Elevating Your Game: The Art of Competition BBQ Chicken

Tips for placing with Chicken

6/2/20232 min read

Cooking chicken at a barbecue competition is a different beast entirely from preparing your backyard BBQ chicken. From flavor profiles to precise cooking techniques, presentation to cuts of choice, every detail matters when it's time to impress the judges. This article explores what separates competition BBQ chicken from its backyard counterpart, what judges look for, best practices, and the debate between thighs, legs, and wings in competition.

Competition BBQ Chicken vs. Backyard BBQ Chicken
While your backyard BBQ chicken might be the star of your family gatherings, competition BBQ requires a different approach. The backyard version often focuses on simplicity, perhaps involving nothing more than a favorite sauce or rub. On the other hand, competition BBQ chicken necessitates attention to every minute detail — from the choice of chicken cut to the complexity and balance of flavors in your marinade, brine, rub, or sauce. It also involves meticulous cooking techniques to achieve the perfect tenderness, juiciness, and color.

What Judges Look For
In a BBQ competition, judges usually score based on three criteria: appearance, taste, and tenderness. The chicken should look appetizing, with a nice caramelized color. Too much char can be off-putting. Taste-wise, the chicken should have a rich and complex flavor profile that is well-balanced, not too salty or too sweet. The smoke flavor should complement, not overpower, the chicken. As for tenderness, the meat should be juicy and come off the bone easily but not fall off completely. It's a delicate balance!

Best Practices

1. Brine or Marinate: Brining or marinating the chicken can enhance its flavor and juiciness. A good brine or marinade often contains a balance of sweet, salty, and savory elements.

2. Choose the Right Rub and Sauce: Your rub and sauce should complement the chicken's natural flavor, not overpower it.

3. Monitor Your Cooking Temperature: Maintaining a consistent smoker temperature is crucial. For chicken, a temperature of around 250-275°F is generally recommended.

4. Beware of Over Smoking: Chicken absorbs smoke quickly, so it can easily become over-smoked, resulting in a bitter taste.

5. Check for Doneness Properly: Use a reliable meat thermometer and aim for a final internal temperature of 165°F in the thickest part of the meat.

Thighs, Legs, or Wings?
The choice between chicken thighs, legs, or wings in a competition often comes down to personal preference, both of the cook and regional tendencies. Thighs are often favored for their higher fat content, which helps keep the meat juicy and flavorful during the smoking process. They also provide a nice, uniform presentation in the turn-in box. However, some pitmasters swear by the flavor concentration in wings, while others prefer the classic appeal of drumsticks. Whichever you choose, ensure it's cooked to perfection.

In the world of competitive BBQ, it's all about showcasing skill, finesse, and a deep understanding of flavors. With practice, patience, and a passion for BBQ, you'll be well on your way to creating competition-worthy BBQ chicken. Happy smoking!