America’s Best Barbecue Festivals (Slideshow)
Atlanta Bar-B-Q Festival, Atlanta
The Atlanta Bar-B-Q Festival calls itself “the crossroads of bar-b-q” because it brings together styles from Texas, the Carolinas, Memphis, St. Louis, and Kentucky all in one event. Now in its ninth year, the festival will charge only $6 in advance ($10 day of) for admission to the August 12-13, 2016 event — but guests can opt for a $30 “Bourbon Experience” ticket instead ; in addition to general admission access, this also includes a commemorative sample glass and 10 free tokens to use on over 30 premium bourbons (costing 1-4 tokens each, with additional tokens available for $1 each). A buck will also buy you limited samples from many of the vendors. As for other attractions, there are cooking demos, live music and entertainment, and the highly anticipated BBQ Cook Off.
Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival, Various
The best part about the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival? Probably the fact that it tours around the country, making stops in Manhattan, Atlanta, Tampa, Maryland (Timonium and National Harbor), North Carolina (Cary and Charlotte), and Virginia (Leesburg, Richmond, and Virginia Beach). No, wait, maybe it’s the countless barbecue vendors giving out samples and selling heaping portions of their delectable dishes. Or perhaps it’s the unlimited samples of over 60 beers and 40 bourbons included in the admission price ($39-$199, depending on location and VIP status). Let’s just compromise and say all of the above. Now in its tenth year, the BB&BBQ Fest is halfway through its 10-city tour, so be sure to check the website for dates and details.
Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, New York City
June 11-12, 2016 are the dates, New York is the city, and Madison Square Park is the location for the 15th annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. Last year, New Yorkers and tourists alike were treated to over 14,000 pounds of ribs and 7,500 pounds of ribless pork, and they washed it all down with 3,500 gallons of beer and wine. This year, vendors like Hill Country, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Salt Lick BBQ, and at least 10 other major 'cue purveyors will be on-hand slinging their fare as numerous musical acts perform — including former New York Yankee fan-favorite Bernie Williams and his band. As always, admission is free, and food and drink proceeds go to the Madison Square Park Conservancy. If you can think of a better way to spend a weekend in the city, I’d like to hear it.
Hogs for The Cause, New Orleans
The “hogs” represent this festival’s traditional Southern pig-roast roots, and “the cause” is raising funds to support research for pediatric brain cancer and the families of those suffering from the disease. Sounds like a great reason to head down to “The City Pork” grounds in New Orleans City Park, where there are also several cook off competitions (featuring almost 100 competing teams), an always-impressive lineup of bands, and endless amounts of beer and mixed drinks — in fact, the event is often called the best cocktail party in New Orleans. And, you know, the best place to get your paws on some fine Southern cooking. Tickets cost $25 for a single day ($40 for both), and the event occurs early each spring.
Houston Livestock Show + Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Q, Houston
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was organized for charitable, educational, and scientific reasons to promote and encourage the breeding, raising, and marketing of better livestock and farm products at public fairs — but most people just attend for the eating at The World’s Championship Bar-B-Q. Each year (in February or March) since its inception in 1974, the festival has kicked off with a three-day traditional Texas cook-off, with more than 250 teams competing for the top prize in categories like “Most Creative Food,” “Best Fried Food,” “Best Breakfast Food,” and numerous others. Then there’s the live music, DJs, dancing, drinks, and even a free (with the cost of a $15 admission ticket) plate of chopped beef with chips and beans courtesy of Chuck Wagon at the Saloon. The festival attracts more than 200,000 visitors annually.
International Bar-B-Q Fest, Owensboro, Ky
Yelp/ Jared K.
Every year over 85,000 hungry people descend on Owensboro, Kentucky, for the International Bar-B-Q Festival — two days of music, arts and crafts, and a whole lot of good eating. This free fest takes place during the second weekend in May, and features face-painting, a pie-eating competition, and other activities for the kids, along with a keg-toss, 5K run, shopping, a car show, and homemade burgoo by the gallon, with a portion of the festival’s profits allotted to support various charitable causes. Fancy yourself a grill-master? Enter the Backyard Cook-Off to show off your chops, or shun work and opt to let loose at the Mutton Glutton BBQ Fest VIP Party instead. Owensboro has been doing this for 37 years, so trust them, they’re experts.
Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue, Lynchburg, Tenn.
On Saturday, October 22, 2016, 25,000 barbecue fans from around the world will descend on Lynchburg, Tennessee, for one of the most prestigious and serious competitions in the world: The 28th Annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. Of course, only the competitors need be truly serious, as they compete for a shot at the $10,000 prize (and smaller prices for best chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder/butt, beef brisket, dessert, cook’s choice, and Jack Daniel’s sauce). Everyone else is festive, jovial, and stuffed full of good eats. There are also games aplenty (including some interesting original ones with names like “Country Dog” and “Butt Bowling”), grilling demos, live bands and entertainment, a pie auction, and a petting zoo. Everything kicks off at 10 a.m., and admission is absolutely free.
Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest, Memphis
For three days in May, over 82 tons of pork are cooked at the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest, but it’s about so much more than just the competition. There are also tons of vendors, along with DJs, disco balls, dancing, drinks, and even a Miss Piggie Idol competition in which men dressed in tutus and snouts sing barbecue-themed parodies of popular songs. And just in case you need one more reason to attend, Memphis in May holds the Guinness record for largest pork barbecue in the world. Tickets start at $9.
Safeway Barbecue Battle, Washington, D.C.
Yelp/ Keiko M.
Pork barrel politics aren’t welcome in Washington, D.C., but pork sure is. In fact, historic Pennsylvania Avenue completely shuts down for the annual Safeway Barbecue Battle, which is now in its 24th year. Held from June 25 to 26, 2016, the event features a sampling pavilion, barbecue restaurant row, cooking demos, nonstop live music from 30 bands, a marketplace, and all sorts of other tents, stands, and kiosks. As for the battle itself, chefs and competitors from across the country compete for a chance to win $40,000 in prizes, which is some serious bacon. Admission is $15 per day, but it includes free samples and access to everything already mentioned, with proceeds benefitting the USO Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore and Capital Area Food Bank.
The American Royal World Series of Barbecue, Kansas City, Mo.
Memphis may have the largest pork barbecue in the world, but Kansas City, Missouri, is home to the largest barbecue competition: The World Series of Barbecue, which attracted over 600 teams and 50,000 people last year. Held annually since 1980, this year’s event will be held from October 26-30, 2016 at The Kansas Speedway. However, the entire American Royal event actually lasts for eight weeks, and includes rodeos, livestock shows, agricultural events, live music, and a parade. Single-day tickets cost about $15, or $25 for the whole weekend.