Chicken thighs, practicing for a KCBS competition

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Smoke-Chem BBQ

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Aug 20, 2021
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I'm getting ready for my first KCBS competition, backyard division. I'm pretty happy with how my ribs are turning out, this past weekend was my first attempt at making the chicken pillows the judges seem to like. I cut the knuckles off both ends of the thigh bones, trimmed up the thighs and skin to be quite rectangular, scraped as much fat off of the skin as I could, injected with chicken broth, rubbed with Bub and Mutha's Honey and Heat, and smoked on my WSM over 2 lumps cherry, one lump hickory.

For this cook, I tried the mini-loaf pan method, putting two tsp broth and a pat of butter in the bottom of each mini loaf cavity, then fitting the thighs in skin side down. After 1:35 at about 260 F, I carefully turned the thighs skin side up, added another chunk of cherry, and smoked for an additional 1:20 before removing the thighs (the internal temp had exceeded target, it was about 197 F). I mixed filtered pan drippings with a chipotle porter BBQ sauce, and dipped each thigh before returning it to the smoker for 10 minutes to set the sauce.

The appearance was pretty good, though I see on a couple of the thighs the skin didn't fully cover the meat, and by the time I served the glaze had dried out more and lost that sheen. Still, I was fairly happy with the way they looked. The skin, however, was not bite-through. It was very tender, but tended to pull off of the thigh in one piece.

I need to work on the flavor profile, they were kinda bland, and a bit dry. I know I need to shorten the cook time next time. I also need to punch up the injection; plain chicken broth was too....plain. There wasn't much smoke taste at all, not surprising since only one side at a time was exposed to the smoke in the loaf pan. I'm thinking about smoking them skin side up on the rack for 30 minutes next time, then transferring them into the loaf pan to set the shape. Finally I need to use a bolder BBQ sauce.

I'm open to any and all suggestions from the Smoking Meat Forums brain trust!

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Just a thought or two (I'm not a comp guy ): when you place the broth in the pan with the butter you can't elevate the temp much past boiling until the water evaporates so you're not rendering that fat in the skin, you're poaching it. As for injecting, I think I'd rather brine a thigh or is that not allowed by the rules or time constraints?

They sure look nice, Good luck!
 
Just a thought or two (I'm not a comp guy ): when you place the broth in the pan with the butter you can't elevate the temp much past boiling until the water evaporates so you're not rendering that fat in the skin, you're poaching it. As for injecting, I think I'd rather brine a thigh or is that not allowed by the rules or time constraints?

They sure look nice, Good luck!

Thanks!

Brining is allowed, though it has to be done on-site. No rubs, brines, injections can be done in advance.
Good point about the poaching. This was actually a recipe from a competition site that claimed it did very well, but clearly the skin isn't yet something the judges will approve of.
 
One thing I've noticed with chicken thighs is a HUGE difference in which chicken you buy. The big value packs with big thighs are generally no good for getting good skin (maybe on the grill but not the smoker). The small young chicken is the way to go even if it's 2-3X the price. I'd assume for this comp you know that but thought I'd throw it out. Still working on getting that nice skin myself just 'cuz that's the way I like it.
 
What I used to do when I competed, 2010 18th nationally in KCBS chicken:
Trimming - I never completely removed the skin, just pulling it away from the meat and lopping off the globs of fat. I would trim off any extra skin and square up the meat, sometimes removing half the knuckle. I'd trim off the triangular piece of meat and the vein under it that's next to the bone. All of this was done at home. I wrapped the skin back around the thighs and vac seal them for transportation.

At the comp, I'd pull back the skin and season the meat with a sweet rib rub, wrap the skin back and season with something like Smokin Guns Hot rub. I would try to get the rub on each piece evenly to give good color. I'd place each piece in a half pan, squeeze in some Parkay around all 8 thighs and a stripe down the middle of each one. I cover the pan with foil and place in the cooler overnight.

Next morning I take the pans out of the cooler about an hour before they go in the smoker. I touch up the skins with a little more Smokin Guns and let sit. I cooked in a Superior gravity smoker set at 265. Chicken pans would go on the top rack for an hour uncovered. After the hour I would add some of the sweet rib rub and cover the pans. Back in the smoker for 45 min. Then it's time to dip the thighs in a small pan of warm sauce, Blues Hog original thinned with a little apple juice. Thighs went on a chicken rack and back in the smoker for 10 min. No need to temp the thighs. In fact you would panic if you did. Put them in the box and wait to hear your name called.
 
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Your chicken has good shape and color. The bottom line is practice, practice, then cook more chicken. If your family is not sick of chicken you are not practicing enough. Many times I would cook 9 or 10 pieces and only concentrate on taste, tenderness and bite through. After the initial bite, I would add some sauce so I could taste that component.
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You didn't mention what your target temp was, but I have no problem with thighs in the mid-190°'s, remember, they may sit in the box for 15 minutes or more. I can tell you that the biggest complaints I hear from judges regarding chicken is "the sauce overpowers the other flavors" and "the chicken tastes bland". To that end I moderately season the bottom side before cooking, then again with a finishing rub before boxing. I've never seen a judge turn a thigh over before taking a bite, so I want the tongue getting some flavorful rub then tasting the sauce. I used to brine, now I inject with Oakridge Game Changer or Kosmo's Chicken Soak about an hour or so before cooking. I go for this look and Blues Hog delivers every time. I have tested out their newer 'Championship' blend and the 'Raspberry Chipotle' at home this year and think they have potential for competition chicken.
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I do a lot of the tricks that S SuperCorona mentioned, and my timeline is almost exactly the same.... 1-hour uncovered and 45-minutes covered.

The BBQ League is a subscription site with a lot of pitmaster "tell-all" videos that are very good. You might check them out to see if this is something that appeals to you. It's much cheaper than a cooks class. I think they have a Facebook page with some previews.

I have picked up a lot of tips from Harry Soo's videos and I like the bits of science he mentions from time to time. For example, I fillet my thigh skin the same way and inject exactly like he does. A great tip he uses is minor trimming AFTER they are cooked, this helped my chicken a lot as I struggle with uniformity. Harry uses cold sauce and I don't like that, but I use room temp sauce and it holds up much better.

 
What I used to do when I competed, 2010 18th nationally in KCBS chicken:
Trimming - I never completely removed the skin, just pulling it away from the meat and lopping off the globs of fat. I would trim off any extra skin and square up the meat, sometimes removing half the knuckle. I'd trim off the triangular piece of meat and the vein under it that's next to the bone. All of this was done at home. I wrapped the skin back around the thighs and vac seal them for transportation.

At the comp, I'd pull back the skin and season the meat with a sweet rib rub, wrap the skin back and season with something like Smokin Guns Hot rub. I would try to get the rub on each piece evenly to give good color. I'd place each piece in a half pan, squeeze in some Parkay around all 8 thighs and a stripe down the middle of each one. I cover the pan with foil and place in the cooler overnight.

Next morning I take the pans out of the cooler about an hour before they go in the smoker. I touch up the skins with a little more Smokin Guns and let sit. I cooked in a Superior gravity smoker set at 265. Chicken pans would go on the top rack for an hour uncovered. After the hour I would add some of the sweet rib rub and cover the pans. Back in the smoker for 45 min. Then it's time to dip the thighs in a small pan of warm sauce, Blues Hog original thinned with a little apple juice. Thighs went on a chicken rack and back in the smoker for 10 min. No need to temp the thighs. In fact you would panic if you did. Put them in the box and wait to hear your name called.
So what type of flavor profile are judges actually looking for? Sweet, little more sweet then heat, more heat then sweet?
 
Did we ever get an update on how the comp went S Smoke-Chem BBQ ?

Keith
I may have failed to provide an update! I entered the KCBS Red, White, and Que contest in Jackson, NJ in 2021 and 2022. I was in the backyard division, so only smoking chicken and ribs (the master division cooks chicken, ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder, though they are judged to the same standards)

I finished middle of the pack both times, well out of the prize money, but not in the bottom third, either. I learned a lot, and wasn't embarrassed by my entries, even if there were much better cooks there...

I was too busy to enter in 2023, and this year I decided to put my new judging certification to use at the NJ KnoQ-Out KCBS contest a week or two ago. That was much easier. :emoji_blush: Didn't miss any sleep, no clean-up, and I got to eat (and judge) a LOT of really excellent BBQ.
 
Hey S Smoke-Chem BBQ ...Finishing in the middle of the pack basically means that 'academically speaking', you are getting a B+, which is above average 👍. In KCBS scoring, there is a fine line between a score of an 8 or a 9.

Good call in becoming a CBJ. Often, cooks will judge one or two contests each year so they can see first hand what other cooks are turning in. I personally enjoy visiting with cooks who judge when we are seated at the same table.
 
First KCBS and finishing mid pack is an accomplishment! Congrats! Not too bad for sure and as thirdeye thirdeye has said(and you know from your judging class) an 8 to a 9 is soo close.
And I'm sure the knowledge gained will be put to use if you continue to enter the comps!

Keith
 
So what type of flavor profile are judges actually looking for? Sweet, little more sweet then heat, more heat then sweet?

B bdmfps9 ... This depends on the region... ie. Fl is sweet ... Carolina's is vinagery ... Each region has it's own preference ..

I've done few KCBS's and come out midpack as well..

Nice job S Smoke-Chem BBQ ... The only thing that I try to accomplish is having a good time and learning... Don't expect anything then you won't be dissapointed...
 
to get crispy skin on thighs without burning is hard, i have done it in a cast iron pan, start cold, add oil put chicken skin side down and heat. if that is not a violation of the rules.
also remember if you do achieve crispy skin if you then put sauce on it you risk loosing it.
 
You do not want crispy skin for KCBS or any comp.

So what type of flavor profile are judges actually looking for? Sweet, little more sweet then heat, more heat then sweet?


As JckDanls 07 JckDanls 07 said , stay within the flavors of your region.
Even more true if a local comp with local celebrity judges!

Keith
 
B bdmfps9 ... This depends on the region... ie. Fl is sweet ... Carolina's is vinagery ... Each region has it's own preference ..

I've done few KCBS's and come out midpack as well..

Nice job S Smoke-Chem BBQ ... The only thing that I try to accomplish is having a good time and learning... Don't expect anything then you won't be dissapointed...
I live in the heart of it all, Missouri. So im tryin to figure out what I'm missing. I went to a "backyard" American legion event. 25 team 5 states were there. I place 16th and trying to figure out what the hell im doin wrong. My seasoning is a little heat at the beginning but followed by sweet. Sauce dark red with a slight apple flavor....im lost
 

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I do the "scrape the fat of the backside of the skin" method and then wrap it back around the thigh in a loaf form... Prefer the bone out skin on thighs... Or cut the knuckle off the bone in...
 
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