Weekend Grilled Chicken Wings – The Cookeville Cookoff

by R.B. Quinn and Min Merrell
grilled chicken wings

Grilled chicken wings are the choice snack on the barbecue competition trail.

One of the best aspects of a competition of any kind is what you can learn from your sworn enemy.  And a barbecue competition is no exception.

On Saturday, October 22, the best of the barbecue best will smoke up Lynchburg, TN, at the 23rd Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue.  Seventy teams from across the nation and the world will settle in at Wiseman Park just off the town square and pull a collective all-nighter.  The Kansas City Barbecue Society rules run the show, so judges, no talking while judging (this is harder than it sounds) and mister celebrity chef judge, sunglasses off, please.  And, no “bedroom noises” while evaluating your entries, either.

It’s a great October day bumming around Lynchburg, an easy 90 minutes from Nashville.  The people watching alone is worth it, plus plenty of barbecue, pork rinds, funnel cakes, grilled corn, and baked goods.  If you’re a backyard bbq’er, the “Jack” also reenergizes you for the cooler fall barbecue season that’s finally here.

While you’re there, don’t miss the Shade Tree Barbecue Competition taking place simultaneously in the backfield of the park.  For the past eight years 30 or so Shade Tree teams, mostly from the Lynchburg—Shelbyville—Fayetteville–Tullahoma area, compete on a first-come, first-serve basis in three categories–pork shoulder, pork ribs, and chicken.  Shade Tree is a neighborly event organized for the rest of us, the non-pro backyard smokers who compete over bragging rights, but who can skip the commitment, higher expenses, and stress of the professional circuit.

We had the pleasure of competing in a barbecue competition once in Cookeville, TN.  Little did we know that we and our tired little bullet smokers were stepping into our own episode of “Survivor,” trapped for 24 hours in a parking lot just off the town square amid monster smokers and gleaming RVs.  After that exciting experience, a new found perspective inspired us to write a book about indoor kitchen barbecue at home called Cheater BBQ (Barbecue Anytime, Anywhere, in Any Weather).  Like most things these days we thought barbecue was getting a little too rule-bound and needed to loosen up a bit.

In Cookeville, good fortune parked us between a generous, experienced team (who shared with us their private port-a-john) and another first-timer team of four Memphis-born Tennesseans on their annual brothers-only weekend away.  Being good sports, the Brothers Q introduced themselves with ice-breaker cold beers and a foil pan of wings right out of their smoker.  At first, we were afraid we’d missed the competition’s “wings” category.

In all the fretting over the competition entries, we didn’t think much about feeding ourselves.  This can happen at home, too.  When the barbecue is smoking with hours to go, you and your team will require grilled snacks (like chicken wings) to tide everyone over and delay the inevitable “are the ribs ready yet?” grumbling.  That’s the real party, anyway.

You don’t need fancy gear for great wings.  Any old grill will do.  We just coat the wings with some leftover dry rub and grill them over medium heat until the skin is crispy and the meat is cooked through.  Watch them make sure the skin does not get over-charred and turn them bitter.  Buy a giant economy pack and figure 5 to 6 wings a person.  Dump the grilled beauties into a bowl and pass it around with a generous batch of quick-made hot wing sauce.


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