This blog post was updated on April 30, 2020.
If a pulled pork sandwich tends to make your heart pitter-patter, you’re usually in luck no matter where you travel in the U.S. Barbecue is synonymous with classic Americana cuisine. From backyard summer barbecues to hole-in-the-wall joints that know how to cook it low and slow, you won’t be hard press to find a plate of barbecue that doesn’t suit your fancy. And luckily for foodies all across the country, the U.S. delivers several barbecue festivals throughout the year where you can see some of the best of the best pitmasters compete…AND where you can sample some ‘cue too.
Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest
Set up in downtown Memphis in Tom Lee Park along the Mississippi River, you can just let your nose guide you for three days in May. The Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest boasts more than 230 teams competing from across the country and the world to share their delectable creations. You can purchase different tiers of tickets for the event, including one in which you can judge and sample the barbecue firsthand. In addition to good old-fashioned barbecue, the event includes plenty of other vendors, music, and drinks, as well as more out-there events like a MissPiggie Idol competition.
Big Apple Barbecue Block Party
New York City and barbecue don’t seem like a likely pair, but for a weekend in June, it might just house the best ‘cue in the country. The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party brings in a legendary lineup of barbecue greats from around the country. Stretching across several city blocks in and around Madison Square Park, top chefs and pitmasters from legendary barbecue joints across the U.S. serve up award-winning brisket, ribs, and whole hogs. The event also features an eclectic lineup of live music.
The American Royal World Series of Barbecue
Held each year in Kansas City, Missouri, the American Royal World Series of Barbecue claims to be the world’s largest barbecue competition. The two-day festival, a tradition since 1980, draws hundreds of competing teams. In addition, attendees are treated to live local music, kids activities, a BBQ Marketplace, and a car show. The dates of the event vary every year, but it usually occurs in late summer to early fall.
International Bar-B-Q Festival
A 40-year tradition, the International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky, features a number of events, with the main act being the Governor’s Cup football game. Local teams compete for awards for burgoo (spicy stew), chicken, and mutton. In addition to the Governor’s Cup, the festival includes a Backyard Cookoff, in which backyard barbecue chefs fire up their grills and smokers for a chance to compete alongside the best pitmasters in the region. The International Bar-B-Q Festival also features a 5k run/walk, a pie eating contest, arts and crafts, and the ever-appealing mutton glutton sandwich-eating competition.
The Barbecue Festival
Now in its 35th year, the Barbecue Festival in Lexington, North Carolina, takes barbecue to a whole new level. Calling itself the Barbecue Capital of the World, Lexington officially declares October barbecue month just in time for the event. Held across a 10-block stretch of Main Street, the festival features over 400 exhibitors and draws over 200,000 people. Not only does the Barbecue Festival in Lexington bring on the barbecue, but it also celebrates the eccentric with 50-ton, pig-themed sand sculptures and a bicycle stunt show.
I Love BBQ & Music Festival
It’s in the name. The I Love BBQ & Music Festival in Lake Placid, New York, is held annually in early July. Not only does the festival bring in loads of musical performances, it also features teams competing over the best brisket, pork, and chicken. The 3-day event brings the best BBQ competitors from around the nation. Aside from sampling opportunities, festival-goers will find lively food and drink and kids activities.
Have you been to a barbecue festival? Share your experience with us in the comments below.