Big Papa’s BBQ: Bismarck’s own world-class pit master

By KELLY STILES | The Arkadelphian

Bismarck is home to one of the world’s best cooks, with the numbers to prove it. Frank Davis, otherwise known as “Big Papa”, competed in the 2022 State Cookoff Association (SCA) World Championship where he placed 25th out of 450 cooks for his grilled ribeye steak.

About eight years ago, Frank and his wife of 23 years, Kelly Davis, moved to Bismarck from the small town of Forsyth, Ga. after feeling led by God to be closer to Frank’s father and brother. The couple has two sons, ages 28 and 19.

Growing up, Frank’s grandpa would have whole hog BBQs where friends would come over and “pig pick” the meat from the hog.

“I started cooking with my grandpa when I was just barely able to walk and talk,” Frank said.

While living in Georgia, Frank owned a BBQ restaurant called “Uncle Frank’s BBQ” that he ran with his former cookoff teammate. In 2009, Frank and his partner began participating in BBQ events which called for cooking a slew of different meats during each individual competition — ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken, the works.

At the time he started his restaurant in Georgia, Frank was known as “Uncle Frank” by his 13 nieces and nephews. Now that he has three grandchildren, he has “progressed” to “Big Papa.”

Having moved away from his cookoff-comrade, the competitions Frank typically ventured were no longer feasible. He did not cook in any competitions for about three years after relocating to Bismarck, until he learned about the SCA. The association facilitates cookoffs surrounding individual foods, such as steaks, making the competitions more suitable to one person.

Frank Davis (L) is pictured in Cape Girardeau, Mo. with friend Michael Mixon (R), team member and son of Myron Mixon, who has won the most BBQ competitions in the world. | Submitted by Frank Davis

A typical cookoff day for Frank consists of arriving to the event area in the morning, setting up an outdoor canopy covering himself and his grill, and cooking one or two ribeye steaks and/or an ancillary. The food for an ancillary competition varies from cookoff to cookoff. One day the chosen ancillary could be pulled pork, the next it could be bloody Marys. Winners are announced the evening of the event.

“I’ve done all kinds of stuff,” Frank said. “Anything from frog legs, to chicken wings, to tacos.”

Frank Davis bears a third place medal for a pizza ancillary cookoff in Marion, Ark., having made a breakfast pizza with a hash brown crust. | Submitted by Frank Davis

Frank has been involved in hundreds of cooking competitions in the states of Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Oklahoma. This past year, he participated in 32 steak cookoffs, and 34 ancillary cookoffs.

He will be competing in the 2023 SCA World Championship in Fort Worth, Texas on March 9-12 in the steak and ancillary categories. Participants in the championship are invited based on their cookoff accolades over the past year, which are tallied in a points chase. For the SCA points chase of 2022, Frank placed 88th out of about 1,400 steak cooks, and 11th out of about 725 ancillary cooks.

“They have cooks that come from Australia, New Zealand, Japan,” Frank said. “They literally come from all over the world.”

Frank uses sponsored products when preparing and grilling Big Papa’s BBQ food. He cooks with a Tribal Fire grill, Papa’s Premium Grilling Products charcoal, and his spices, rubs, and sauces are from Big D’s Q, DB 180, and Hound Hogs BBQ Supply.

Frank Davis specializes in grilling ribeye steaks. | Submitted by Frank Davis

For the ancillary competition, Frank has been tasked with cooking a dish with the main ingredient being the event sponsor, Wampler’s Farm’s, breakfast sausage. He is considering making a “biscuit bomb,” where he would flatten out a biscuit, put sausage, eggs, and cheese in the center, and wrap the biscuit around them. After cooking the creation, he would make a sausage gravy to pour on top.

“I like to do ancillaries because you get to use more creativity,” Frank said. “You get to think outside the box.”

The winners of cookoffs are determined by certified cookoff judges. There are five judges per table, and there is typically one table of judges per 20 cooks. For steaks, they judge based on the categories of appearance, doneness, texture, overall impression, and taste. The first four categories are each rated on a 50-point scale, whereas taste is rated on a 54.5 scale, adding to total of 254.5 possible points.

Frank Davis (L) is pictured with friend Sunny Lynn (R) who has competed on the Food Network show BBQ Brawl featuring chef Bobby Flay. | Submitted by Frank Davis

For ancillaries, the judging categories are appearance, execution, creativity, and taste. Like the steak, the first three categories are 50 points each while taste is 54.5, making a perfect ancillary score 204.5 points.

If Frank’s cooking makes the top ten of his flight of competitors on the first day of the cookoff, then he will cook again for the finals the following day. The chosen ancillary for the finals round is “anything tacos,” with the main ingredient being Wampler’s Farm’s chorizo or taco meat.

“I’m a competitor,” Frank said. “Anytime I get called for the top 10, its a rewarding thing.”

When Frank grills outside of competitions, he prefers to prepare ribs.

“If I’m not cooking in cookoffs, I’m at home cooking for people,” Frank said. “I mean, I love cooking.”

Frank currently works for the State Farm agent Mark Cramer in Malvern. Frank and Kelly attend Second Baptist Church in Arkadelphia.

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