A Culinary Tour of Owensboro: The BBQ Capital of the World

Owensboro, Kentucky proudly claims the title of the ‘BBQ Capital of the World,’ and for good reason. Hosting the renowned International Bar-B-Q Festival every May, this charming city draws barbecue enthusiasts from all corners of the globe. From the unique flavors of barbecued mutton and burgoo to the legendary Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, Owensboro offers a rich and diverse barbecue experience. Whether you’re exploring the Western Kentucky BBQ Trail or attending seasonal events like BBQ and Barrels, Owensboro promises a culinary adventure like no other.

Key Takeaways

  • Owensboro hosts the International Bar-B-Q Festival every May, attracting global barbecue fans.
  • The city is famous for its unique barbecue staples, including barbecued mutton and burgoo.
  • Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn is a must-visit, known for its award-winning barbecue and first-class buffet.
  • BBQ and Barrels is a popular event that combines Owensboro’s barbecue and bourbon traditions.
  • The Western Kentucky BBQ Trail offers a scenic and delicious journey through top barbecue spots.

Exploring the International Bar-B-Q Festival

The International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro is a must-visit event for any barbecue enthusiast. Held annually in May, this festival transforms downtown Owensboro into a haven for BBQ lovers, offering a unique blend of flavors, aromas, and entertainment.

History of the Festival

The festival has a rich history dating back several decades. Initially started as a small community gathering, it has grown into a major event attracting visitors from all over the country. The festival celebrates Owensboro’s title as the "BBQ Capital of the World" and showcases the city’s culinary heritage.

Must-Try Dishes

When attending the festival, there are a few dishes you simply can’t miss. Barbecued mutton is a local specialty that stands out, offering a unique taste that you won’t find elsewhere. Another must-try is burgoo, a hearty stew made with a variety of meats and vegetables. Don’t forget to sample the different sauces, ranging from vinegar-based to hot and spicy, that add an extra layer of flavor to the dishes.

Tips for First-Time Visitors

If it’s your first time at the festival, here are some tips to make the most of your experience:

  1. Arrive early to avoid the crowds and get the best selection of food.
  2. Bring cash, as some vendors may not accept credit cards.
  3. Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
  4. Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  5. Take the time to explore the various stalls and try a little bit of everything.

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is not just about food; it’s a celebration of community, culture, and the love of barbecue. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, this festival offers an unforgettable experience that captures the essence of Owensboro.

The Unique Flavors of Owensboro BBQ

Owensboro, Kentucky, proudly claims the title of the “BBQ Capital of the World,” and for good reason. The city is renowned for its distinctive barbecue offerings that you won’t easily find elsewhere. Barbecued mutton and burgoo are two local specialties that stand out in the world of barbecue.

Barbecued Mutton

Barbecued mutton, which is sheep meat slowly smoked over a pit of hickory wood, is a local favorite. The unique preparation method gives the meat a rich, smoky flavor that is hard to replicate. This dish is a must-try for anyone visiting Owensboro.

Burgoo: A Local Specialty

Burgoo is a hearty stew made from a variety of meats and vegetables, seasoned to perfection. Each cook has their own secret recipe, making every bowl of burgoo a unique experience. This dish is a staple at local gatherings and festivals, showcasing the community’s culinary creativity.

Signature Sauces

No barbecue is complete without the perfect sauce, and Owensboro does not disappoint. The city offers a range of signature sauces, from tangy vinegar-based options to rich, tomato-based varieties. These sauces add an extra layer of flavor to the already delicious barbecue, making each bite unforgettable.

When in Owensboro, don’t miss the chance to indulge in these unique flavors. They represent the culmination of years of culinary tradition and community pride.

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn: A Local Legend

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn has an amazing reputation for outstanding barbecue and a first-class buffet. They have received many awards and recognitions from publications such as Kentucky Monthly and Kentucky Living. Additionally, they have been featured on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. USA Today listed Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn as one of the “10 great places to fill up your plate.”

At Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, the buffet is the main event. You can try all of the delicious meat options, decide which one is your favorite, and then go back for more. On the evening buffet, you will find barbecued mutton, pork, ribs, chicken, ham, and beef, several vegetable choices, a salad bar, and a dessert bar of homemade pies.

Moonlite Bar-B-Q began in the mid-1940s and has been in the hands of the Bosley family since they purchased it in 1963. The Bosley family has seen Moonlite grow from a restaurant with 30 seats to a large establishment that can now seat 350, and a catering department that can serve up to 15,000. The enormous black kettle that sits in front of the restaurant signifies the Burgoo pots inside the kitchen. Fun fact: On Halloween in 2003, Moonlite sold 19,000 sandwiches in one day.

When Moonlite first opened, Catherine Bosley made pies at home to sell at the restaurant.

BBQ and Barrels: A Perfect Pairing

Event Highlights

BBQ and Barrels is a two-day festival held in downtown Owensboro, celebrating two of the city’s greatest culinary staples: unique barbecue and historic bourbon. This event, scheduled for May 10 and 11, promises to be bigger and better than ever before. Expect a weekend filled with mouth-watering barbecue and the finest Kentucky bourbon.

Bourbon Tastings

One of the main attractions of BBQ and Barrels is the bourbon tastings. Attendees can sample a variety of bourbons from local distilleries, each offering a distinct flavor profile. Whether you’re a bourbon connoisseur or a curious newcomer, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Live Entertainment

The festival also features live entertainment, adding to the vibrant atmosphere. From local bands to well-known artists, the music lineup is designed to keep the energy high and the crowd entertained throughout the event. Don’t miss out on the fun and excitement that BBQ and Barrels has to offer!

Family-Friendly BBQ Spots

Owensboro is a fantastic destination for families looking to enjoy some delicious barbecue. With a variety of options that cater to both kids and adults, you’re sure to find the perfect spot for a memorable meal.

Best Places for Kids

When it comes to family-friendly dining, Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn is a must-visit. Known for its welcoming atmosphere and extensive menu, this local favorite offers something for everyone. Kids will love the variety of dishes, from tender pulled pork to crispy chicken tenders.

Outdoor Seating Options

For those who prefer dining al fresco, many Owensboro BBQ joints offer outdoor seating. This is a great way to enjoy the beautiful weather while savoring some mouth-watering barbecue. Some popular spots with outdoor seating include Old Hickory Bar-B-Q and Ole South Barbeque.

Special Menus

Many BBQ restaurants in Owensboro understand the importance of catering to younger palates. Look for places that offer special kids’ menus, featuring smaller portions and kid-friendly options. This ensures that even the pickiest eaters will find something they love.

Owensboro’s BBQ scene is not just about the food; it’s about creating lasting memories with your loved ones. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, these family-friendly spots make it easy to enjoy a delicious meal together.

The Western Kentucky BBQ Trail

Embark on a culinary adventure along the Western Kentucky BBQ Trail, where you’ll discover some of the finest barbecue joints in the region. This trail is a must for any BBQ enthusiast looking to experience the unique flavors and traditions of Western Kentucky.

Top Stops on the Trail

The Western Kentucky BBQ Trail features a variety of top-notch barbecue spots that you simply can’t miss. From the famous Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro to the hidden gems scattered throughout the region, each stop offers a unique taste of Kentucky’s BBQ heritage. Don’t forget to try the mutton, a local specialty that’s slow-roasted to perfection.

Scenic Routes

As you travel along the trail, you’ll be treated to some of the most scenic drives in the state. Lexington’s Bluegrass region offers scenic drives, wildlife watching, bourbon trail experiences, and cultural delights. The picturesque landscapes and charming small towns make the journey just as enjoyable as the food.

Traveler Tips

To make the most of your BBQ trail adventure, here are a few tips:

  1. Plan your route in advance to ensure you hit all the top spots.
  2. Bring a cooler to store any delicious leftovers you might want to take home.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals for recommendations—they often know the best places to eat.
  4. Take your time and savor each stop; the journey is just as important as the destination.

Exploring the Western Kentucky BBQ Trail is not just about the food—it’s about immersing yourself in the rich culture and traditions of the region. Enjoy every bite and every moment!

Seasonal BBQ Events in Owensboro

Owensboro is a city that truly knows how to celebrate barbecue, and its seasonal events are a testament to this passion. From spring to fall, there’s always something happening that brings the community together over delicious smoked meats and savory sides.

Fancy Farm Picnic

The Fancy Farm Picnic is a beloved tradition in Owensboro, drawing locals and visitors alike. Held every August, this event is not just about barbecue; it’s a full-fledged community gathering with games, live music, and political speeches. It’s a must-visit for anyone wanting to experience the heart of Owensboro’s BBQ culture.


PorchFest is another unique event that combines the love of barbecue with live music. Held in various neighborhoods, residents open their porches to local bands and food vendors. This event usually takes place in June and offers a relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. It’s a great way to enjoy local talent and flavors in a casual setting.

Other Annual Celebrations

Throughout the year, Owensboro hosts several other BBQ-centric events. The BBQ and Barrels festival, for instance, is a huge hit every May, featuring church cooking teams serving up their delicious pork and other BBQ delights. The Bar-B-Q Block Party in May is another highlight, focusing on mutton, pork, and burgoo. These events not only showcase the city’s culinary expertise but also its strong sense of community.

Whether you’re a local or a visitor, Owensboro’s seasonal BBQ events offer a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the city’s rich barbecue tradition. Don’t miss out on these opportunities to enjoy some of the best BBQ in the world!

Local BBQ Joints You Can’t Miss

Hidden Gems

Owensboro is home to some lesser-known BBQ spots that are absolute treasures. These hidden gems offer unique flavors and a cozy atmosphere that you won’t find in the more commercialized joints. Don’t miss out on these local favorites that provide an authentic taste of Owensboro’s BBQ heritage.

Popular Favorites

When it comes to BBQ, some places have earned their reputation for a reason. Owensboro’s popular favorites are must-visit spots for any BBQ enthusiast. From mouth-watering ribs to perfectly smoked brisket, these establishments have something for everyone. Be sure to arrive early, as these spots often have lines out the door!

Unique Menu Items

What sets Owensboro’s BBQ joints apart are their unique menu items. Whether it’s a special sauce, a unique side dish, or a creative take on traditional BBQ, these places offer something different. Try the barbecued mutton, a local specialty that you won’t find just anywhere. Each joint has its own twist, making every visit a new culinary adventure.

Pairing BBQ with Local Beverages

Craft Breweries

Owensboro’s craft breweries offer a delightful range of beers that pair perfectly with the city’s renowned BBQ. From hoppy IPAs to smooth stouts, there’s something for every palate. Don’t miss out on trying a local favorite while enjoying your BBQ feast.

Local Wineries

For those who prefer wine, Owensboro’s local wineries provide an excellent selection of reds, whites, and rosés. A glass of crisp white wine can beautifully complement the smoky flavors of barbecued meats. Be sure to visit a few wineries to experience the best of what the region has to offer.

Non-Alcoholic Options

If you’re looking for non-alcoholic beverages, Owensboro has you covered. Many BBQ joints offer a variety of craft sodas and refreshing iced teas. These drinks are perfect for cooling down on a hot day while enjoying some delicious BBQ.

Located in downtown Owensboro, BBQ and Barrels will be held May 10 and 11. Check out our breakdown of BBQ and Barrels 2024 for more details on this exciting event.

The Role of BBQ in Owensboro’s Community

Owensboro BBQ

Cultural Significance

Barbecue in Owensboro is more than just a meal; it’s a cultural cornerstone. The city proudly claims the title of the “BBQ Capital of the World,” a testament to its rich barbecue heritage. This culinary tradition brings people together, fostering a sense of community and shared history.

Community Gatherings

Owensboro’s barbecue scene is a hub for community gatherings. Events like the International Bar-B-Q Festival and local parish picnics draw residents and visitors alike. These gatherings are not just about food; they are about celebrating community spirit and creating lasting memories.

Charity Events

Barbecue also plays a significant role in local charity events. Many of these gatherings are organized to support various causes, from local schools to healthcare initiatives. The community’s generosity shines through these events, making barbecue a delicious way to give back.

Planning Your BBQ Tour of Owensboro

Owensboro BBQ

Best Times to Visit

Owensboro’s BBQ scene is vibrant year-round, but spring and summer are the best times to visit. The International Bar-B-Q Festival in May is a must-see event, drawing barbecue enthusiasts from all over the world. Fall also offers pleasant weather and fewer crowds, making it an excellent time for a more relaxed tour.

Accommodation Options

Owensboro offers a range of accommodations to suit every budget. From cozy bed-and-breakfasts to well-known hotel chains, you’ll find plenty of options. For a unique experience, consider staying in a local inn or a historic property.

Travel Tips

  • Plan Ahead: Popular BBQ spots can get crowded, especially during festivals. Make reservations where possible.
  • Stay Hydrated: Kentucky summers can be hot, so keep water handy.
  • Explore Beyond BBQ: Owensboro has a rich cultural scene, including museums, parks, and live music venues. Make the most of your visit by exploring these attractions as well.


Owensboro, Kentucky, truly lives up to its title as the “BBQ Capital of the World.” From the International Bar-B-Q Festival that draws enthusiasts from around the globe to the unique flavors of barbecued mutton and burgoo, Owensboro offers a barbecue experience like no other. Whether you’re exploring the Western Kentucky BBQ Trail, savoring the offerings at Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, or enjoying the fusion of barbecue and bourbon at the BBQ and Barrels festival, there’s something for every palate. So gather your friends and family, and embark on a culinary tour of Owensboro to create delicious memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes Owensboro the BBQ Capital of the World?

Owensboro is renowned for its unique barbecue dishes, including barbecued mutton and burgoo, and hosts the International Bar-B-Q Festival every May, attracting BBQ enthusiasts from around the globe.

When is the International Bar-B-Q Festival held?

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is held every May in Owensboro, Kentucky.

What are some must-try dishes at the International Bar-B-Q Festival?

Some must-try dishes include barbecued mutton, burgoo, and a variety of unique barbecue sauces ranging from vinegar-based to hot and spicy.

What is burgoo?

Burgoo is a local specialty stew made with a variety of meats and vegetables. It is slow-cooked to perfection and is a staple at many Owensboro BBQ events.

What is the best time to visit Owensboro for a BBQ tour?

The best time to visit Owensboro for a BBQ tour is during the International Bar-B-Q Festival in May, but there are also several other BBQ events throughout the year.

What are some family-friendly BBQ spots in Owensboro?

There are several family-friendly BBQ spots in Owensboro that offer outdoor seating options, special menus for kids, and a welcoming atmosphere for all ages.

What makes Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn a local legend?

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn is famous for its outstanding barbecue, first-class buffet, and numerous awards and recognitions from publications such as Kentucky Monthly and Kentucky Living. It has also been featured on the Food Network and the Travel Channel.

Can I pair BBQ with local beverages in Owensboro?

Yes, Owensboro offers a variety of local beverages to pair with BBQ, including craft beers from local breweries, wines from local wineries, and non-alcoholic options.

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