Chicken Thighs on the Primo: Would Tonight be the Night I Find the Holy Grail?

5 Jan

This little blog experiment was started more as a way for me to journal my smoking and grilling experiences than as a way to reach out into the world. Lord knows, I am no expert – I just am a guy with a passion for smoking and grilling meats and enjoying good BBQ. I don’t compete because I really don’t have the budget for the entry fees, travel, and buy competition meats. I stay close to the competition circuit by judging several contests and year, visiting with my competitor friends whenever I can, and trying – despite my lack of actual competition experience – to cook competition-style and competition-quality meat. I’m producing pretty consistent pork, my briskets at times have been spot on, and the rib recipe and method some of my friends showed me have produced ribs every bit as tasty and attractive as those I see at the competitions I judge.

And then there is chicken. So small, so simple, such a daily staple of our weekly diet. Compared to the imposing size of a packer brisket, a pork butt or shoulder or a slab of spare ribs, waiting to be trimmed down to St. Louis-style, a chicken leg or thigh is such a small thing. Whereas cooking a brisket or butt takes the better part of a day, chicken can be cooked insisde an hour. And yet…..

Chicken can be the most maddening and frustrating of any meat to cook – competition-quality and competition-style, that is. Sure, I can grill chicken breasts and wings that are moist, satisfying and tasty; I can smoke chicken halves that are slightly sweet, savory and smoky in just the right proportions, and I can even cook a rotisserie chicken on my Weber charcoal rotisserie that will make the supermarket and restaurant offerings seem dry and drab. But…that….darn….SKIN on my chicken thighs!!!

The thing is this: in the competition world, the holy grail of cooking chicken is to achieve “bite through” skin. The idea is that when the judge picks up his or her piece of chicken (usually a thigh – but the best chicken I tasted last year was a leg – subject for another day) and takes that one crucial bite, the judge gets all of the flavors the comp cooks pack into their thighs and….and…..and….the thigh comes away from the judge’s mouth leaving a perfectly bite shaped piece of meat and skin missing from the thigh.

The problem is, more often than not, the entire skin comes off, flaps against the judge’s chin and hangs there, leaving the chicken thigh naked and sauce dripping off of the judge’s chin. Aaarrrggghhhh! Out of my six samples of chicken at any given contest, generally 4 or 5 result in a wipe of my entire face with a moist paper towel!

So, with me, as with real competition cooks, the goal – the mission – the quest – the Holy Grail – it that tender, thin, bite-through skin.

Those who regularly achieve bite through skin guard the secrets as closely as the launch codes to the country’s nuclear arsenal. To be sure, there are those souls who dare post methods and procedures to achieve bite-through skin. I know – I’ve tried them all. From a little chicken jacuzzi of liquid margarine to scraping fat from the underside of a piece of chicken skin and sticking it back on the thigh, I’ve done it. At temperatures from 225 degrees to 375 degrees, and beyond, I’ve cooked it. And how did I do? Well, I get my chin slapped with chicken skin about as often at home as I do when I’m judging.

So tonight, it was another try. The cooker: The Primo XL Oval, divided firebox for indirect cooking, temps at 325, lump charcoal (kind of a blend of a couple of different kinds) and a lump of pecan wood. Four Publix Natural chicken thighs (from the freezer), marinated briefly in Goya mojo marinade, then dried off and sprinkled with some Penzy’s Northwood seasoning (this is not my usual spice rub but was what I had on hand). The chicken got a quick spray with some canola oil from an atomizer, and then went on the indirect side of the Primo and started to hang out.

About 40 minutes later, I drizzled on a thin glaze of generic BBQ sauce thinned with some apple juice; let it set up for about 5 minutes, then did it again and let that set up for a couple minutes. The thighs were at about 174 on the Thermapen, so it was time.

These weren’t my usual spices and sauce since this was a weeknight dinner cook, I wasn’t trying to impress anybody and we needed some room in the refrigerator. I knew the thighs would be tasty, the rub and glaze would add a little depth of flavor and the dinner would be enjoyable. And it was.

Oh the skin……….you don’t think I would tell, do you?


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