicken, this could put the flavor off, and has a strange texture after cooking, best to just remove it.


The "Oyster" take it off.

After I cut off the oyster, I want to take care of a problem that gets many teams disqualified at the competitions, taking out the blood vein, (that’s what I call it, i don’t know the official name for it). This vein can be full of blood, even after washing the chicken thoroughly. The chicken can cook to temperature, but this vein can hold the blood, when bitten into, it will flow out, as if the chicken is under cooked, and we all know what comes from bloody chicken…disqualification!!!  I norally find this vein near the bone, I will go in with my knife and work it along the bone, using the backside of the knife, if you use the sharp side of the knife, you’ll just cut through the vein. Use the backside of the knife, and pull the vein out as far as you can then cut it at each end. There is  some extra work doing this, but it is better then having your box returned to you at the competition with a DQ.

This vein is normally near the bone.

This could mean the diffence between D.Q. and 1st place.

I want my piece to be a nice uniformed piece of chicken, I take off as much fat as I can. Normally end up with a heart shaped thigh.

I will place the thighs only, keep the skins off to the side and cold, into a zip-lock bag for marinating. There are many commercial marinates and chicken soaks on the market, if you have a favorite, please continue to use them, I use Italian salad dressing. Yes it is true, Italian dressing makes a good marinate for chicken, the oils and vinegar works well on the chicken, and gives good flavor. I will try to have my chicken in the marinate over night. Please be sure to rinse all the marinate off your chicken before cooking.

Now I turn my attention to the skin. Skin on the chicken is another BIG issue. even before the judge is able to taste the bite he/she had just taken, they evaluate if there is, what is known as “bite through skin”. The last thing you, as a competition BBQ cook wants, is for the judge to take that bite of chicken, and the entire skin comes off in that one bite. The judge was not able to bite through the skin cleanly. Smoking/grilling chicken, can lead to tough and rubbery skin, not a good thing to have on any chicken, mostly your turn-in chicken, one of the best ways to insure that does not happen, you need the skin to be a thin as possible. All the fat from the underside of the skin MUST come off.  This does take some doing, and I would suggest doing some practice, before going to a competition. This will be something you will need to master, and not many folks will get it right on the first try. There are a couple of ways to achieve this, some like to scrape the skin, I like to use a thin filet knife, and cut the fat off.

Cutting the fat off the underside of the skin.

Skin has to be so thin, there' only one side!!! lol

Now I wrap the skin back onto the thigh, keeping everything as tight as possible, and place the thigh on your rack for cooking. As far as seasoning, and some special cooking techniques, there are so many out there, I will leave this up to you to decide which is best suited for you and your team.

All lined up and ready to cook.

I cook thighs at 275 degrees for at least 1 hour & 45 mins. For chicken you are looking for an internal temperature of 178-182 degrees. DO NOT UNDER COOK YOUR CHICKEN!!! When the chicken is at the point where I am satisfied that it is done, temp is good, and only clear juices coming out of thigh, I will then dip the entire piece into my sauce and place back on the grill for another 15 mins at 300 degrees.

No secret about my sauce of choice, I use Draper's, period!!!

Pull the chicken off the grill and let rest.

I think we have a couple of useable pieces here.

Test your product!!!

Now that's what I mean by "Bite Through Skin"

We made a mock box for your practice cook, it is not an official box, actually is the top of a serving plate. The competitions we enter are Florida Barbecue Association events, and they do not allow garnish of any kind.

Not bad!!!

I hope this has helped answer a couple questions about chicken, trust me, you never stop learning. Fell free to add comments, or to contact me at www.hogsgonewild.com Thanks for your interest.

  • http://www.cdubsrub.com Allegra (Alli)

    Thanks for posting the info! I am so visual and as I am the “chicken chick” I really needed to see how much comes off the skin! I haven’t been taking enough off! So wish me luck next time! C-Dub doesn’t do chicken! lol….I am the one spending hours doing it! : ) Good info!

  • David

    Hey thank you for posting a detailed way on doin chicken. I’ve tried a couple times cooking chicken, and I didn’t know about the vien, and the Fat under the skin. Is there a fool-proof way of scrapping the fat from the skin or do u just have to work at it? Again Thank you and I’ll be following these tips from now on?

  • http://oshawalaser.com/Blog Wilfred Reinke aka @OshawaOgre

    That was a superb post Doug, You taught me so much in that article, thanks for sharing buddy!

  • http://www.huckshut.com HuckJr

    Hey David, Doug may have a different method but for us, there is no fool-proof way other than just picking the right kind of knife.

  • neil

    Great post Doug. It’s always good to hear the “tips and tricks” that only a pro knows. Next time I do chicken (I too like the thighs) I have some new techniques to try out.

  • Huck sr.

    Great post wish this was 2005.Doug you have giving folks something to chew on.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bamccall1 Bruce Huckjr McCall

    I love how in depth Doug gets into getting that “bite through skin” chicken!!!

  • BBQPairadise

    Hello. My name is BBQPairadise. And my nemisis is chicken. Thank you Doug for giving me the tools to be a good BBQ practitioner! White skin… Wash good… Oyster… Vein…

    Skin… Really? Remove, scrape and replace? Woulda never guessed on my own. Can’t wait to do my next thighs!

    Really, thanks. You rock!

  • Hamilton ‘n’ Sons BBQ

    One follow up question to this:  How does the skin stay on when you put it back???  That is the one thing that has me stumped.  I haven’t tried, yet, to remove the skin completely, but my brain keeps telling me that this could be a problem.  Sure, you tuck it under, but when the judge pulls it out of the box, what is to keep the skin in place???  Does it fuse under the chicken somehow??

    I think my biggest problem is the last two times I’ve done chicken (looking for that perfect bite through skin) I’ve had the skin pull back way too much (probably due to excessive heat, which I’ll admit to) leaving a small piece on the very top.  Lately, I haven’t really wanted to eat any chicken so I’ve been trying to work on ribs. That’s something else entirely different.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bamccall1 Bruce Huckjr McCall

    Hey Hamilton ‘n’ Sons BBQ, we’ll get @Doug Francis to respond to your questions as they’re awesome ones!!

  • http://twitter.com/HogsGoneWildBBQ Doug F.

    Hey Hamilton ‘n’ Sons BBQ, sorry it took so long to get back to you. I had the same issue when I started out, I tried toothpicks (never again). Yes, I just wrap them, very tightly, with the skin. I try not to cut the skin down in size, but I am trimming the thigh meat down to the point where the skin will easily wrap the entire thigh. I keep the heat at 300* for the entire cooking process, I think that helps from that skin drawing back on the thigh. When I remove them from the rack, there can be some extra skin hanging from under the thigh, I just trim with scissors at that point, and they are ready for the box.

  • Trapper

    I’m about to enter my first competions this summer. I found this site to be very helpful. Thanks for all of your effort in putting this together. I have practiced for awhile and I find it’s difficult to get all of the pieces close to the same size. Maybe I need a template of some kind.

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