Fired Up for 4-H: Poultry Outdoor Cookery Contest

Chicken breast on an open grill with a thermometer in it

Everyone knows summer is the time to grill: longer, warmer days make it easier (and cooler!) to cook outside than asking the A/C and the oven to compete for ‘biggest energy hog’ honors. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, barbecuing is the way to go and North Carolina 4-H students are no different.

As part of the 2018 N.C. 4-H Congress, students gathered on the Court of North Carolina on NC State’s North Campus to display their poultry grilling skills. They enjoyed perfect weather: a little cooler, cloudy, but no rain and not too much wind.

Outdoor Cookery by the book

By 8:00a.m. participants were already setting up their tents, prep stations and grills. Cooking kicked off at 8:30 and everyone wanted to be ready to go – with only had 2.5 hours from lighting coals to presenting samples, being ready with spices, marinades and equipment was a must.

Richard Goforth, Area Specialized Agent for poultry, called participants to the judges tent to hear the rules. Each student had to

  • use only charcoal
  • have judges watch them light their fire
  • finish and present their poultry within 2.5 hours and
  • work on their own (many families set up lawn chairs to observe from a safe distance).

After hearing the rules, participants collected their poultry pieces – turkey breast or half chicken – provided by the Prestage Department of Poultry Science. After a final check of their charcoal arrangement and a cinch of their apron, each competitor was ready to call over a judge and start their fire.

A griller lights charcoals in an outdoor grill
A participant lights his charcoals.

Barbecue with a purpose

The 4-H motto, “learn by doing,” combined with NC State’s focus on thinking and doing, means that each student firing up their grill was barbecuing with a purpose. Responsibility, safety and food science know-how are key parts of outdoor cookery, with juicy, flavorful poultry as a treat at the end!

To assign points, judges from the Prestage Department of Poultry Science and NCDA C&S roamed between tents, assessing fire control, food handling safety and participants’ overall process.

Turkey hors d'oeuvres on a checked paper plate
Grilled turkey breast topped with cream cheese, fruit and bacon

As each student felt ready to present their food, they waved the judges over to see their carefully arranged plates. Judges asked students about their process and about poultry to determine knowledge levels. They looked at the prepared turkey or chicken for juiciness and overall presentation. Samples were available to the judges and visitors to each booth.

Judges (from left) Richard Hoyle, Margaret Ross and Chris Ashwell visit a booth.

As the event wound down – and the wind threatened to kick up – the judges conferred to determine placement for each participant. Their conversation was light but focused.

Participants were praised for their planning, their thoroughness, their knowledge and their recipes. In the end, after lots of samples and some banter, the judges awarded ribbons and prepared feedback forms for each participant.

Poultry 4-H

Saturday’s outdoor cookery event was only one of many 4-H Congress events (opens in a new tab) that brought N.C. students together in friendly competition and camaraderie. This year’s budding chefs have packed up their grills, but there are still plenty of summer days left to barbecue!

While you’re waiting for your charcoals to ash over, check out these other stories about North Carolina’s next generation of ag leaders:

Learn more about N.C. 4-H