Chow Town

Mastering backyard or contest barbecuing starts with chicken

Competition-style Yardbird Thighs.
Competition-style Yardbird Thighs. SPECIAL TO THE STAR

The Kansas City Barbeque Society, with almost 20,000 members worldwide, is the largest organization of barbecue enthusiasts on the planet.

Many members are competition cooks. Others are backyard barbecuers, judges, contest volunteers or simply fans of barbecue and the fun of being with other barbecue enthusiasts.

Besides promoting barbecue as America’s cuisine, KCBS sanctions and supervises barbecue competitions that sign up to follow KCBS Rules & Regulations. Cooks in KCBS-sanctioned contests are required to turn in four different categories of meat: chicken, pork ribs, pork whole shoulder/Boston butt/Boston roast/or picnic and beef brisket.

Whether you want to be a contest cook or to wow family, friends and neighbors, you owe it to yourself and your city to master the four KCBS food groups. Vegans are exempt, but should have grill skills with foods of their choice. Kosher pitmasters are exempt from the pork categories.

Barbecue champions deserve our respect, but do not be intimidated by them. Most are eager to share cooking tips with you. Reach out for advice. You may strike up a new friendship while you’re at it.

When you’ve mastered the four food groups you’ll be amazed at how easy it is. It’s always good to break bones with guests at Plowboys, Q39, Arthur Bryant’s, Johnny’s, RJ’s, Jon Russell’s, Jack Stack or another of your favorites, but it’s also good to show off your barbecue prowess with guests in your own backyard.

If you have guests for several days, do both: restaurant barbecue and backyard barbecue. If there’s a barbecue contest nearby while you have guests, take it in for good measure.

Make a summertime resolution to master the four KCBS food groups in the order that they are turned in at contests. Cooking time increases as you move from chicken to pork ribs to pork to brisket.

A whole chicken or any part of a chicken is allowable in a KCBS contest, as long as at least six distinct pieces are turned in for judges. Cornish game hens and kosher chicken are allowed. Thighs are the most popular part of the chicken for contest cooks. Thighs stay juicy and tender, they are easy to cook, they stand out as six distinct pieces and judges like thighs. Let’s get started.

Gas is not allowed as a fuel source in KCBS contests. You can easily adapt my instructions to your gas grill. The techniques, timing and temperatures are the same.

Chow Town Davis Rule No. 1. Master the basics first. Contest cooks do various routines to up their game: creative trimming and flavor layering, for example. It is best to know the basic taste of lightly seasoned meat cooked with fire and smoke first, before you experiment with variations. Try this:

Easy Basic BBQ Yardbird Thighs

Serves 2 to 4

4 chicken thighs

1 tablespoon extra-virgin Italian olive oil

Pepper and salt

1 cup pecan or applewood chips, soaked in water

1/2 cup your favorite tomato base barbecue sauce

Light a chimney of 40 to 45 charcoal briquets. I prefer Kingsford for its consistent burn quality. While the charcoal chimney fires up, brush the thighs with olive oil and lightly sprinkle outside surfaces with pepper and salt. Set aside until the fire is ready.

Soak the wood chips in water while the briquets fire up. When the briquets are gray, dump them to one side of your fire grate, creating a hot side and an indirect heat side.

Grease your grill grate and place it in the pit. Put the thighs on the grate opposite the hot briquets. Dump the drained wood chips directly atop the briquets and lid the grill.

Maintain a temperature of 250 to 270 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove the lid and grill the thighs over direct heat, turning every 2 minutes for 6 minutes. Return the thighs to the indirect heat side, slather all surfaces lightly with barbecue sauce, lid the grill and cook the thighs another 5 to 6 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.

Serve with cheesy smashed potatoes, grilled Romaine lettuce, grilled green onions and fresh tomatoes. Beverage: iced tea, white zinfandel or cold beer.

Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”