Barbecue is so integral to the diet of average Alabamians it might as well be considered its own food group. Several festivals scheduled through May pay tribute to our favorite smoked meats, cooked low and slow. Some of the events double as competitions—for bragging rights as well as cash. Others serve their ’cue with a side of tunes (blues music seems to pair particularly well). All support worthy causes. Here are 6 barbecue festivals that will get you fired up for spring.
BBQ Festival (Birmingham)
Vote for your favorite, from Rodney Scott’s east Carolina-style whole hog barbecue to the fusion BBQ tacos and quesadillas from Fat Charles. Ghost Train’s newest brewery and taproom hosts a springtime roundup of food trucks specializing in slow-smoked meats. Others include Stumpy’s, Uncle G’s, and Hit Different. DJ Coach mixes the music. Admission is free to the fest, set for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 3501 First Avenue South.
Blues, Brews and BBQ (Dothan)
The 10th edition of the non-profit Wiregrass Blues Society’s main event features old-school and new-school soul, R and B, and blues bands, along with a barbecue competition, and arts and crafts vendors. The set starts with a charity bike run from Harley-Davidson of Dothan to the event venue, The Plant. General admission tickets sold online at the blues society’s website are $25 ($15 for members); VIP tickets ($100), include private seating, bar, and food, plus a meet-and-greet session with the musicians. Children 12 and under are free with an adult. Bring a lawn chair. Performances are underwritten in part by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Alabama Humanities Alliance.
The annual barbecue competition featuring both professional and amateur teams is a benefit for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama. Sample the all the meat you can eat, and enjoy the best tipples from the Birmingham brewery and distillery at the Historical Continental Gin Complex on Fifth Avenue in the East Avondale neighborhood. Tickets, available online through April 13, are $15 for general admission ($20 at the gate); children 10 and under are free. VIP tickets ($50, while available) includes early entry, beer and spirits tastings, a private restroom, and entry to the Redmont Distillery VIP Lounge. Gates open at 1 p.m. (noon for VIPs). The festival ends at 4 p.m. or when the barbecue is gone.
Bob Sykes BBQ and Blues Festival (Bessemer)
This is the thank-you card to the city that has supported Bob Sykes BBQ since 1957. Second-generation (of three) owner Van Sykes started the festival in 2010, which over the years has supported local charities including Children’s of Alabama, the Bessemer Education Enhance Foundation, and the Caring Men and Caring Women tutoring and mentoring program. Music includes regional, national, and international acts, headlined by Costa Rican guitarist Jose Ramirez and Kat Riggins’ Blues Revival Movement. Set for noon to 8 p.m. at DeBardeleben Park. Arts and crafts vendors, local food makers, and of course Bob Sykes BBQ round out the festivities. Bring a chair or lawn blanket.
Smoke on the Water (Florence)
This family-friendly event by the Rotary Club of Florence and the Greater Shoals Rotary Club supports the Shoals Scholars Dollars program. The main event is a barbecue competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and the Alabama BBQ Association, with teams vying for cash prizes in pork, chicken, and beef categories. Set for 9 a.m.–2 p.m. at McFarland Park, attractions include musical performances, inflatables for children, food trucks, and a classic car show. Tickets are $5 per person ($20 maximum for families); vote for the People’s Choice award for $5.
Rocket City BBQ and Soul Fest (Huntsville)
Scheduled 10 a.m.–11 p.m. at the NSS Conference Center, the fest is billed as a day of food, fun, and sunshine with a touch of soul and luxury—part backyard barbecue and part competitive cook-off. Vendors also sell food, arts, and crafts. The Gwendolyn Baldwin Excellence Scholarship will be presented to a graduating high school senior who plans to study arts, music, business and STEM fields in college. Advance online tickets are $20 for general admission and $75 (plus a $6.20 fee) VIP admission that includes special access and catered food. Children 12 and under are free.