Ten World-Famous Barbecue Events

Given the braggadocio that’s been part and parcel of barbecue cooking maybe as long as hogs have been thrown into pits, barbecue cooking becoming sport was inevitable. Each year brings hundreds of competitions for cooks of every level, and those competitions offer the chance not just to sample great eats but to share information, maybe take some classes, and usually groove to live music.

Not every festival has a competitive element, and in this list you find a couple events that are purely for celebration of America’s greatest culinary contribution.

Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue

The biggest of the bigs: The Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue is the premier barbecue cooking event.

Nobody makes it into the competition without beating out at least 50 other teams in a barbecue competition, or 2 dozen other teams in a designated state championship competition. While the elite teams sweat out the competition, visitors whoop it up at the surrounding festival.

The competition takes place over two days each fall at the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Bonus: Visitors can tour the distillery during the competition.

For more information, go to www.jackdaniels.com.

Memphis in May World Championship

One full mile of barbecue competition, vending, music, and more: The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is three days of springtime merriment — and pulled pork — that takes place in downtown Memphis, right on the bank of the Mississippi River and next to Beale Street. If you can’t have fun amid all that, you’re just not trying.

A People’s Choice contest gives visitors a taste — yeah, I went there — of competition judging, and the Cooker’s Caravan gives visitors behind-the-scenes looks at competition cooking and a chance to beg tips from the contestants.

For more information, go to http://memphisinmay.org/wcbcc_visitor.htm.

National BBQ Festival

Drawing winners from barbecue contests of all stripes for its Best of the Best Invitational, the National BBQ Festival annually turns Douglas, Georgia, into barbecue central.

In addition to the Best of the Best competition, cook-offs in several other categories are open and award prizes for backyard cooks, kids, and masters of sweet potato pie.

Food vendors, an antiques auction, music, and “south Georgia’s largest indoor yard sale” round out the two-day event, which takes place mid-fall each year.

For more information, go to www.nationalbbqfestival.com.

American Royal Barbecue

Part of the century (and then some)–old American Royal cattle exposition, horse show, and rodeo, American Royal Barbecue draws 500 competitors to its invitational and its open competition.

“Barbecuelooza” brings a Texas Hold’em tournament, a professional rodeo event, a concert series, and all manner of barbecue goodness available for the eating.

Drawing 70,000 visitors, the American Royal Barbecue started in 1980 and now bills itself as the biggest barbecue competition in the world. It happens each year during the fall in Kansas City, Kansas.

For more information, go to www.americanroyal.com.

Big Pig Jig

Originally a whole-hog cooking contest, the Big Pig Jig has grown in every way and now includes categories for Brunswick stew, ribs, sauce, and so on. The festival draws crowds of more than 20,000.

An annual event that takes place in the early fall in Vienna, Georgia, the Big Pig Jig is held in conjunction with a major arts-and-crafts fair and the local livestock association’s annual hog show.

Festival events take place over the span of a week, starting with a quiz bowl and wrapping up with a concert. In between are a golf tournament, a 5K run, a hog calling contest, and food, of course.

For more information, go to www.bigpigjig.com.

Big Apple Barbecue Block Party

Two summer days of food and music hit New York’s Madison Square Park for the first time in 2003, and the event took hold right away. Several big muckety-mucks of barbecue come in from all over the country to show off their skills. Big-time food gurus lead seminars on all things barbecue.

And then there’s the music: Big Apple Barbecue Block Party pairs brisket with blues, providing a two-day lineup of live bands.

No competition at this one, just tons of incredible food and fun in the big city.

For more information, go to www.bigapplebbq.org.

Lakeland Pig Festival

Balmy winter fun in Lakeland, Florida, the Lakeland Pig Festival is all about the barbecue. Pros and backyard cooks compete in separate divisions, and kids have their own competition, too.

Founded in not-too-long-ago 1997, the festival quickly drew a following and now attracts 30,000 visitors. There’s music, and a children’s area at the festival, but the focus is on the food, and visitors can take barbecue cooking classes and even sample the efforts of the competing teams.

Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off

A massive, five-day event that takes place over Labor Day, the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off draws a half-million people to Sparks, Nevada, for food, six stages of music, an arts-and-crafts show, and a rollicking kids’ area.

There’s judging, but this event isn’t sanctioned by one of the major barbecue associations and so is more a chance to hang out in the high desert chewing some ribs and having a fine time than to witness the kind of intense competition you find at other competitions.

For more information, go to www.nuggetribcookoff.com.

LPQue BBQ Championship

A newer entrant to the competition circuit, the LPQue BBQ Championship is a summertime event held in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

This one’s unique because it’s the first major competition within a new Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) delineation — the “Competitor Series” — and because it takes advantage of the series’ allowing changes to the usual KCBS rules by requiring that all competitors use liquid-propane-fueled cookers.

The departure from charcoal and wood (which still are allowed, just not as the primary heat source) raised some hackles, but the event offers a heckuva prize purse (the largest in KCBS history) and draws some heavy hitters. A barbecue dinner and concert give visitors a chance to hobnob with the teams.

For more information, go to www.lpque.com.

Blue Ridge BBQ Festival

A state championship event that was introduced in 1994, the Blue Ridge BBQ Festival has the benefit of great location (at the foot of Warrior Mountain and next to the banks of Pacolet River in Tryon, North Carolina) and a great reputation that draws healthy competition.

Two days of food, competition, arts, music, and carnival rides for the kiddies were a must for the summer festival. Going green was a unique initiative that the organizers introduced in 2006. The effort paid off by reducing trash at the festival by about a third; organizers hope to hit the 75 percent mark in trash reduction by 2008. All that while the festival grows annually, adding teams to the competition, vendors to the “Main Street” area, and visitors to the lovely locale.

For more information, go to www.blueridgebbqfestival.com.


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