First-year students at the University of Georgia are learning about chicken by learning everything from where it comes from and how it is processed, down to what impacts it’s tenderness and how to make it tasty.
Casey Ritz and Brian Kiepper, both professors and UGA Extension poultry scientists in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, teach “Chicken Que: Science Behind the Grill.” The class is one of over 300 UGA First Year Odyssey seminars designed to introduce students to the academic life in a small class environment.
Learning about Georgia's no. 1 ag commodity
“One of my original objectives was to teach students some of the truths and myths about the poultry industry and chicken meat in general,” Ritz said.
The nine-week class meets weekly for two hours at the UGA Poultry Research Center in Athens. Students begin by learning the importance of grill safety and proper grilling techniques.
The students learn where different spices come from and the difference between a seasoning, which brings out natural tastes, and a flavoring, which can change the taste of the meat entirely. To emphasize this difference, the students are given 10 different types of spice blends to taste. They then have to note the predominant flavors and the area of the world it came from. This activity resulted in a mixture of pleasing and disapproving facial expressions.
The UGA students also learn about the different types and sizes of peppers. Some students in the most recent class were leery to try the peppers after learning a habanero pepper and a bell pepper can be the same color. “Don’t be afraid of a little kick,” Ritz said.
Dark and white meat
Working in groups, they prepare white and dark meat chicken for grilling. Ritz allows the students to determine how much of each flavor to use. Half of the flavored meat is baked while the other half is grilled. The students then sample the meat and discuss the difference in taste and texture between the two cooking methods.
Kathryn Craw, a first-year UGA student from Augusta, Ga., described the class as one-of-a-kind. With no prior cooking experience, Craw plans to use what she learns in her home kitchen. “I’m going to tell my mom that I’m going to cook dinner from now on,” she said.
In the chicken-focused class, UGA ag school professors also teach about muscle chemistry and brines versus marinades. And for a final project, students create their own original recipe, which includes a surprise ingredient Ritz provides each student individually. The surprise ingredients include grape jelly, root beer, chili oil and Chinese 5-spice mix.
Students prepare and grill chicken using their original recipes and one additional recipe of their choice before presenting the final product to a taste panel of judges. This semester’s judges tried 30 different combinations and selected two winners who received a 2014 first-year odyssey grill master trophy.
Rewarded for their culinary skills
“Our taste panel has eaten a lot of chicken so they know what’s good and what’s not,” Ritz said.
One of this semester’s champions was Tuan Pham, a first-year student from Homer, Ga. He was awarded the original recipe champion for incorporating waffles into his recipe. However, Trent Perry, a first-year student from Dunwoody, Ga., received a few more points and the grand champion title for skillfully adding peanuts to his recipe.
The instructors credit the popularity of the class to the team-teaching concept and the student interaction component. “What better way to get to know somebody than to sit down and eat [with them]?” he said.