The International Bar-B-Q Festival: A Must-Visit Owensboro Event

The International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky, is a premier event that celebrates the rich barbecue heritage of the region. Each May, barbecue enthusiasts from all over gather to savor a variety of meats cooked ‘slow and low,’ including the local specialty—mutton. The festival, which has its roots in 19th-century Daviess County, offers not just a culinary feast but also a fun-filled experience for the entire family with rides, games, live music, and much more. As the festival evolves, it continues to honor tradition while introducing exciting new elements like the BBQ and Barrels event, which pairs delicious barbecue with Kentucky bourbon.

Key Takeaways

  • The International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro is a must-visit event for barbecue lovers, featuring a unique array of meats, including mutton.
  • The festival offers a variety of activities for all ages, including rides, games, live music, and interactive cooking demos.
  • BBQ and Barrels is a new addition to the festival that pairs Owensboro’s famous barbecue with Kentucky bourbon, offering exclusive tastings and events.
  • The festival has a strong community focus, involving local church cooking teams and offering volunteer opportunities.
  • Sustainability is a key focus of the festival, with eco-friendly practices and waste reduction initiatives in place.

A Celebration of Barbecue Heritage

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is a hospitality-drenched, aroma-wafting, down-home experience that brings together barbecue enthusiasts from all over. This annual event in Owensboro, the BBQ capital of the world, is a culinary tour featuring unique dishes like barbecued mutton and burgoo. Explore local BBQ joints and pairings with craft beverages while enjoying a variety of activities and entertainment.

The History of the Festival

The festival can trace its flavorful roots to humble beginnings in 19th century Daviess County. Originally started by a dozen small churches vying to raise funds for their parish activities, it has grown into a major event that showcases some of the best of Kentucky’s traditional cuisine.

Signature Dishes to Try

Visitors can savor a variety of meats and preparation techniques cooked “slow and low.” The bill of fare includes a signature addition to the usual menu of pork, chicken, and beef: mutton. Don’t miss out on trying burgoo, a hearty stew that’s a local favorite.

Local Barbecue Legends

The festival is not just about food; it’s about the people who make it special. Local barbecue legends and pitmasters bring their expertise to the event, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in authentic barbecue. Their passion and skill are evident in every bite, making the festival a true celebration of barbecue heritage.

The Unique Flavors of Owensboro Barbecue

Owensboro’s barbecue scene is a true culinary treasure, offering a variety of meats and preparation techniques that are cooked "slow and low" to perfection. Each year, thousands of visitors flock to the International Bar-B-Q Festival to savor these unique flavors, smoked over flavored woods. Owensboro is world-famous for a couple of barbecue staples that you just can’t find anywhere else.

Family Fun at the Bar-B-Q Block Party

barbecue festival Owensboro

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is not just about mouth-watering barbecue; it’s a family-friendly extravaganza that promises fun for all ages. The Bar-B-Q Block Party, which emerged as a major success last year, is set to become even bigger and better in the future. Here are some of the highlights you can look forward to:

Rides and Games for Kids

The festival features a variety of carnival rides and games that will keep the young ones entertained for hours. From classic carousels to thrilling rides, there’s something for every child to enjoy. Don’t miss the pie-eating and horseshoe-pitching contests, which are always a hit among families.

Live Music and Entertainment

Music lovers will be in for a treat with performances ranging from country to bluegrass and blues on four stages downtown. The live entertainment is designed to cater to all age groups, ensuring that everyone has a great time. Whether you’re a fan of toe-tapping bluegrass or soulful blues, the festival has got you covered.

Interactive Cooking Demos

For those who love to cook, the interactive cooking demos are a must-see. Learn from local barbecue legends and pick up some tips and tricks to try at home. These demos offer a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the experts and explore the secrets behind Owensboro’s famous barbecue.

The Bar-B-Q Block Party is a hospitality-drenched event that brings together the community for a weekend of fun, food, and entertainment. It’s a celebration of Owensboro’s rich barbecue heritage and a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the best of what the city has to offer.

BBQ and Barrels: A Perfect Pairing

Owensboro’s BBQ and Barrels festival is a celebration of two of Kentucky’s most beloved traditions: barbecue and bourbon. This two-day event, held on May 10 and 11, promises to be bigger and better than ever before, offering a unique experience for all attendees. Barbecue and bourbon enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise as they explore the rich flavors and history of these local staples.

Meet the Pitmasters

Interviews with Barbecue Experts

At the heart of the International Bar-B-Q Festival are the pitmasters, the true artisans of barbecue. These experts bring years of experience and a passion for barbecue that is truly inspiring. Contributing barbecue editor Robert Moss recently included several of these pitmasters in his list of the South’s top 50 barbecue joints of 2023. Their stories and techniques offer a fascinating glimpse into the world of competitive barbecue.

Behind-the-Scenes of a Barbecue Competition

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at a barbecue competition? From the early morning preparations to the final judging, the process is both intense and exhilarating. Pitmasters meticulously prepare their meats, often using secret family recipes and techniques passed down through generations. The atmosphere is a blend of camaraderie and competition, making it a unique experience for both participants and spectators.

Tips and Tricks from the Pros

Who better to learn from than the pros themselves? The pitmasters at the festival are always eager to share their knowledge. Here are a few tips and tricks they’ve shared over the years:

  • Low and slow: The key to great barbecue is cooking the meat at a low temperature for an extended period.
  • Use quality wood: The type of wood you use can significantly impact the flavor of your barbecue.
  • Don’t rush the process: Patience is crucial. Good barbecue takes time, and it’s worth the wait.

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is not just about the food; it’s about the people who make it. Meeting the pitmasters and learning from them adds a whole new layer to the experience.

Planning Your Visit

Owensboro is well-connected and easy to reach whether you’re driving or flying. The nearest airport is Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport, with several car rental options available. For those driving, major highways like US-60 and US-431 make the journey straightforward. Book your accommodations early as hotels fill up quickly during the festival. Options range from cozy bed-and-breakfasts to well-known hotel chains.

The second weekend of May is legendary in Owensboro! The festival kicks off on Friday evening and runs through Sunday afternoon. Be sure to grab a festival map at the entrance or download it from the official website to navigate the various food stalls, entertainment stages, and activity zones. Highlights include the BBQ cook-off, live music performances, and interactive cooking demos.

Admission to the festival is free, but certain activities and tastings may require tickets. You can purchase these online in advance or at designated booths during the event. Prices for tastings and exclusive events vary, so check the official website for the most up-to-date information. Don’t forget to bring some cash for local vendors and food stalls!

Community and Tradition

Owensboro BBQ festival

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is deeply rooted in the community and its traditions. One of the most cherished aspects of the festival is the participation of local church cooking teams. These teams have perfected their recipes over the years, often starting from small Catholic church picnics where the traditional method of preparing barbecued mutton over smoldering hickory wood began. Each parish has developed its own unique recipe, contributing to the rich tapestry of flavors that make the festival so special.

The festival wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of volunteers. More than 200 volunteers, along with about 50 members on each cooking team, work tirelessly to ensure the event’s success. It’s truly a community event, with some of the 80,000 attendees traveling from as far away as France and Canada to join in the festivities.

The festival is a testament to the community’s spirit and the enduring tradition of barbecue in Owensboro. It’s a celebration that brings people together, fostering a sense of unity and pride.

Local Church Cooking Teams

Local church cooking teams are the heart and soul of the festival. Their commitment to preserving and showcasing traditional barbecue methods is evident in every bite. These teams often start their preparations months in advance, ensuring that their dishes are perfect for the festival.

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering at the festival is a rewarding experience. Volunteers help with everything from setting up booths to serving food and managing waste. It’s a great way to get involved in the community and be part of an event that brings joy to so many people.

Supporting Local Businesses

The festival also provides a significant boost to local businesses. From food vendors to craft stalls, the event offers numerous opportunities for local entrepreneurs to showcase their products. This support helps sustain the local economy and promotes the unique flavors and crafts of Owensboro.

Sustainability at the Festival

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is committed to promoting sustainability and eco-friendly practices. This dedication ensures that the event not only celebrates barbecue but also respects the environment.

Eco-Friendly Practices

The festival has implemented several eco-friendly practices to minimize its environmental impact. These include using biodegradable utensils and plates, encouraging the use of reusable water bottles, and setting up recycling stations throughout the festival grounds.

Waste Reduction Initiatives

To further reduce waste, the festival has partnered with local organizations to compost food scraps and recycle materials. Volunteers play a crucial role in these efforts, helping to sort waste and educate attendees on proper disposal methods.

Supporting Local Farmers

The festival also supports local farmers by sourcing ingredients from nearby farms. This not only ensures fresh, high-quality produce but also reduces the carbon footprint associated with transporting goods over long distances.

The work of more than 200 volunteers, in addition to about 50 on each cooking team, makes the whole thing possible. “It’s truly a community event,” said Michelle Wright, 2009 festival chair. And the event really is “international,” since some of the 80,000 attendees come from as far away as France and Canada, she added.

Memorable Moments from Past Festivals

Historic Highlights

The International Bar-B-Q Festival has a rich history filled with unforgettable moments. One of the most notable highlights was the 25th anniversary celebration, which featured a record-breaking number of attendees and a spectacular fireworks display. This event truly showcased the festival’s growth and its importance to the Owensboro community.

Fan-Favorite Stories

Over the years, festival-goers have shared countless stories of their experiences. From the thrill of the carnival rides to the joy of tasting the best barbecue in the region, these stories capture the essence of what makes the festival special. One memorable tale involves a local barbecue legend who, despite a sudden downpour, continued to serve his famous ribs, earning him a standing ovation from the crowd.

Photo Gallery of Past Events

A picture is worth a thousand words, and the festival’s photo gallery is a testament to that. The gallery features snapshots of families enjoying the festivities, pitmasters at work, and the vibrant tapestry of seasonal events and festivals that Owensboro offers. These photos not only capture the fun and excitement but also the sense of community that defines the festival.

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is more than just an event; it’s a celebration of tradition, community, and the love of good food. Each year, it brings people together to create new memories and cherish old ones.

The Future of the International Bar-B-Q Festival

Upcoming Changes and Additions

The International Bar-B-Q Festival is always evolving to enhance the experience for its visitors. Expect exciting new features in the coming years, including expanded food vendor options and more interactive activities. The festival aims to incorporate more local artisans and craftspeople, providing a richer cultural experience.

Community Feedback and Suggestions

The festival organizers highly value community input. They regularly gather feedback through surveys and town hall meetings to ensure the event meets the expectations of attendees. Your voice matters, and suggestions for improvement are always welcome. This collaborative approach helps keep the festival fresh and engaging.

How to Get Involved

There are numerous ways to become part of this beloved event. Whether you want to volunteer, become a vendor, or sponsor a portion of the festival, opportunities abound. Visit the festival’s official website for detailed information on how you can contribute to making the next International Bar-B-Q Festival the best one yet.

The future of the International Bar-B-Q Festival looks bright, with plans to make it even more inclusive and enjoyable for everyone. Join us in shaping the next chapter of this iconic event.


The International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro is more than just an event; it’s a celebration of community, tradition, and mouth-watering flavors. Whether you’re a seasoned barbecue enthusiast or a curious newcomer, this festival offers something for everyone. From the savory mutton to the vibrant atmosphere filled with music and fun, it’s an experience that captures the heart and soul of Owensboro. So mark your calendars and join us next May for a taste of what makes this festival a must-visit event. We promise you won’t leave disappointed!

Frequently Asked Questions

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

The festival is typically held in May each year. Specific dates can vary, so it’s best to check the official festival website for the most current information.

Where is the festival located?

The International Bar-B-Q Festival takes place in downtown Owensboro, Kentucky, along the riverside.

What types of barbecue can I expect to find at the festival?

The festival features a variety of barbecue styles, including pork, chicken, beef, and a local specialty—mutton. Various preparation techniques and flavored woods are used to create unique tastes.

Are there activities for children at the festival?

Yes, the festival includes rides and games specifically for kids, making it a family-friendly event.

What is BBQ and Barrels?

BBQ and Barrels is a special event within the festival that celebrates Owensboro’s unique barbecue and Kentucky bourbon. It includes exclusive tastings, pairings, and other related events.

Can I meet the pitmasters at the festival?

Yes, the festival offers opportunities to meet and interact with barbecue experts through interviews, behind-the-scenes tours, and cooking demos.

How can I purchase tickets for the festival?

Ticket information, including pricing and purchasing options, can be found on the official festival website. It’s advisable to buy tickets in advance to secure your spot.

What measures are in place for sustainability at the festival?

The festival incorporates various eco-friendly practices, waste reduction initiatives, and supports local farmers to ensure a sustainable event.

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