"Gator Balls" - (Bacon-Wrapped Meatballs)

by Dana ‘Big Papa’ Hillis

We just finished our long trip and big BBQ adventure, a trip to the Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

This contest definitely lived up to all of the expectations. Lynchburg is a cool little historical town. If you visit, be sure to do the tour of the old distillery and some shopping on the square. You also can’t miss eating dinner at Miss Mary Bobos, which used to be an old boarding house and is now a dining pleasure featuring home-style cooking with a Southern flair.

A member of the staff sits in on dinner and tells entertaining stories of the history of the town. Just to have a chance to be drawn to cook at the Jack Daniels competition, you have to win a Jack’s qualifier. Winning teams are put in a hat and a limited number of teams from each state get drawn to go to the contest. We were lucky enough to get drawn.

Some teams have tried for years and have never been drawn, so we considered ourselves lucky to get to go and enjoyed every minute. A good friend and BBQ competitor, Thomas Sadaka with Divine Swine BBQ, picked up my son, Cadin, and brought him to enjoy the experience. We had a good time. Janet showed her excitement when we got a couple of calls and won a couple of cool Jack Daniels’ trophies and a few bottles of Jack with some ribbons. It was a very successful trip. On our way back to Florida, we took a ride through a little town called McMinnville, where I spent some time growing up. My son got to see my grandmother’s old house, which is over 100 years old and used to be a one-room log cabin built by some Indians before the turn of the century.

A cousin of mine knew that we were at the Jack and chased us down when we passed through, which lead to a nice family visit.

When we finally got home, the Zephyrhills contest was on the schedule for the next weekend, and Janet decided she’d had enough. We had driven 5,000 miles and cooked in six contests in four weeks, but I just had to go do another contest – even if it was by myself.

My brother Kevin lived close by, so he stopped by to help out. This was the second time he has cooked with me and has proven to be my good luck charm. His first time was at the Brighton Casino contest, where we won, and this time we won the Grand Championship – so he is 2 for 2!

(story continued below)


"Gator Balls" - Bacon-Wrapped Meatballs


• Homemade (or Sam’s Club) meatballs

• 1 pound sliced bacon

• Your favorite BBQ sauce

Cooking Instructions:

Make homemade meatballs (but we cheat and buy Sam’s Club meatballs).

Place 5 meatballs in a pan and wrap each meatball with a piece of pre-cooked bacon.

Put all 5 meatballs on a skewer with the skewer holding bacon in place.

Prepare several skewers of meatballs and place them in a pan. Cover meatballs with your favorite BBQ sauce (Big Papa’s Spicy Peach works well). Heat and serve! Here in South Florida we call these “Gator Balls!”

Hope you enjoy.

(story continued from above)

There were over 450 permits pulled in Kansas City just for bands at the Royal, and I think most of them were right next to Matt’s Hot Wachula site. When the music was not playing, the trains were shaking Matt out of his camp.

Every BBQ team has to cook the Royal at least once to enjoy this experience. We got to meet a lot of teams from around the country, including the Gerritt Boys BBQ team out of South Dakota.

My goodness they have a sense of humor in South Dakota! We laughed a lot and had a good time. We cooked some gator tail we brought with us, and the South Dakota boys enjoyed it. They don’t get much gator between snow storms.

We got a 4th place call in brisket in the invitational, along with an 11th in chicken. The next day we got a 13th-place call out of 500 entries in chicken and took 3rd in the sausage contest (303 entries). There were over 300 teams in the side dish competition, where Janet finished 32nd, including top finishes in baked beans and onion casserole!

We left Kansas City and headed to Jackson, Tenn. for the semi-final round of the Sam’s Club Championship. Only the top 11 teams qualify for the championship round in Bentonville, Arkansas, which has a purse of $100,000 and the Grand Champion takes home $35,000!

We were a little nervous, wanting to do well against some of the best teams in the country. We did not get a call in chicken or ribs, so we were pretty sure we were out of the running, but then came the good luck.

We tied for 1st in pork with Uncle Kenny’s BBQ and took 9th in brisket, giving us a 6th place finish overall! Now we were off to Bentonville with the top 50 teams in the whole country! We stayed in Memphis the first night, toured Beale Street, and had a cold one and some appetizers at BB Kings. They had some smoked sausage that was out of this world.

From there we hit a few legendary BBQ joints and had a real good time hanging out with Chris and Mark from C. Elliotts BBQ out of Fort Lauderdale. From Memphis we headed to the home of the Arkansas Razorbacks and Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis – Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Uncle Kenny’s moved on to this round, and so did Kregg, Tom and Charles with Naked Bones BBQ out of Lakeland, Florida.

We toured the small towns around Bentonville and really enjoyed the food at a chicken joint called AQ’s that has been around since 1947. We also ate at Butt Nekkid BBQ, a brand-new place in Fayetteville that has more big cookers sitting outside their place than I have ever seen. The food was OK, they just need to pay a visit to Bubba Chucks in Winter Haven or Pit Masters in DeLeon Springs, Florida to find out exactly what good BBQ is.

As I write this, it is Friday night and we are sitting in the parking lot of Sam’s Club world headquarters, waiting to start cooking. We are cooking a Tri-Tip for an extra category and are finishing up a practice run. There is a competition in Fort Smith, Arkansas that does not start until Saturday night, so, as soon as we finish the Sam’s contest, we are heading south 83 miles to squeeze in one more cook before the Jack. Big Papa’s will cook any time we get a chance!

Make plans to attend the Southern Pines Blues & BBQ Festival and Triple Crown Championship Dec. 9-10 in Perry, Florida, which will once again host the best amateur and professional BBQ teams in the Southeast at Forest Capital Park in Perry, Florida.

Keep on cookin’ and bring our kids home safe.

Have a happy and safe holiday, and we will see you at the Triple Crown BBQ Championship in Perry, Fla. Dec. 9-10! Bless our troops. I miss you, Pop.

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