Award-winning pitmaster ‘Big Papa’ Hillis to share BBQ tips in Venice

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Big Papa’s Backyard BBQ Class (and so much more) is Saturday at Hotel Venezia in Venice

Big Papa’s Backyard BBQ Class (and so much more): 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; Hotel Venezia, 425 U.S. 41 Bypass N., Venice; $100 (proceeds benefit Sertoma Club of Venice); 941-882-0170;

Dana “Big Papa” Hillis loves to share his passion for barbecue cooking.

The 50-time reserve and grand champion outdoor chef will bring his cooking school to Venice to benefit a cause that is close to his heart.

His Backyard BBQ Class on Oct. 12 at the Hotel Venezia will benefit the Sertoma Club of Venice and the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children.

I’ve had nearly a thousand students attend and it’s teaching how to do backyard cooking like the pros do,” said Hillis, who’s one of the nation’s top pitmasters.

Hillis will be bringing pellet, charcoal and rotisserie grills, along with a stick burner. Students will learn from Hillis and a few other pitmasters about how to take their grilling game to the next level.

Among the topics covered:

  • How to pick charcoal and the best type of charcoal to use.
  • What cuts of meat to buy.
  • What kind of wood to buy.
  • What rubs and sauces to use and where to get them.
  • What temperatures to cook at for different types of grilling.

The class is informative and fun, showcasing Hillis’ humor. The former general contractor from Naples has been a full-time pitmaster and caterer for the past 20 years. He was also instrumental in helping Don Fisher found the Suncoast BBQ and Bluegrass Bash, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 and drew over 20,000 people to the Venice Airport Festival Grounds.

The class starts with grilling chicken wings and ribs and attendees get to eat what the chefs cook while they learn some of the tricks of the trade.

“It’s a really cool, informative class,” Hillis said. “We start with ribs, We talk about the different styles of ribs and what all is involved in picking out good ribs, the proper way to cook them and how to do the things we’ve been doing in the professional world in your backyard.”

Fisher said the fundraising event is the first of its kind in the Venice area.

“Dana does a first-class job of teaching,” Fisher said. “He’s not teaching you to competition barbecue. He’s teaching you how to be the talk of your neighborhood.”

The class is sure to fill up fast, so anyone interested in learning how to be better at barbecuing should sign up soon.

“I guarantee you’ll laugh hard and you’ll have a blast,” Hillis said. “Cooking in your backyard on a charcoal grill, it’s easy. A lot of people are intimidated by it because they haven’t done it. Once you’ve done it and seen it done, it’s easy.”

Click here to read the full Sarasota Herald-Tribune story »
Vicki Dean is a freelance writer based in Venice.