by Dana ‘Big Papa’ Hillis

I’ve met a lot of people who love to BBQ – and I mean more than just hotdogs and burgers on the grill. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing better than dogs and burgers grilled on the back porch, and I know guys that can make gourmet meals out of Ballpark franks.

I’ve seen hotdogs carved in the shape of an octopus, hollowed out and stuffed with chili and cheese and a big ol’ hotdog wrapped with bacon!

Creativity on the grill has endless possibilities, and cooking in a competition gives you a chance to be creative and see if you can satisfy some experienced judges with your recipes.

At my first Florida BBQ Association competition, I was nervous and had no idea what to expect. I pulled in to see grills and trailers and teams, but the thing I remember most were the friendly people involved in these events.

I met the Wolfe Brothers, Jimmy Brod, Rob Bagby, Jim McCoin, Joby with the Dixie Boys, Tim with Pig In Pig Out and several other teams that went out of their way to make us feel like we were really welcome in the FBA.

Since that time, I’ve tried to do the same for any newer teams I meet and have made some great friends along the way. Every team goes out of the way to help new teams feel welcome. If something breaks or someone has a problem, there’s always somebody there to help.

After our first contest, my wife, Janet, noticed some teams did not get very much sleep, and a few possibly enjoyed too many adult beverages. Worried about everyone getting something to eat for breakfast, she started cooking breakfast at contests on Saturday mornings.

Over four years later, she has cooked breakfast nearly 100 times. It has been fun watching all the teams come to our camp at 8 a.m. to eat a quick bite before carrying on with a busy morning.

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Bubba Chucks just celebrated the one-year anniversary of their restaurant in Winter Haven. Here is their Saturday-night special:

• 2 lbs. ground beef

• 1 small green pepper, diced

• Big Papa’s All-Purpose Rub

• 1 medium onion, diced

• 1/4 cup milk

• 3/4 cup ketchup

• 2 cups plain bread crumbs (try a substitute – 1/2 cup quick cook grits

• 2 eggs

• Salt to taste

Cooking Instructions:

Mix all ingredients and form a loaf, sprinkle with your favorite rub and cook on your smoker or grill at 275 for 2-3 hours or until internal temperature is 165-175 degrees.

Pour a little of your favorite BBQ sauce over the top for the last 15 minutes.

If you don’t have time to make it, along with some mashed taters and brisket gravy, just stop in at Bubba Chucks on a Saturday night, and let the Chucks do the cooking for you!

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(Rumor is our camp breakfast has helped many teams win or place higher).

So, if you decide to cook in a contest sometime, you know you are going to meet some great people and you know where to get a good breakfast to start Saturday on the right track.

This competition BBQ thing is just a lot of fun. Hang out at awards and “people watch.” I guarantee you will have a good time.

If you really want to try cooking in a contest, try going to one and just wander around checking out the cook sites. Most teams will gladly give you tips and pointers about how to get started, BUT keep in mind that at certain times teams are racing the clock and may be busy.

I’ve seen guys standing around talking when a guy looks at his watch and runs off, right in the middle of a conversation. Trust me, he is not being rude, he just realized he forgot to clean his chicken, start his cooker or do some other important step. Find me at a competition (or email me at and I promise to help answer any questions you may have.

We just had a great “Smokin’ on the Suwannee” contest in Live Oak organized by Damon Wooley, who not only is a Suwannee County teacher, but has a competition cook team.

The art teacher from his school makes the unique first-place trophies, and they are true treasures to the winners. Each year the Grand Champion has to take a trip down the “Bubba Slide,” and I’m proud to say Janet and I were honored to take the slide this year.

Big Papa’s won Grand Champion, and Barbecue Crew out of Moultrie, Georgia took Reserve Grand honors. B&T Cook Team took 3rd, Git R Smoked took 4th and Swamp Boys took 5th.

We’ve got a busy schedule of competitions coming up. The Sam’s Club Championship series was at the end of August, and the Fun Cook, The Royal, The Jack and the remainder of the FBA schedule is coming up.

Go to “” and pick a contest to get started. If you don’t want to cook, you can become a judge!

My son Cadin was working with me in Tampa when we found Twinz Big City Hotdogs (5707 West Waters Ave.) featuring classic dogs like the Chicago, New York, Tampa and Detroit Dog.

They even have a burger dog that is a meal. The burgers were fresh and thick, the menu has something for everyone and their wings are off the charts.

They have a new wing called the Georgia Peach that is worth the drive to Tampa. Top it off with a hand-built shake, and tell Rich and Rob that Big Papa sent you. These guys have got something special.

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