Sunday, October 27, 2019

Barbecue Festival Lexington NC 36th 2019 - Tips From a Local

 The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, North Carolina

The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, North Carolina is one of the biggest and best food festivals in the United States and certainly a huge deal in the southeast. The BBQ festival is a family friendly event that showcases the barbecue of the Piedmont of North Carolina. It is not a competition event where pitmasters face off for bragging rights. The idea is to celebrate the local vinegar based, sauced barbecue and have a fun day out in the mild weather typical of central North Carolina in the fall. There are stations serving the festival barbecue, a few other food booths, arts, crafts, and several stages with entertainment.

I live in central North Carolina, and I go the Barbecue Festival most years. It's always a great event, and I always enjoy something new and interesting each year along with favorites that turn up year after year. Being familiar with the area and the festival has advantages, and I'm going to share all the tips that come to mind to make sure that you have a great time if you decide to visit Lexington, North Carolina on the fourth Saturday of October which is the scheduled date each year for the Barbecue Festival.

Plan to Get an Early Start at the BBQ Festival

The first thing I would recommend is that you plan to arrive at the Barbecue Festival right when it opens which is 9 Downtown Lexington is already cranked up even that early in the morning on festival day, and the crowds are thick by 10 or 11 a.m. I've gone later in the day a couple of times, but it's much easier to see all the things featured at the booths right when the festival opens. Early birds are also much more likely to get samples of products. I like to try out things before springing for full bags, bottles, or packages (at least when it comes to food items like barbecue sauce, dips, and jams).

What About Parking?

If you don't want to get the cart before the horse (so to speak), you will also want to think about parking for the festival. Lexington is a small town in the South of the United States, so you are not going to find parking garages. On the plus side, the festival is well planned and organized, so you can work out transportation in a number of ways. I'll share what I do as a local and arriving early for the festival.

We drive in on Highway 64 which is kind of the back side of the festival and in the center of the activities. We park in lots which are roped off for the event. This year we parked in a bank parking lot for $5. The money goes to the humane society. Other lots benefit other local charities. The location was about two blocks from the festival. Arriving at 9:30 a.m. there were maybe six spaces open, so if we had driven in much later we would have had to have parked a few blocks farther. Spaces do open up all day as people finish up and leave, so you can get lucky sometimes.

Perhaps you do not want to get up early or plan to see specific performances and/or bands. This may rule out the Highway 64 parking option. That's fine. There are parking areas around the festival where you park for free and catch a shuttle. This is a very nice solution. There are occasional lines, but mostly you get on quick, and with shuttles running continuously, it's easy to find a ride back. I've done the shuttle a couple of years, and I would recommend parking and riding in. It really is easy and convenient.

 Chopped Barbecue Sandwiches are the Top Pick at the Festival

The Barbecue

I will guess that you are looking for barbecue if you visit the Lexington Barbecue Festival. It would certainly be a top pick for this festival.

If you're not familiar with Lexington style barbecue, then you should know that the famous barbecue of the area is slow smoked pork which is chopped (sometimes sliced) and served on buns (basic white bread buns like for hamburgers). Trays would include chopped barbecue and red barbecue slaw and usually in sizes small and large. The small usually makes two white bread bun sandwiches with slaw.

There are various sides served with North Carolina barbecue (slaw, hush puppies, fried apples), but most of them are simple and very much sides. At the festival, they have what they call curly tail fries. The slaw is automatic with the barbecue, but you order the fries separate. The French fries are just what you would imagine: potatoes cut in curls like a pig tail and fried up crispy. They are quite tasty when hot even if not the main event.

We like to find a place and sit down. There are a very few picnic and/or folding tables, but there are also quite a few steps and stoops or curbs in Lexington. We often sit on the historic courthouse steps to eat our festival lunch (or dinner). We always have lots of company. People eating rotate out often, so if you don't find a space immediately, you can wait a couple of minutes and slide in.

 Fried Apple Pies are Made Right While You Watch - YUM!

Any Other Foods at the BBQ Festival?

Over the years, more foods have been added to the line up at the Lexington festival. The barbecue booths are the main attractions, but there are other types of foods on the side streets and a very few sprinkled in with the vendors. One repeat is the turkey legs. There are also steak sandwiches, gyros, corn on the cob and other typical festival or carnival foods.

The stand out for me on the foods is the fried apple pies. A group from the mountains of North Carolina comes in and rolls out homemade dough with dried apples and pies fried right there where you can see them being made and cooked. They are absolutely fabulous. I could probably eat my weight in the apple pies. They really are THAT good. I would note that the lines get very long at meal times. I get my pie first thing and consider it breakfast. I'm flexible like that. The pie is certainly worth waiting in line for though.

New This Year - Aunt Sis' Salsa Inc. with Blueberry Jam Which Was Great

Booths at the Lexington Festival

If you aren't familiar with festivals, then know that you will see a ton of booths. Lexington has the one of the biggest selections of the festivals around the state. You will see pretty much everything you can imagine. And, the quality is higher than at many of the festivals overall.

Some of the booths are for the public good you might say or to foster good will. You may see various service clubs set up and health organizations. This year you could get your blood pressure checked for free for an example. And, Food Lion was giving out $5 off $35 on groceries as well as snack bars and handy wipes to clean up with after the barbecue. Food Lion is a local company which was started in Salisbury (another NC barbecue town just down the road) by Ralph Ketner.

Many of the booths feature foods of various types but mostly things you would buy and take home. This is where you can find loads of interesting barbecue sauces to take your own outdoor cooking to new levels. There are also different types of honey and syrups (maple bourbon was really yummy). One of my favorites this year was blueberry jam by Aunt Sis' Salsa Inc. It was their first year at the festival, and I'll predict that they will become a staple. Really fabulous jam - and the salsa was top notch too.

You can also buy all kinds of arts and crafts at the festival. It's a super time to buy your Christmas gifts, since you only have a couple of months left by the time the festival rolls around. My favorite craft booth is the Tin Can Man. He makes airplanes and other neat stuff out of aluminum cans. The art work really is amazing when you get to looking close. I got one of the airplane art pieces for my birthday many years ago. You can also find great pottery, wood and metal items, jewelry, candles, soap, and puppets. Really they have most anything you can think up. You can easily get all your gift shopping done during the day.

 Several Stages with Music and Entertainment All Day Long

Entertainment at the Festival

Most years the Barbecue Festival showcases a pretty big name artist at night on the main stage, and the artist is generally country. There are less famous (but still great) groups scattered at stages up and down the road of the festival. Again you get quite a bit of country music but also gospel and different types of rock. I would suggest checking a schedule online if you are interested in seeing music and planning around the times for the show or shows you want to see. While there are some chairs, taking a fold up chair or even a stroller or wagon for the kids and your purchases can make life much easier.  

There are a number of areas for the kids at the Barbecue Festival. On one end they have the big blow up toys where you bounce or slide. There are a few food treats close by like shaved ice and water/sodas. It's a nice place to hang out and rest while the little ones burn off energy. The crowds tend to be smaller in the kid area.

If the kids get tired, they will likely enjoy a show. This year they had programs like a juggler, a dinosaur show, the spin man, and Elf the musical. I enjoy the shows, although they are geared toward kids. I probably get more tired than the kids do these days (-:

On one end of the festival they have competition areas where you may see bike stunts or pig races. The Hogway Speedway which is where the pigs race always draw a crowd. Pigs run much faster than you might think if you've never actually seen pigs run. You will be impressed I'm pretty sure.

 The Sand Art is Always Amazing

Pig Sand Art

I always look forward to checking out the festival sand art. That's a big sculpture made of sand that has some type of pig theme. It is different every year. And, it's always amazing. I consider the sand art a highlight of the festival and always try to get a photo. I always think the new one is the best ever but when I look back they are all unique and really special.

Other Little Random Things to See or Do at the Lexington Barbecue Festival

Look for the Official Barbecue Festival Souvenirs tent. You will find various items with the annual logo reasonably priced. I especially like the t-shirts. But, I'm not really a person to wear hats. It mashes down my hair which is not such a good look.

Just down from the souvenir tent you will see a big board painted with cut out holes to put your faces. You can shoot a photo of everyone looking all piggie. I guess this is an old trick, but it's still fun. Don't be too "cool" to stick your head in a hole. You will enjoy the shots for years to come especially if you post them on FaceBook.

On your way out, I'd suggest picking up a bottle of Swine Wine. Locals Bob Timberlake (the artist) and Richard Childress (NASCAR owner) teamed up to create a wine especially complimentary to North Carolina pork barbecue. Yes. You can certainly enjoy a good Childress Vineyard wine with your NC swine. And, you can take it home to share with your people too. Can't beat that.

What Are You Waiting For?

If you have been on the fence about visiting the Lexington Barbecue Festival, then you are all set now. These are the things I'd want to know about the festival if I was driving in. You'll have a blast no matter what, but I think my tips will make your festival visit extra-oink-inary.

Enjoy A Few Other Photos From the Barbecue Festival 
~Cyndi Allison

 Oink! Oink! Frosted Sugar Cookies Getting Their Pig On

 I Think I Need a Pig Balloon - Yes I Do!

 Way Beyond Your Average Pumpkin Carving - I Was Impressed

 Someone Needs To See a Big, Happy Flower Today - You're Welcome!

 I Have No Idea Where You Get a Crazy Heifer Shirt But It Made Me Smile

 When Pigs Fly - At the North Carolina Barbecue Festival Of Course

1 comment:

Big Wayner said...

Good to see you writing again!!