I've had pretty good success in Florida competitions with slow-cooked chicken. Like a whole lot of people, I marinate chicken thighs in salad dressing and cook them low and slow for about 2 1/2 hours at 225 degrees, sauce them, and turn them in. They are always tender, always juicy, and the results are always consistent and very predictable for us.
After moving to the Mid-West two years ago, I've noticed that my chicken doesn't score as well here in KCBS contests. It's the same chicken--tender, juicy, same seasoning and sauces--instead of winning or top-5, it's been landing us closer to mid-pack in the contests.
The one thing that I have had to change is the brand of chicken I cook with because I have not been able to find Sanderson Farms chicken here in Michigan (sold at Publix in Florida), but I do use "Amish" chicken, aka "natural". The only difference I can detect is that what's sold here as "Amish" are smaller pieces of chicken than the Sanderson Farms I cooked in Florida.
I did some tests during the offseason with brines and to be perfectly honest, I was not impressed with the results. The skin was actually worse with a brine than without. I hear bbq cooks talk about how it's the "thing" to do for chicken and that so and so won this contest and that contest, and they use a brine and high-heat. Up until now, I've resisted the "chicken brine rage" and stuck the tried and true (and let's not forget the all-important "consistent") chicken cooking methods.
I'm still not going to give in completely though. My test tomorrow (and for the next several cooking sessions) will be to pre-heat the cooker at 300 degrees once the temperature levels off, put the chicken on, and cook it at the higher heat levels. I cook chicken in a Backwoods Party, so I may also experiment with and without the water pan (I use sand in it instead of water). I am pretty sure I already know that it won't be as consistent at first as my low and slow technique, but maybe it will help me figure out the "bite through skin" that the judges seem to be penalizing us for.
To read the previous article in the series, click here.