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Championship BBQ Competition Chicken Recipe

Competition chicken on the grill
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3.46 from 68 votes
Discover how to create perfect award-winning competition BBQ chicken with this tested recipe from Darren Warth of Iowa’s Smokey D’s BBQ.

Serve with: your favorite local beer, but only after turn-ins.

Main Course


Servings: 12 chicken thighs


Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours


Metric conversion:

These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page


  • Prep. To trim the thighs, remove the fat on the edge of thighs and any visible blood veins. Scrape the edges of the skin to remove any remaining excess fat. The goal is to make all the thighs same size so that they cook equally, weighing approximately 5 ounces (141.8 g) after trimming.
  • Combine the water and injection mixture, stirring until the injection mixture has completely dissolved.
  • Place a wire rack in a pan and set the chicken thighs on the rack skin side down. Inject about 1 ounce (29.6 mL) of the injection mixture into each thigh. Aim to inject each thigh approximately five times in various muscles. Sprinkle bottom of thighs (the non-skin side) with Big Poppa Smokers Sweet Money Rub and place them in the refrigerator uncovered for 2 hours.
  • Remove thighs from refrigerator. Turn them over with the skin side up and reshape them so they all look uniform. Sprinkle the tops of the thighs (the skin side) with Simply Marvelous Genie’s Trinity Rub. Place the thighs back in refrigerator uncovered for 1 hour.
  • Fire up. Prepare a smoker for indirect cooking. Alternatively, you can set up a charcoal grill for 2-zone cooking by placing a chimney full of lit charcoal briquets on one side of the grill's charcoal grate in order to create direct and indirect cooking zones. Adjust the smoker or grill vents to bring the temperature to 275°F (135°C).
  • Cook. Place all 12 thighs skin side up in a small foil pan. Cut the stick of butter into 12 equal pieces and place one piece on top of each thigh and place in the smoker (or on the indirect heat side of a grill) until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C), approximately 1 hour. Cover the pan tightly with foil or a pan lid and cook for an additional 40 minutes until thighs reach an internal temp of 195-200°F (90.6-93.3°C).
  • Remove the pan from the smoker or grill. If you are using a grill, adjust the vents to bring the temperature to 300°F (148.9°C). If you are using a smoker with a removable diffuser plate then remove the plate for direct heat cooking and adjust the vents to bring the temperature to 300°F (148.9°C). If you are using a smoker without a diffuser plate then prepare a grill or drum cooker for direct heat cooking, about 300°F (148.9°C).
  • Remove the thighs from the pan, sprinkle lightly on both sides with Simply Marvelous Sweet Seduction and put on a wire rack skin-side up on a 300°F (148.9°C) grill or drum with a small chunk of cherry wood for extra smoke flavor. Rotate the thighs every 5 minutes until the rub is set and the bottoms of thighs are dark and almost crispy, approximately 10 to 15 minutes total. Note that the goal with this step is to combine the backyard grilled flavor on the thighs with the juicy tenderness of a pan cooked thigh.
    Darren Warth cheicking on chicken thighs in a drum smoker
  • Prep again. As the thighs cook, combine the Texas Pepper Jelly Craig’s BBQ Sauce, Blues Hog Champions Blend Sauce, and apple juice in a small saucepan. Warm the BBQ sauce over medium-low heat until heated through. Reduce the heat to low or pour the sauce into an insulated thermos such as a Yeti Rambler to keep it warm while the chicken finishes cooking.
  • Serve. Remove thighs from grill and let them sit for 5 minutes before dunking each thigh in the warm BBQ sauce. Place the sauced thighs back on a rack to drain and then gently place at least 6 thighs into the turn-in box for a KCBS sanctioned contest, or serve to your guests.
  • Here is a video from our friend Malcom Reed of HowToBBQRight.com and his friend Eric Lee showing how they do competition chicken thighs. Be sure to subscribe to The How To BBQ Right YouTube channel here.