Skip to Content

5 of the Best BBQ Festivals in May

Looking for a unique way to fill your empty stomach? Then you need to head to a barbecue festival this spring! These celebrations take place all over the country and feature some of the finest flavors around. 

But if you’ve never experienced the magic of these food-centric parties, you might want to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Today, we’re talking about what makes these events special and showcasing five great examples from sea to shining sea.

Let’s dive in!

Meats on BBQ grills

What Makes BBQ Festivals So Great?

Barbecue festivals are more popular than ever, and we totally get it! At these events, pro pitmasters come together to showcase their favorite recipes and share their culinary creations with the world. 

Some of these occasions include competitions where teams duke it out to see who earns the title of Ultimate BBQ Boss. But others are simply about camaraderie and cuisine.

You might find specific festivals dedicated to Texas-, North Carolina-, Memphis-, or Kansas City-style BBQ. However, others are a free-for-all, where anything goes. Whatever type of event you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it somewhere in the US.

Here are five of the top festivals you can attend in May!

#1 Blues, Brews, & BBQ

Yorktown, Virginia, is known as the site where George Washington defeated Lord Cornwallis in the last battle of the American Revolutionary War. Colonial architecture throughout the town still bears the markings of this era. 

Today, the city is home to one of the state’s most beloved barbecue festivals called Blues, Brews, & BBQ. Each year, during the first weekend in February, meat mavens and brewmasters descend upon Yorktown’s Riverwalk Landing to celebrate the best barbecue and beers. 

You can sip primo vino in the Wine Garden and sample over 30 locally brewed craft beers from Evil Genius, Billsburg, Cape Charles Brewing Company, and beyond. Then, stuff your face with some world-class ‘cue. 

The 2023 event featured food trucks like Little Piggy’s Wurst Nightmare, Boyd’s Tasty Dogs, and Smoke BBQ. Attendees who weren’t into red meat enjoyed bites from Coastal Thirst and Chef Joseph’s Seafood. 

In addition to all that grub, other vendors come to sell handmade jewelry, soaps, origami, and even Bloody Mary mix. Stroll the market to find your next favorite statement piece, or just work off all that chow while you listen to multiple bands rock out on stage.

Tickets start around $35, but you can snag a non-drinking pass for less. 

Are you farther west right now? Here are The Best BBQ in Texas for Your Next RV Road Trip!

#2 BBQ & Barrels Festival

If you’ve never been to Owensboro, Kentucky, you’re missing out on the Bluegrass Music Capital of the World. It’s home to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where you can see some of the genre’s greatest artifacts. 

But this town is also known for its bourbon and its barbecue, so it’s no wonder they host a festival to celebrate all three.

BBQ & Barrels features a wide range of culinary creators. On Friday, church cooking teams prepare their finest bites for hungry customers. The next day, the Backyard Cookoff pits master home chefs against one another for prizes and bragging rights. Additionally, dozens of food trucks and restaurants will hawk their goodies along downtown Second Street. 

This family-friendly event includes a carnival, a classic car show, and a 5k where you can work up an appetite. You’ll also find lots of vendors selling a wide variety of arts and crafts. 

Of course, you can enjoy live music both days. These free shows take place on the front lawn at Owensboro Convention Center. BBQ & Barrels typically takes place the second weekend in May.

Right next door: The Best BBQ in Nashville for Your Next RV Road Trip 

#3 Beer, Bourbon, & BBQ Festival

Depending on which part of North Carolina you’re in, you’ll get very different barbecue styles. Eastern BBQ features the whole hog and includes a peppery, vinegar-based sauce. Western- or Piedmont-style emphasizes pork shoulder and a tomato-based dip. 

No matter what type you prefer, you can get it at the Beer, Bourbon, & BBQ Festival in Charlotte. This is the largest city in the state. While it’s technically in the Piedmont region, pitmasters come from all over to share their unique styles. 

This event takes place at Ballantyne’s Backyard, a 100-acre greenspace in the city center. Here, you can soak up the sunshine and taste more than 60 beers and 40 bourbons. International names and regional favorites are all represented. 

Additionally, you’ll have your pick of brisket, ribs, pulled pork, BBQ chicken, and much more. At the Shrine of Swine, vendors serve up whole hogs to the hungry masses. 

Play games like giant Jenga, Connect-Four, and more at the Cochon Carnival. Musicians from rock to blues perform all day. You can also hit the market for cigars, grilling accessories, hot sauces, and other goodies. 

This annual one-day event takes place in the middle of May. 

Various meats grilling on a over coals, maybe for a BBQ festival

#4 BBQ, Blues, & Brews

Located on a peninsula in Coos Bay, the city of North Bend, Oregon, is making a name for itself in the world of barbecue. Originally known for its stunning scenery and natural attractions, more folks are associating it with BBQ than ever before. 

This event, which is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, draws dozens of competitive teams from as far away as Canada and Texas. Winners claim titles in categories like ribs, chicken, brisket, and mac and cheese. 

Your ticket gets you samples from every vendor. But if you’re still hungry, you can purchase a full meal from the Mill Grill. Multiple beverage stations feature local and international brews, and live music will set the tone all weekend long. 

This two-day barbecue festival takes place at the Mill Casino, Hotel, and RV Park at the end of May. Be sure to stick around until Sunday, when the winners are announced!

#5 Smokin’ in Steele BBQ & Blues Festival 

Owatonna, Minnesota, is another unlikely barbecue destination, but one that won’t disappoint. For most folks, this small town is a place to step back in time at places like the Village of Yesteryear and the Orphanage Museum. But every year at the end of May, the barbecue barons take over.

This beloved two-day event takes place at the Steele County Fairgrounds. Competitors challenge each other in a range of categories. There’s even a Kids Q Cookoff for the little ones. Taste everything from beef tongue to peach cobbler at this one-of-a-kind barbecue festival. 

There’s an antique tractor and car show featuring hot rods, classic cruisers, and old-school farm equipment. Plus, you can jam to live music all weekend long. Test your arm in the cornhole tournament or join the Family Bike Cruise for a tour through town. 

Try your hand with a little help from a James Beard award winner: Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ

Go Whole-Hog at These Premium Events!

It’s hard to beat a good old-fashioned BBQ festival. The smells and sounds are only second to the delicious bites you’ll sample during the party. Better yet, each one offers unique flavors you won’t get anywhere else. 

We suggest hitting the road this May to find at least one of these events. You’ll satisfy your stomach, sip delicious libations, and enjoy the fun-loving atmosphere that barbecue festivals always deliver!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: