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Chicken thighs, practicing for a KCBS competition

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Joined Aug 20, 2021
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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WaterRat

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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!
 
17
17
Joined Aug 20, 2021
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.
 

WaterRat

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Joined Feb 14, 2018
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.
 

SuperCorona

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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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thirdeye

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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.

 
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