If you’re on an eternal quest for the best ‘cue around (beyond what you’re grilling up in your backyard, of course), you’ve officially found it. We’re sending you on a trail of the hottest hog fests, best barbecue parties and smokiest battlefields that America has to offer. We’ve hooked you up with the best grills, BBQing gadgets and oodles of hot-hot-hot recipes, but now it’s time to watch and learn from the greats. National BBQ parties kick into high gear in May and sizzle along through October. Taste a slice of Americana and hit up these BBQ fests, offering great local food, showcasing smoky traditions and bringing together community. Smokin’.
1. International Bar-B-Q Fest (Owensboro, KY): Since 1979, the Owensboro riverfront has become a mecca for pitmasters everywhere. Local restaurants, grilling teams and “backyard bar-b-q chefs” (hey, that could be you!) gather to compete in The Backyard Cookoff and show off top secret barbecue recipes. Over 80,000 people will be able to sample their masterpieces. On top of eating world famous barbecue, festival goers can indulge in live music, arts and crafts, a car show and good Southern hospitality. (via What’s Up Owensboro)
2. Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest (Memphis, TN): If you happen to be in Memphis during the month of May, you are in for the party of a lifetime! That’s right, this festival kicks up its hooves and makes sure it’s filled with enough barbecue, revelry and fun to make anyone go hog wild. For those participating in the barbecue contest, it’s not taken lightly. These pitmasters sweat over hot grills and go all out to create clever and creative kitchens that double as party booths outfitted with disco balls, DJs and drinks. Don’t miss out on the famed Miss Piggie Idol; it’s sure to instigate a lot of squeals! (via Too Sauced to Pork)
3. Houston Livestock Show + Rodeo World’s Championship Barbecue (Houston, TX): In Texas, it’s all about pork ribs, beef brisket and chicken, all flavored with aromatic woods like hickory, mesquite, oak and the skills of fierce barbecue masters. So why the choco-dipped jalapeños? Before the bucking broncos take to the arena and rodeo competitors dust off their chaps, about 300 teams prep to heat up the heart of Texas with some mouthwatering barbecue and innovative treats to be crowned the most delicious in categories like Most Creative Food, Best Fried Food, Best Breakfast Food, Best Food-on-a-Stick, Best Dessert — do you think they need judges next year? (Photo via Chron)
4. Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue (Lynchburg, TN): Considered one of the most prestigious barbecue competitions in the world, smoke masters come to Jack Daniel’s Hollow to compete for $10,000, and it’s no walk in the park to get there. Culinary categories for the coveted title of Grand Champion include chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder, butts, beef brisket, dessert, Cook’s Choice and Jack Daniel’s sauce. 25,000 discerning fans from around the world gather to celebrate the tradition of barbecue and sample local yums from across the country. A full day of smoking, seasoning, searing and indulging in world-class barbecue is sure to satisfy your ‘cue cravings. (via Jack Daniel’s)
5. Big Apple Barbecue Block Party (New York, NY): Bring an empty stomach and a picnic blanket to celebrate some of America’s best culinary and musical traditions, right in the heart of the Big Apple. Madison Square is where you get a weekend’s worth of peace, love and barbecue, attracting some of the country’s top pitmasters and local NYC comfort food hotspots to dish out their award-winning barbecue. Take home more than a full tummy, and hit up the cooking stages and seminars to learn how to make Austin-inspired BBQ tacos and hearty summer salads. (photo via TimeOut)
6. The Barbecue Festival (Lexington, NC): North Carolina is known as the “cradle of ‘cue,” and Lexington is the barbecue capital of the world. No wonder this fest doesn’t need a catchy name, it’s simply the best barbecue you can get. The main street is closed off for over 400 exhibitors to showcase anything from arts and crafts to down-home cooking, six stages are set for entertainment, three main tents are chopping up barbecue, fixin’ slaw and frying up pigtail fries and the kids can get rowdy at the BBQ Carnival. Come see what the “cradle of the ‘cue” has to offer (including annual “pig-themed sand sculptures”) and you may never want to leave. (via The Barbecue Festival)
7. Beach, Boogie and BBQ Festival (Myrtle Beach, SC): As the race to see who has the best food in the state heats up Labor Day weekend, be sure you hit the beach on an empty stomach. This two-day festival is filled with mouthwatering barbecue, live entertainment and a rousing cornhole match. (Time to start practicing in your backyard now, we reckon.) Competitors can showcase their smoking skills in the Barbecue Championship, Sauce Competition and Wing Competition. Even kids can compete in a junior competition. (via Think Myrtle Beach)
8. Big Pig Jig (Vienna, GA): Welcome to Georgia’s oldest barbecue contest, packing a porky punch in down-home Vienna. The Big Pig Jig was born in 1982 when “a group of self-professed gourmets made wagers on who among them could cook the most succulent pig.” That year, only whole hogs were cooked and teams competed for $1,000 in prize money. Today, the Big Pig Jig is really getting piggy with it with over 400 entries of hogs, shoulders, ribs, barbecue sauce, barbecued chicken, $16,000 in prize money and over 10,000 festival goers… all in the name of pork! (via Hungry Passport)
9. The American Royal World Series of Barbecue (Kansas City, MO): This festival really knocks BBQ outta the park! The American Royal is an annual eight-week season of rodeo, livestock shows, agricultural activities and the world’s largest barbecue competition — with over 500 teams competing and 70,000 spectators. If you’re serious about ‘cue this prestigious world series is a championship you want to see. For those of you competing, may the smoke be ever in your favor, and for those who just want some good ‘cue, Kansas City is where it’s at! (Photo via The Cooking Channel)
10. Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival (On tour throughout the U.S.): At the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Fest, you’re invited to pick your pleasure, kick back and relax, ’cause this tour makes its rounds across the country. Admission buys you a glass so you can enjoy an all-you-can-taste sampling of over 60 beers and 40 bourbons, and don’t forget to wash it all down with some Southern-loving barbecue. Even learn some DIY butchering tips with classes from local masters o’ meat. (via Leigh Brown and Associates)
11. Cochon 555 (Kicking off in Chicago, IL): This annual touring event, focused on bringing heritage pigs to dinner tables across America, is true pig love. Cochon555 features five chefs, five pigs and five winemakers to promote sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs and whole animal utilization. This one-of-a-kind traveling competition is not to go untasted; eat good food, drink fine wine and get to know good swine in a sustainable way. (via The Village Voice)
12. Hogs for The Cause (New Orleans, LA): This re-creation of a traditional Southern pig roast invites prized pork gourmands and amateur BBQers and bakers (yes, those are pig macarons pictured above) to battle it out in categories such as Whole Hog, Porkpourri, Ribs, and Shoulder all for the sake of raising funds to support families and research for pediatric brain cancer. Louisiana’s Pork Champion is decided by festival goers who deposit donations into the piggy banks of their favorite team. Hogs for The Cause may put on the best cocktail and barbecue party in NOLA, but they are also a premier funding source for pediatric brain cancer and outreach services in the United States. (Photo via Nola.com)
13. Stumptown BBQ Smoke Off (Whitefish, MT): The great Smoke Off takes place under the stunning peaks of Glacier National Park in “big sky” country. Brought to barbecue lovers by Montana’s only authentic pit BBQ joint Piggyback BBQ, this festival is a pork-tastic time! Whether you’re competing or simply want to get your barbecue fix, Stumptown turns into the greatest smoketown two nights outta the year. (Photo via Piggyback BBQ)
14. Oinktoberfest (Clarence, NY): Just outside of Buffalo, you’ll find a festival that celebrates America’s traditions in barbecue. From the Carolina’s vinegar-based sauces to Texas’s beef brisket, Oinktoberfest has something for everyone to love. Competitors take on the following food categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork butt/shoulder and beef brisket to tally up their scores and determine the Grand Champion. New this year is a whole hog competition along with entertainment. In the great outdoors with great barbecue, this is one festival you can pig out at. (via Oinktoberfest)
15. Ohio Smoked Meat and BBQ Festival (Nelsonville, OH): For a dose of small-town Americana, get yourself to the Ohio Smoked Meat and BBQ Fest and sample some of the best chicken, ribs, pork and brisket in the Midwest. Competitors sling their meat for a chance to win over $10,000 in cash money. You could say the winner is really brining home the bacon.
‘Cue us in on your fave fests that pack a porky punch, in the comments below!