March 2015
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: A Grilling Event

  (From left) Amy Burgess, Etowah County Extension coordinator; Blake McMahan, 4-H Club member from Limestone County; and Betty Broman, Limestone County Extension coordinator, at the 2014 National Chicken-que Contest where Blake placed second.

Brutal cold did not stop Blake McMahan, a 4-H Club member from Limestone County, at the National Chicken-que Contest. Despite temperatures below freezing, McMahan grilled his chicken and the competition to perfection, winning second in the contest, held during the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference in Louisville, Ky.

A West Limestone County High School graduate, McMahan was an active 4-H member for the past 2 years, focusing on the Chicken-que project.

"Competition day I was nervous, but I also felt confident in myself," McMahan said. "I had a game plan on how I wanted everything to go and things just fell into place cooking."

Betty Ann Broman, Limestone County coordinator for Alabama Extension, recalls McMahan’s focus on competition day.

"The morning of the competition, it was only 27 degrees," she said. "But Blake was well prepared and did not let the cold weather affect him. His attention to detail paid off in the quality of his final product."

McMahan, who is now a student at Calhoun Community College, confessed to having mixed emotions during the awards ceremony.

"At first, I was nervous because my name hadn’t been called out. Then it changed to excitement when they announced me as the second place winner."

Amy Burgess, who provides leadership to Alabama 4-H poultry and egg projects in addition to her role as Alabama Extension coordinator for Etowah County, said it takes more than a well-cooked chicken to win the contest.

"The 4-H Chicken-que contest involves skills in barbecuing and product preparation as well as a presentation demonstrating knowledge of the poultry industry, food safety standards, nutrition and product attributes," Burgess explained. "This is not just a barbecue contest."

Burgess and Broman both noted McMahan’s commitment to preparation and practice between winning the Alabama 4-H Chicken-que contest in late summer and the national contest in late fall.

Broman said McMahan practiced on weekends and evenings with her.

"We worked on doneness, timing and arrangement of the preparation area," Broman said. "We adjusted the food safety and food handling aspects of his grilling plan. To help prepare, Blake also honed his skills by cooking for several groups in the West Limestone community, including several volunteer fire departments."

She added that a former Marshall County 4-H member briefed McMahan on what to expect at the national competition and helped fine tune his preparation techniques. In addition, a Limestone County poultry farmer worked with McMahan on the content of his presentation.

Burgess called McMahan’s work ethic impressive.

"He set a goal of placing high at a national 4-H contest in his chosen project. He did all that he could do to accomplish that goal.

"What Blake did was to showcase Mastery. Mastery is one element of positive youth development that 4-H strives to instill in its members. I am extremely proud of Blake and for how he represented the Alabama 4-H program."

Both the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation provided financial support to McMahan’s trip to the national competition.

Maggie Lawrence is the News Unit Manager, Extension Communications and Marketing for Alabama Cooperative Extension System.