El Pollo Loco chicken champs vie for title in Burbank cook-off

BURBANK, Calif. (KABC) -- It's just 7 a.m. and the Burbank kitchen that is hosting the El Pollo Loco grill master competition is already sizzling.

"These guys have mastered the technique of grilling chicken. It takes something special to become a grill master," said El Pollo Loco Senior Operations Director Carlos Esquivel.

With almost 500 locations in the U.S., El Pollo Loco takes its chicken seriously.

They checked more than 1,400 grill masters, and now it's down to the final six in Burbank for the Grill Master's Challenge.

Keep in mind a restaurant wants continuity. You have to have the same chicken, the same spices the same ingredients, but it's how these guys grill that makes all the difference.

Jaime Ramos says the chicken has to be perfectly cold under 40 degrees with proper seasoning.

Santa Ana's Pedro Molina says it's all in the timing and the marinade, while Enrique Pulido suggests it's when you turn the birds.

Five of the six are California grill masters. Texas chef Brian Salazar says his secret is starting on low heat.

"If you have the flame too high, it's going to cook the chicken too fast outside and still be raw in the middle. The juices will come out too fast," said Salazar.

After 15 minutes on low, Salazar advises chefs to move the chicken around to where there's mid-high heat. Finally, turn up the flame the last eight to 10 minutes "to brown the outside of the chicken and give it a little crispiness," said Salazar.

All six finalists got trophies, jackets and chef forks, but Enrique Pulido who earned the title of champion received a $2,500 cash prize.
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