Kentucky State BBQ Festival
This event, located in quaint Danville, Kentucky, is new on the scene, but promises to become a major player in the barbecue festival world in the coming years. Brad Simmons, half of the husband and wife team behind this fest, says he and his other half started the festival last year simply as a way to "share the love of barbecue." He and wife Cindy originally thought to host a block party, which quickly morphed into an event attended by more than 25,000 people, with 9 live bands to entertain them, and over 6,000 pounds of meat to satisfy their barbecue cravings.
This event boasts no cooking competition — as do many of the others on our list — but there is an eating triathlon (which ends in a barbecue sauce-covered slip and slide) for the more ambitious attendees. Brad, Cindy, and their volunteers partnered with the United Way, so much of the proceeds from all this delicious, barbecue-themed indulgence go to an excellent cause.
W.C. Handy Barbecue
This free festival (free!) in Henderson, Kentucky, is one of the largest blues music events in the country. Though it is run by the Henderson Music Preservation Society and the majority of the festival is focused on the music, opening day features the "Taste of Henderson Barbecue" event in Henderson's Central Park. A pig roast and barbecue competition gives attendees a chance to taste some amazing eats prepared by local teams while enjoying the outdoors and the sounds of the blues.
Hogs for the Cause
Down in the heart of Creole country, in the great food city of New Orleans, Louisiana, is Hogs for the Cause, a barbecue festival with a charitable bent. The event, modeled after a traditional Southern pig roast, takes place annually in March (next year's festival is set for March 23, 2013). Though focused on food, music, and fun, the festival also has a greater purpose — to raise funds for children battling debilitating brain cancers and their families.
It's only been around for a couple of years, but this festival is growing quickly. By its third year in operation, Hogs for the Cause had 7,000 attendees and 47 teams competing in its barbecue contest, and by 2012 it had grown to 12,000 attendees, 58 teams, and raised $300,000 for "the cause." One of their most popular barbecue contest categories is pork-purri, in which competitors can barbecue any cut of pig they choose in any way, and really get creative. Other competition categories include butt/shoulder, ribs, whole hog, sauce, and fan favorite.
Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival
If you're looking for a festival that's been around for a few years and is more like a massive, well-oiled barbecue machine — with tons of different locations, vendors, food, drinks, and music — this is the event for you. Because of the focus on alcoholic beverages as well as barbecue, however, we do warn you that it is an adults-only option. With festivals taking place from Manhattan, NY, to Nashille, TN, and Charlotte, NC (and many places in between), barbecue lovers throughout the South and up and down the East Coast can find an event that's easy to travel to and enjoy. Attendees can listen to a mix of bluegrass, country, and rock music while tasting whole-roasted hog, pulled pork, brisket, ribs, and more, and sipping samples of bourbon and craft beers. Unlimited beverage samples are included with admission (prices vary according to location).
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest
This contest is for veteran pit masters and serious barbecue connoisseurs. Around since 1974, the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest in Houston, Texas, is traditionally held the weekend prior to the opening of the Livestock Show and Rodeo, another historic local event that has taken place annually since 1932. A three-day long event, the cooking competition also includes live music and dancing — maybe to help tasters work up a sweat after digging into the delicious barbecue prepared by more than 300 cooking teams.
Elizabeth Greer, the competition's Executive Director, proudly proclaims that the barbecue served at the contest is in true Texan style. It focuses on only three categories — pork ribs, beef brisket, and chicken — and strongly flavored, aromatic woods are used to smoke the meats — they stick strictly to hickory, mesquite, or oak. The event drew nearly 250,000 attendees in 2011, and just as many are expected for the next festival, which will take place in early 2013.
Stumptown Smoke Off
Good barbecue is worth a trek on its own — but good barbecue in a gorgeous natural setting, right at the entrance to Glacier National Park? That's almost indescribable. And yet the Stumptown Smoke Off in Whitefish, Montana, offers just that. The event, hosted by local restaurant Piggyback Barbeque, is only in its second year, but already attracts a wide variety of barbecue connoisseurs. The competition is open to cooks of all levels, from pit masters to beginners, and the 25 teams participating in this year's event (including groups all the way from Calgary, Alberta) will bring a variety of barbecue styles to the table — everything from Texas-style brisket to Memphis-style ribs to Carolina pulled pork is expected. In addition to the delectable barbecue, the Smoke Off includes live music, special activities for the kids, and a hog calling contest.
The event, which is sanctioned by the Pacific Northwest BBQ Association, will take place August 17-19, 2012, and will give away $8,000 in prize money to the winning competitors. Admission for the entire weekend is only $12 per person, and some of the proceeds will go to directly benefit a local charity, The North Valley Food Bank.
COURTESY OF BLAZIN' HOG BBQ COMPETITION AND ZYDECO MUSIC FESTIVAL
Blazin' Hog BBQ Competition and Zydeco Music Festival
This Mariposa, California-based festival is put on entirely to benefit the JCF Foundation, which helps buy equipment and support the local John C. Fremont Hospital. One of the smaller festivals on our list, Blazin' Hog still expects to attract about 3,000 barbecue- and music-lovers at the 2012 festival this September. Rudy Mensinger, Festival Director, joyfully states that his favorite part of the festival is simply "watching everybody having a good time," and he and his team make sure there are plenty of ways for attendees of all ages to do just that. With three different Cajun-style Zydeco bands taking the stage and three different categories of barbecue competition (Beef Tri-Tip, Pork Ribs, and Chicken) that adhere to Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) rules and standards, this festival is fun for the whole family.
Safeway Barbecue Battle
Washington, D.C., may not be the first place you think of when you think of barbecue — but what better place to enjoy this classic American cuisine than in the country's capitol? This enormous festival has been featured in media across the nation, including major magazines like Saveur, and also happens to have a charitable mission — it benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs. Smack dab in the middle of historic Pennsylvania Avenue, this is the only event on our list that boasts spectacular views of some of the nation's most iconic buildings.
This year marks the Battle's 20th year in operation, so it's safe to say that these folks know how to put on a good show. The Battle attracts vendors, chefs, and competitors from all across the country who go head-to-head for a chance to win $40,000 in prizes. Attendees enjoy tastings, demonstrations by chefs and cookbook authors, and live musical entertainment.
COURTESY OF JACK DANIEL'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP INVITATIONAL BARBECUE
Jack Daniel's World Championship Barbecue Invitational
Looking for a big, whopping, classic barbecue cook-off to hit this summer? Look no further than the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue. Now in its 24th year, this event in the heart of barbecue country has good barbecue down to a science. The 2011 Invitational brought 71 U.S. teams, along with 18 international teams, to Lynchburg, Tennessee, also home to the Jack Daniel's distillery.
Affectionately referred to as "The Jack" by locals and longtime attendees (about 25,000 are expected this year), this event allows competitors to test their skills in seven different categories: pork ribs, pork shoulder/butts, beef brisket, chicken, dessert, cook's choice, and Jack Daniel's sauce. The winners are awarded $30,000 in cash and prizes. Aside from the barbecue, other attractions include live music and performances of the traditional dance of the Appalachian region, clogging.