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Ribs done just right, a feature of most barbecue competitions in the USA
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  • States:
    South Carolina
    New York
    Washington, D.C.

In the USA, barbecue means more than just meat cooked low and slow; it also is an event, a social activity.

As the country expanded west from its East Coast origins, so did the social tradition of barbecuing. Regions developed their own styles and rivalries evolved. The first official barbecue cook-off took place in Hawaii in 1959, just a few months after the state entered the union. The first-prize winner of the Kaiser Foil Cook-Off earned the title “Grand National Cookout Champion” and brought home a $10,000 prize. Today, hundreds of barbecue-related events – including cook-offs, festivals and tours – take place annually across the USA. To get a taste for the variety of barbecue events and eats, we’ve spotlighted seven events you should consider attending.

Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue

Where? Lynchburg, Tennessee

When? October

Why go? Nearly 100 championship barbecue teams compete in the annual Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue, where competitors smoke about 1,770 kilograms of meat in less than 24 hours. Around 25,000 spectators also attend the event each year to watch the competition for grand champion in seven categories: chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder/butts, beef brisket, dessert, cook's choice and Jack Daniel's sauce.

Purchase some of your own barbecue after the competition while listening to live music. Other activities include cooking and grilling demonstrations, the Country Dog Contest, (pork) butt bowling and a petting zoo. Additionally, distillery tours will be offered.

Lowcountry Hoedown

Where? Charleston, South Carolina

When? November

Why go? The annual Lowcountry Hoedown features samples from dozens of restaurants, distilleries and craft breweries, as well as live entertainment. In between tasting samples from Sticky Fingers Ribhouse and other local favorite restaurants, enter the cowboy hat toss and ride the mechanical bull.

Texas Monthly's BBQ Fest

Where? Austin, Texas

When? November

Why go? The top 50 barbecue joints across Texas like Cranky Frank’s Barbeque Company and the Granary ’Cue and Brew are invited to cook at TMBBQ Fest in the state’s capital city of Austin. Each barbecue joint will serve up samples of its most famous meats, whether it’s spicy sausage, ribs or brisket. Additionally, festivalgoers can enjoy live music, beer and barbecue in larger portions.

Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue Festival

Where? Ten cities across six different states, including New York City, New York; Tampa, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia.

When? From January to September. For all tour dates and cities, visit the Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue Festival’s website.

Why go? A ticket to this annual event will get you a souvenir glass with unlimited samples of beer and bourbon. You can also take Tasting Theater classes from pit masters, brewmasters or master distillers. Also, don’t miss the “Shrine of Swine,” where samples of pulled pork from a whole hog will be served. Additionally, barbecue favorites – including pulled pork, brisket and ribs – will be available for purchase.

Pitmaster smoking meats at a barbecue competition

Pitmaster smoking meats at a barbecue competition
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International Bar-B-Q Festival

Where? Owensboro, Kentucky

When? May

Why go? The annual International Bar-B-Q Festival has taken place on the second weekend in May since 1979. Festivalgoers can sample a wide variety of barbecued meats while cooking teams compete in a barbecue battle for the Governor’s Cup. Other activities include arts and crafts, a pie-eating contest, keg toss and cooking burgoo, a meat stew that is traditionally cooked outdoors.

Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle

Where? Washington, D.C.

When? June

Why go? Top barbecue restaurateurs from the Washington, D.C., area and around the country compete. Festivalgoers can meet celebrity chefs and enjoy barbecue samples, music, interactive activities and cooking demonstrations at the annual Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle.

W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival

Where? Henderson, Kentucky

When? June

Why go? The annual W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival is one of the largest free music festivals in the USA. The festival showcases some of the best blues musicians across the country, and local barbecue teams cook and sell scrumptious barbecue of mutton, pork, chicken and ribs on opening day’s “Taste of Henderson Barbecue.” The festival is named after William Christopher Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” who said it was in Henderson that he met his wife and discovered his calling for blues and spiritual music.