UPDATE: Since this article was originally written, we have encountered the COVID-19 pandemic. Please make sure to follow the links to each competition's website to check for any changes in format or dates due to the pandemic.
Whether you are in the Southeast or Pacific Northwest and anywhere in between, BBQ is a favorite staple. Outdoor cooking and entertaining has become American traditions all across the country. Combine great tasting barbecue (and often great whiskey and beer) with live music, competition, and other outdoor activities, and it’s a great time you don’t want to miss. At these BBQ festivals and competitions, you’ll also often have the opportunity to see some of the top BBQ pitmasters and grillmasters in action up close and personal. Maybe even try your hand at some competition cooking.
Thousands of people flock to these events all over the country throughout the year. Each part of the country offers BBQ events that vary a little in features and types of BBQ. But one thing is true. Every single one will offer the opportunity to try more types and forms of great BBQ than you could probably comfortably eat.
Let’s take a look at some of the best BBQ festivals & competitions you’ll want to check out in 2020. In date order:
February 27-29, 2020
Source: Houston Press
Any true BBQ aficionado knows one yearly event that is definitely a must-visit, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. Started in 1974, this 3-day world-class caliber competition brings in over 250 pitmaster teams. Most of the BBQ team tents are invitation-only, but festival-goers can enjoy several public venues, like The Garden, Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon, and the Chuck Wagon.
In the Chuck Wagon, visitors can pick up their complimentary sliced brisket plate with chips and beans so you can still taste some great competition BBQ. Plus, the festival features a carnival with wild rides and fun games. Also, the Miller Lite Garden Stage features some of the best and up-and-coming artists in Texas country. Enjoy more live and DJ music in The Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon which has an outside patio as well.
June 27-28th, 2020
Source: Washington Times
What better place to bring together all of the country’s top BBQ pitmasters, grillmasters, and outdoor cooking experts than right on Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s capital? The Giant® National Capital Barbecue Battle is one of the year’s biggest BBQ cooking competitions and food & music festival, sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS). For the past 27 years, this event has also raised millions of dollars for area charities.
This family-friendly event draws tens of thousands of people and allows the opportunity to watch some of the best World Champion Pitmasters go head-to-head to become Grand Champion. The Battle includes multiple competition categories, like the “Perdue Sizzlin’ Chicken Contest”, “True Aussie Lamb Contest”, and the “National Pork Barbecue Championship”. Enjoy live music from greats like The Spindoctors (a 2019 headliner for the event) and some of the best BBQ you can taste.
Held in the beautiful Adirondacks at the popular summer getaway, Lake Placid, NY, the I Love BBQ & Music Festival is just that. A combination of great outdoor cooking and great music. You can also enjoy a large motorcycle parade to celebrate the Independence Day holiday.
This three-day festival offers great live entertainment as well as a large BBQ cooking competition also sanctioned by the KCBS. The competition includes traditional categories like Best New Strip Ribeye Steak or Best Chicken, but also unique categories like Fatty or Desert. Watch some great BBQ pitmasters in action, or take part in the competition yourself, and enjoy the delicious food and fun that the festival has on offer.
If you love BBQ, there is no doubt that the immersive American Royal World Series of Barbecue, Kansas City’s biggest party, should be on your bucket list. The 4-day event is held at the Kansas Speedway and, as another of the longest-running BBQ festivals, is going on its 41st year. This is also the world’s largest barbecue competition, drawing over 500 BBQ teams from all over the world and over 50,000 spectators. Competitors vie for the opportunity to be crowned Grand Champion in the Invitational Competition, Open Competition, Sides Competition, and Kids Que.
This festival and competition offer something for everyone with incredible live music, rodeo and equine events, vendors from all over the country, kid’s events and activities, and of course delicious food.
October 24th, 2020
Source: The Barbecue Festival
Going on its 37th year, The Barbecue Festival, a one-day event held in Lexington, NC, is sure to offer great BBQ and a great event. This event centers around one type of popular BBQ: “Lexington style”. A tangy, vinegar-based sauce, slightly sweetened and reddened with ketchup.
Showcasing some of the best BBQ in the world, The Barbecue Festival, features over 200 food and arts & crafts vendors, seven entertainment stages, live music and entertainment, an antique car show, racing pigs, and even pigtail fries.
These are just a few of the best festivals and BBQ competitions happening throughout the year across America. Check out these events for a guaranteed great time, try some world-class BBQ, and even possibly have the opportunity to learn some great tips and tricks from some of the world’s best BBQ pitmasters and grillmasters.
Have you been to any of these great competitions or festivals? Or some other great ones that we didn’t include? Leave a comment below. We want to hear from you!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to wait until one of these competitions or festivals to learn some great pitmaster techniques from some of these barbecue experts. Here at BBQ Champs Academy, these are the types of things you’ll learn up close and personal from top award-winning BBQ pitmasters and grillmasters in our online bbq cooking school. Everything from how to make sure you have everything you will need ready beforehand to how to select the best beef for barbecue. Check out our all-access passes and individual classes for more information on our online BBQ classes.