Guide to Barbecue Festivals and Cook-Offs

Can’t get enough of finger-lickin’, smoking-good ‘cue? Browse our roundup of some of the best barbecue events in the country.

Photo by David Hensley/Getty Images

If you want to taste the country’s top barbecue, your best bet is to find a festival. At many professional competitions, teams aren’t allowed to sell directly to the public because of health regulations. But many have dedicated sampling hours, and all have local vendors ready to sell you a sandwich or rack of ribs. Looking for hog heaven? Here’s where to go.

Tri-State BBQ Festival

Dothan, AL
This competition in southern Alabama has live bands, a kids’ cooking contest, and an outdoor kickoff bash on Friday night with music and food. There’s also a chance to sample competitors’ barbecue (you get a People’s Choice ballot on the back of your ticket) for a few hours on Saturday.
When: April

International Bar-B-Q Festival

Owensboro, KY
Owensboro sits right on the edge of the Ohio River, so you get a view with your ‘cue. The highlight of this festival is the Mutton Glutton, where competing teams serve up traditional barbecue, mutton, chicken, and burgoo (a meat stew famous in Kentucky) to visitors.
When: May

Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

Memphis, TN
Hundreds of teams—with clever names like Suspicious Rinds and Notorious P.I.G.—compete in this huge contest on the banks of the Mississippi River.  Guests can get barbecue at famous local vendors and take free tours that include cooking tips and up-close visits to booths.
When: May

Big Apple Barbecue Block Party

New York, NY
Where better to go hog wild than New York City? For two days in June, top pitmasters from across the country take over Madison Square Park in Manhattan, where attendees sample barbecue and listen to bands at the base of the famous Flatiron building.
When: June

Safeway National Capital Barbecue Battle

Washington, DC
It is a competition in the nation’s capital, but no, you don’t get to vote. While pros judge the competing barbecue teams, visitors can snag free samples for a few hours on the weekends. Or pork over cash for some good eats on Restaurant Row, featuring local restaurants and vendors.
When: June

Nugget Rib Cook-Off

Sparks, NV
The best part about this ribs-only competition? Free admission. With the bones you save, you can buy dishes from vendors. Then visit the rides in the kids’ area or watch competitive eaters in the rib-eating championship.
When: August/September