Plan your next trip around barbecue festivals

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Summer is coming, and that means cookout season. But some cookouts are bigger than others, big enough to be worthy of consideration as travel destinations in the next couple of months. You'll have a good time, get a chance to sample some outrageously good barbecue and hear fantastic music, and maybe pick up some tips for your own backyard banquet.

Coming up on May 15-17, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest -- memphisinmay.org/wbcc.htm -- is part of the Memphis in May International Festival. This extravaganza has more than $90,000 in prizes to draw cooking teams from all over. And all those people, fueled by barbecue, in a city known for music, generally means a party. If you're in a hurry, go a couple weeks earlier for the Beale Street Music Festival. Roll your cursor over the red stripe at the top of the page for ticket details and travel information including directions and hotel links. About.com has a few more details -- tinyurl.com/43b9hk -- about this "Super Bowl of Swine," including a link to a description of Memphis-style ribs. And the city's official travel site -- www.memphistravel.com/ -- has what you need to know about music, restaurants, if you get your fill of barbecue, and other attractions.

A week before Memphis, it's the International Bar-B-Q Festival -- www.bbqfest.com/ -- at Owensboro, Ky., which promises real hickory-stoked fires to heat up chicken, mutton and burgoo, a meat stew. Click on "About the Festival" for details on the festival's Classic Cook-Off, eating contests, arts & crafts booths and horseshoe tournament. Also on the "About" page, look for "Welcome to Owensboro" for a link to the Owensboro-Daviess County Tourist Commission, which says Owensboro is both Kentucky's Festival City and the Bar-B-Q Capital of the World. Even if you don't need to consult their "Visitor's Guide," the Owensboro-Daviess Web site is worth a few minutes just for the music. From Louisville, head west on Interstate 64, hang a left on U.S. 231 and head south to the Ohio River.

In early June, mix a little more music with your food at the W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival -- www.handyblues.org/ -- at Henderson, Ky., a celebration that bears the name of the man some consider the Father of the Blues. The weeklong party features a mix of zydeco and blues bands and heaps of barbecue and other eats. Click on "About Festival" to learn why this Ohio River town named its celebration for Handy. "Travel Lodging" has directions to the city and to the festival on Water Street, plus links to local motels and the Henderson County Tourist Commission. Come back in August for the Bluegrass in the Park Folklife Festival and National S'mores Day.

Try out some North Carolina-style barbecue at the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival -- www.blueridgebbqfestival.com/ -- on June 13-14 at Tryon, southeast of Asheville. There's more music, and you can listen to a sample by looking under "That's Entertainment" for the "Tasty Licks' link. Click on "History" to get an idea of how many people and cooks this party attracts.

This is just a sample of the amazing number of BBQ festivals available. BBQ Festivals -- tinyurl.com/5txmzm -- has links to many of them, arranged by state, along with places to buy sauces and cookers. Next, try the Kansas City Barbecue Society -- www.kcbs.us/ -- with events by month and a handy "Recipes/Tips" section.

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