If you are a barbecue enthusiast, there’s nothing quite like the atmosphere and excitement you’ll find at some of the largest BBQ competitions and festivals that happen throughout the country. One certain thing, the fanfare and extent of BBQ at the upcoming BBQ competitions in 2021 will probably be at a whole new level.
Due to the pandemic, many of 2020’s competitions and events that BBQ teams and fans spend months looking forward to unfortunately had to be canceled. If they weren’t canceled, some went to new virtual formats. So, it is no surprise that the anticipation of the 2021 competition season and BBQ festival lineup is reaching a fever pitch.
From the Southeast or the Northwest, there are some great events near you to try your hand at competition outdoor cooking or enjoy as a spectator. Combining more great-tasting barbecue than you can eat in one sitting (and often great whiskey and beer), with competitions, live music, and other outdoor activities, each of the events below will make any BBQ fan happy. Visitors even have the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the top pitmasters and grillmasters in the country.
In this article, we’ll fill you in on some of the biggest and best upcoming BBQ competitions and festivals in 2021 that you won’t want to miss (listed in date order):
Location: Houston, TX
February 25th-27th, 2021
One yearly event that is definitely a must-visit for any true barbecue aficionado is the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. This 3-day world-class caliber competition, which kicked off in 1974, draws over 250 of the top pitmaster teams from around the country. Even though most of the BBQ team tents are invitation-only, spectators can enjoy the great public venues that include the Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon, The Garden, and the Chuck Wagon.
In the Chuck Wagon, festival-goers can grab their complimentary sliced brisket plate with beans and chips. So you do still have the opportunity to taste the same great competition BBQ that the judges are trying. The family-friendly event also features a carnival with fun games and wild rides. You can also enjoy some of the best and up-and-coming artists in Texas country music at The Garden Stage sponsored by Miller Lite. Enjoy more live music and DJs inside or on the outside patio of The Rockin' Bar-B-Que Saloon.
Mark Lambert and Joey Smith, two of the Pitmasters featured in BBQ Champs Academy’s cooking school, were Grand Champion winners in 2019 at the Houston event and Reserve Grand Champions at the 2020 event.
Location: Memphis, TN
May 12th-15th, 2021
One thing Memphis, TN is known for is great barbecue. This is put on display in a big way during the Memphis In May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Set on the bank of the Mississippi River, this BBQ competition is just one part of the Memphis In May International Festival, which is a series of events throughout May and also includes the Beale Street Music Festival.
Dubbed “America's most prestigious barbecue cooking competition”, Memphis In May’s brings in the best of the best pitmasters and teams from across the country. You can watch all of these teams fight for the highest title in barbecue, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest World Champion.
One of those top pitmasters you’ll usually find at the event is Mark Lambert and his Sweet Swine O’ Mine Competition BBQ team. Mark is a 4-time Memphis In May World Champion.
Because it is a competition, most of the barbecue being cooked at the event is strictly for the judges to try. But, there are options of specialty tickets available for the public to have the opportunity to try some of the championship-quality barbecue and get to interact with the teams up close.
Location: Washington, DC
June 2021 (Specific dates still to be announced)
Source: WTOP News
After going virtual for the event in 2020, the Giant® National Capital Barbecue Battle is ready to descend again on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC in 2021 for its 29th year. What better location to gather our country’s top BBQ pitmasters, and grillmasters, than in our nation’s capital? Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), this event is one of the year’s biggest BBQ cooking competitions and food & music festival. Each year this event also raises millions of dollars for local charities.
At this family-friendly event, which attracts tens of thousands of people from all across the country, you have the opportunity to watch some of the top World Champion Pitmasters battle it out to become Grand Champion. The Barbecue Battle includes multiple categories of competition including the Giant National BBQ Championship, Perdue Sizzlin’ Chicken Contest, Smokin’ with Smithfield Rib Contest, Turkey Smoke BBQ Cooking Contest, and more. Along with some of the best BBQ you can eat, enjoy music from fan-favorite artists like Dirty Heads and Elle King (the virtual headliners of the 2020 event).
**The website for the annual event currently has the recap content from the 2020 virtual event. Keep an eye on the event’s Facebook page for the latest updates.
Location: Chicago, IL
July 9th-11th, 2021
Source: Windy City Smokeout
Chicago has long been known for great BBQ with a style all its own. So there is no surprise that the city is ready to throw down again with a huge BBQ competition and country music festival in the summer of 2021. Get ready for all the BBQ, beer, and live country music performances you could possibly handle at The Windy City Smokeout.
This combination of competition and festival is one of the largest barbecue events in the U.S., drawing more than 25,000 people in 2019 on its first day alone. The 2021 event will feature 20 of the world’s top pitmasters all vying for Champion and more than 15 musical acts, including headliners Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, and Jon Pardi.
There are both General Admission and VIP tickets available, with part of the proceeds going to the FEED Chicago organization.
Location: Kansas City, KS
Tentatively scheduled for September 16th-19th, 2021
Source: American Royal
If you are a fan of BBQ, there is no doubt that the immersive American Royal World Series of Barbecue, held at Kansas Speedway, should be near the top of your bucket list. Dubbed “Kansas City’s biggest party”, the 4-day event, going on its 41st year, is another of the longest-running BBQ festivals in the country. Drawing over 50,000 spectators and 500 BBQ teams from all over the world (even Australia), it is also the world’s largest barbecue competition. Competitors battle it out for the chance to be crowned Grand Champion in the Open Competition, Invitational Competition, Sides Competition, and Kids Que.
This competition and festival offer something for everyone with delicious food, rodeo and equine events, vendors from all over the country, incredible live music, and kid’s events and activities.
Location: Lexington, NC
October 23rd, 2021
Source: The Barbecue Festival
If you are looking for a great event in NC filled with some great tasting barbecue, make sure to check out The Barbecue Festival. Going on its 38th year, this one-day event held in Lexington, NC, is sure to offer great barbecue and plenty of festivities. The festival revolves around and only serves one type of popular barbecue: “Lexington style”. Lexington-style features a tangy, vinegar-based sauce that is reddened and slightly sweetened using ketchup.
The Barbecue Festival, showcasing some of the best-tasting BBQ around, will also feature live music on seven entertainment stages, over 200 food and arts & crafts vendors, an antique car show, racing pigs, and even pigtail fries.
These are just a few of the best festivals and BBQ competitions in 2021 that are happening 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 competed in or attended any of these great competitions or festivals in years past? Are there some other big events that we didn’t include? Drop your comment below. We want to hear from you!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to wait until one of these events next year to learn some insider techniques and secrets straight from the barbecue pros. Everything from how to make sure you have everything you will need ready beforehand to how to select the best beef for barbecue.
Here at BBQ Champs Academy, you can learn everything you need to know, up close and personal, from champion BBQ pitmasters and grillmasters in our virtual bbq cooking school. Check out our all-access pass for the full inside scoop or try out classes individually.