To say that Dana Hillis is a barbecue cook, understates his accomplishments by several degrees. Having won over 70 barbecue contests in various states in the Southeast, he's now teaching other cooks how to win, catering all sorts of events, and has plans to open a restaurant.
What's his secret? Big Papa won't divulge much, but it's clear he has spent years perfecting his product.
"I cooked at home, raised five kids and barbecued a lot," he said. "I did not take anybody's cooking classes or use anybody else's recipes. I developed all my own rubs and sauces. Barbecue is big, man. I could talk barbecue all day. It's a passion."
Until the restaurant opens, Hillis has a trailer and will travel. When he is not on the road for regional contests, Big Papa's Country Kitchen and his award-winning barbecue can be found at the seasonal farmers market in North Naples.
In addition to the meat, Big Papa's five barbecue sauces - hot, sweet, mustard, tangy peach, and new raspberry chipotle - and six rubs are available for purchase.
"Sweet probably sells the most, but the peach is catching it," Hillis said, noting that different regions have different flavor profiles.
According to Big Papa, Floridians seems to favor a sweeter sauce, while Georgians and Alabamians like a little more tangy heat. He should know, of course; he also is a state champion in Georgia and Alabama.
Whatever flavor one prefers, just don't take a piece of meat and dump a lot of sauce on it, Big Papa insisted. "It's the taste of the meat before you put sauce on it."
Big Papa's Country Kitchen has been a professional competition cook team since 2007. His list of accomplishments has been growing steadily:
In August 2012 Big Papa had his first Professional Cooking School. There were 25 professional barbecue teams in attendance. According to all who attended, the school was a success. In January 2012, Big Papa had a second Professional Cooking School which was also a huge success. The tradition continued in May 2012 with a large number of the Professional teams that attended the school going to win contests: Sweet Smoke, Parrothead Smokers, Wooley Bully BBQ Mafia, Divine Swine, and Newman's BBQ.
Also in August 2012, Big Papa had his first Backyard cooking class. This is a one day class, teaching the non-competing folks how to cook on a grill in their backyard. Everyone had a lot of fun.