Big Papa’s Green Beans
by Dana ‘Big Papa’ Hillis
During the heat of the summer, the competitions in Florida slow down because of the heat. But, addicted BBQ cooks always find someplace to do some smoking.
Years ago, we had an old propane tank that we turned into a charcoal smoker and built a little stand with a roof over it so we could cook in the rain.
Before that, we had some old Webers and some old gas grills, but good BBQ started rolling out when we figured the right combination of charcoal and hickory chunks on that old barrel smoker. We would get us a whole pork loin from Sam’s, rub it, inject it and throw it on the ol’ cooker. In 3 hours we had the kids and anyone within smoke-signal distance standing around waiting to eat.
Back when they first started running NASCAR races at Homestead, a bunch of us got together and camped in the RV campgrounds on the south side of the track.
We threw the old barrel smoker in the back of the truck, along with a brand-new event grill, and started cooking whatever our friends brought. A new tradition was born.
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Big Papa’s Green Beans
• 1 gallon canned green beans
• large onion chopped fine
• 1 pound cooked crisp bacon strips
• 1 can cream of mushroom soup
• 6 large, finely chopped jalapenos
• 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
• 1 pound Velveeta cut into 1” cubes
Combine green beans, onions, bacon, soup, jalapenos and pepper in a bowl and mix well.
Pour into a pan and put on a 350-degree smoker for about 1-1/2 hours.
Sprinkle the cheese over the mix evenly, and put back in for 5 minutes or until cheese melts.
Mix in cheese, serve and enjoy!
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Over the last 10 years, the group has gotten bigger, our kids have gotten old enough to bring their friends and families, and a large time has been had by all.
The second year we decided all the cookers and equipment was too hard to carry in the back of the truck, so we sat down with some bar napkins and designed a trailer just for cooking and having a good time.
We have literally fed thousands of people off this trailer. Back when there were big crowds at Homestead, hundreds of people would walk by and stop to take pictures, or introduce themselves and make sure they came back every year to see us. It is truly sad to see the effect the economy has had on the crowd that used to come every year.
Hopefully, this year NASCAR has an exciting finish and the crowds will be back.
Back when Hurricane Charlie paid us a visit, we were without power in the Naples area for several days. The wind made a big mess in our neighborhood, and our older neighbors were quite scared by having no water or power. One couple pulled up in front of our house and said they did not know what they were going to do for food.
My kids went up and down the street and told everyone to come to our house to eat. We fired up the generator and the ol’ cook trailer, everyone cleaned out their refrigerators, and we cooked and fed folks like it was a party for four straight days and nights.
We actually had a great time meeting neighbors we did not even know. To this day, I run into some of these folks, and that is the first thing they talk about. One day we got a call from one of our neighbors who needed some volunteer help. A 13-year-old young lady in the Ft. Pierce area had just had an emergency operation, prompting a bunch of folks to get together and cook some hamburgers as part of a fundraiser to help with medical bills. He heard we had a grill and wanted to know if we could come cook.
We agreed, a couple bands came to a park and played, a dunk tank rolled up, and lots of folks spent money dunking a very verbally abusive clown. We cooked breakfast, hotdogs and hamburgers, and with some help from a lot of generous people, raised over $10,000 in one day! I recently found a “thank-you” card from the young lady and was glad nobody saw me trying not to cry.
Way back in 2007, we pulled that old trailer into Sebring and decided we would give this competition BBQ thing a try. We had an old stick burner and that same old barrel smoker, and we were going to show that bunch of folks how to cook.
I had cooked my first brisket a couple weeks earlier, and all my friends told me my ribs were the best they had ever had. (I’m sure I’m not the only BBQ cook that has heard this type of praise). I did not take last place, had a Top 10 call in chicken and won first place in beer-can chicken, which allowed me to take home my first check and my first trophy. I was hooked!
My wife swears they gave me a trophy just to hook me. It worked. We have cooked well over 100 competitions since that day and have traveled to Vegas, “The Jack” in Lynchburg, Tennessee, The Kansas City Royal, and contests in Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. There is no telling where we will cook next.
When I first started competing, I was stubborn and wanted to win with my recipes, rubs and sauces. I had cooked about 20 contests and was getting better scores and winning some categories, but just could not win overall. Frustrated, I told Janet if I did not win by the 25th contest I was going to find a new hobby. Wouldn’t you know it, somehow I won a Grand Championship on my 25th contest.
We have gone on a pretty good streak since then, but if I had to start all over again right now, I would sign up for cooking classes offered by Swamp Boys and Jack’s Old South. (At least that way, if I didn’t win I could blame them).
A lot of people have asked me for some BBQ secrets. Here are my best-kept ones:
Cook for some charities: The good things you do will always come back around if it is from the heart. Give thanks to God when possible. If you have to lie, lie about somebody’s BBQ only if it makes them feel better. If you have to cheat, don’t let it have anything to do with BBQ, and if you are going to steal, “steal” a Grand Championship by a 10th of a point over some really good teams.
By the time this article comes out, the “Smokin’ on the Suwannee” event will be in the history books. I hope we are lucky enough to go down the “Bubba Slide” one more time.
Big Papa’s Country Kitchen is having our first Competition Cooking School, and it looks like we are going to have a lot of fun, eat good and pass on some secrets. The class is set for August 18-19 at the Country Kitchen in Naples, so give us an email if you are interested – email@example.com.
See you at a contest soon!