10 Kick-A** BBQ Competitions

  • Along the Mighty Mississippi, there's smore and plenty of great barbecue at the Superbowl of Swine, the unofficial name of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.

    Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

    The annual May competition along the Mississippi River is considered the Super Bowl of Swine, although other meats meet charcoal as well. More than 250 teams compete, and the prizes are rich at this three-day event, with more than $100,000 for the category and overall winners. The Miss Piggie Idol contest is the non-food pièce de résistance, with contestants from the cooking teams competing for bragging rights, dressed up in their best, ahem, swinery.

    Photo courtesy of Lance Murphey/Memphis In May

  • Hungry festival attendees line up for a meal.

    The American Royal World Series of Barbecue - Kansas City, MO

    Considered by most folks to be the grandaddy of barbecue competitions, the American Royal boasts over 500 teams at its annual contest, generally the first full weekend of October.  Champions from each state in the Kansas City Barbecue Society compete in the invitational division, while the open division is for everyone else. For those who think the sauce is the best part of the barbecue, take heart - there's also a sauce competition.

    Photo courtesy of American Royal

  • Judges eagerly dish up the meat.

    Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue - Lynchburg, TN

    Tiny Lynchburg, TN is home to Jack Daniels Distillery, and plays host to 'The Jack' - a late October gathering of 90+ teams from across the globe who come to get their grill on. $5,000 and bragging rights go to the Grand Champion team. Categories cover the usual suspects (beef brisket, pork ribs) but also include dessert and a Jack Daniels sauce category. Best memento: a Hatch Show Print poster designed for the annual contest.

    Photo courtesy of Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue

  • World's Championship Bar-B-Que - Houston, TX

    Part of the almost month-long Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo every March, the World's Championship Bar-B-Que is where more than 300 teams vie for the top spots in just a few categories - including Grand Champion. Of course, this wouldn't be a barbecue party in Texas without bands and beer, so there's a garden for enjoying entertainment and libations - and every entrance ticket includes a chopped brisket sandwich with all the fixins' in the public food tent.

    Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

  • International Bar-B-Q Festival - Owensboro, KY

    Mutton is the main dish and focus of the International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro, but there's a lot more diversity on the menu the 2nd weekend of May. Giant pots of burgoo - a spicy, stew concoction of pork, beef chuck, and chicken and a variety of veggies - steam away as the mutton is hickory smoked. More traditional meats are 'cued as well.  This smaller competition is great for weekend barbecuers and regional competitors.

    Photo courtesy of

  • The Big Pig Jig - Vienna, GA

    Teams go whole hog at The Big Pig Jig in tiny Vienna, GA - just outside of Macon. This festival brings about 25,000 people and more than 125 teams to compete - and the rules of competition are very clear: "barbeque is defined as pork meat only that is prepared on wood and/or a charcoal fire." While the swine is slow-cooking, the festival rocks with an arts and crafts show, a livestock exhibition, and the Miss Jiggy Piggy Pageant.

    Photo courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance

  • World Barbecue Championship - Las Vegas, NV

    This invitation-only event - for just 90 teams - is where the meat hits the grill. Culled from the winners of sanctioned barbecue cook-offs from around the country, the World Barbecue Championship attempts to settle the question of which team or chef should lay claim to Master of the Pit. The tournament-style competition, usually late October or early November, is split into multiple rounds, and each category champ advances to the 'final table' from which the world champion is declared.

    Photo courtesy of 2013 World Food Championships

  • Hook 'em, horns - an Aggie fan is grilling more than meat at a Sam's Club contest.

    Sam's Club National BBQ Championship - Bentonville, AR

    It starts with 750 teams nationwide, and ends in a one-day cook-off featuring the winners of the 25 Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned Sam's Club contests. Winners of each Sam's Club parking lot party go on to face regional competition, then the finalists fire up the pits at the retail giant's Bentonville, AR headquarters - about an hour outside of Little Rock.  $500,000 goes to the contestants, making this one of the richest competitions in the country.

    Photo courtesy of Kansas City Barbeque Society

  • Safeway National Barbecue Battle - Washington D.C.

    There's definitely pork in Washington D.C. - especially in late June, when the Safeway National Barbecue Battle takes the place of political skewering. With the monuments and Capitol as a backdrop, and as glitzy as a Washington fund-raiser, the two day food and music festival offers an expansive sampling pavilion, celebrity chef demonstrations and cookbook signings, an NBA exhibition court, and more. Amid all the buzz, of course, is the barbecue - and $40,000 in prize money.

    Photo courtesy of Safeway National Barbecue Battle

  • More than 100,000 people crowd into tiny Lexington, NC for the Barbecue Festival each October.

    Barbecue Festival - Lexington, NC

    Charming Lexington, NC is the site of the simply-named Barbecue Festival, where more than 100,000 people converge on this town of 17,000 to celebrate all things swine: pig races, a pig-themed sandcastle competition, a juried art show and of course the pork barbecue. A whole hog competition is its centerpiece, but the festival also features slow smoked shoulders, ribs and more. Admission to this festival is free

    Photo courtesy of Barbecue Festival