Barbecue: Competition-Style Chicken Thighs


I'm starting to get my feet wet in competition barbecue, completing my first KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) event this past weekend. There's a lot to learn making the jump from backyard to competition, where teams have honed recipes for years.

One of the hardest transitions for me has been chicken thighs. Throwing some chicken on the grill and basting it with sauce won't cut it here, these teams are taking hours to meticulously prep the chicken, then inject or brine it, followed by a multi-step cooking process.

Luckily for me, the book on current competition barbecue just came out—Wicked Good Barbecue by award-winning pitmasters Andy Husbands and Chris Hart from the IQue team. They proudly label their chicken recipe "25-Step Championship Chicken" and they're not kidding (I condensed it into fewer steps for this post).

It starts with removing the chicken skins, trimming the thigh, then securing the skin back on. Next the chicken is given an injection with chicken broth, and coated in a white barbecue rub. Now it's time for the smoker, where each thigh is placed on top of a tablespoon of margarine—not butter because it can burn—and smoked for an hour, covered, and smoked for another hour. They're then dipped in sauce and smoked for another 30 minutes, and finally let rest on a spiral of agave syrup.

Sound like a lot to do at home? You're probably right, but is it delicious? Yes!

Competition recipes are made to squeeze immense flavor into every bite of the meat, as a judge can only take one bite. So these thighs end with a powerful mixture of spice, sweet sauce, and smoke that deliver on a definition of barbecue that's trending on the competition circuit.

In the actual competition, I used this method for my thighs, but altered the injection, rub, and sauce to my own recipes, which led me to just barely edge out the man who wrote the recipe himself, but that's of little consequence when he's the one taking home the hardware and big bucks. Guess I just have keep on practicing and maybe I'll get there one day too.