Luckily in Texas the popularity of barbecue and the related fanaticism has grown to a point where multiple barbecue festivals can be held. There is no better way to sample some of the best barbecue in Texas in a single day without driving hundreds of miles and likely spending more money than the cost of a ticket to one of these events. Most of the festivals will also draw at least a few participants from out of their region which also allows sampling barbecue that you may have wanted to experience but haven’t been able to visit in person.
Each provides their unique spin but in general here is what they offer:
Not a contest. This isn’t a cook off, and there is no winner other than those who get to eat! Sure you can pick your favorite of the day, but remember that meat sources, options, and cooking vessels all can differ from a restaurants normal capabilities so don’t judge a joint by your experience at a fest.
Quality BBQ joints. Yes, sometimes lesser joints help fill out a roster, but they are all there trying their best, and all of the fests offer plenty of top tier barbecue talent.
Free unlimited samples. Sometimes the popular booths will run out before the end of the fest, but you can sample as much as you like as long as you get back in line
Live musical entertainment. This can be as small as a single band to an entire concert which tickets can be purchased separately for those who (shouldn’t) skip the barbecue. Red Dirt is the big daddy but Smoked Dallas has a great line up for 2016. These events morph from the meat fest into a full-fledged concert as the sun sets and are a great way to work off the calories consumed during the day.
Coveted VIP option. For an additional purchase which is usually near double the general admission price you get a couple of drinks, a goodie bag, and early entry up to an hour with only other VIPs. Virtually no line at most booths and fests with the exception of Franklin Barbecue – however the line during VIP is shorter than during General Admission (Still expect a 20+ minute wait). You just have to ask yourself how much would you pay for a shorter line. My recommendation is to use the valuable VIP time to hit up the other joints, and either hit up Franklin later in the day (they will cook more than others) or just go visit them on a regular business day and order as much food as you like. Other VIP goodies may include a souvenir pint glass with the event information, stickers, and coupons. Many booths will serve special food items only during VIP time or until they run out. The music festivals (Red Dirt and Smoked Dallas) provide VIPs with an exclusive viewing area of the concerts and more.
Adult beverages for purchase. Pricing ranges from very reasonable to football stadium prices.
Most include dessert either as free sampling or for purchase.
Sponsor booths may offer free samples and often have giveaways and contests.
SWAG. From stickers to keychains to koozies to t-shirts, I’ve walked out with some great bags of goodies. Many barbecue joints will also offer shirts, hats, and koozies for sale.
If you’d like some tips on how to enjoy a fest, read my article on surviving one here
Don’t judge a barbecue joint by what you eat at a fest. Find out why in my article here.
So which one should you attend? Each has their own advantages.
Red Dirt draws a wide range of barbecue joints and top shelf music. It feels more like an all-day (and night) party than a meat fest. The event’s location in Tyler and the late night of music is best enjoyed with an overnight stay, which makes the event even more of a getaway.
Here are my photos from the 2016 Red Dirt Fest
Here are my photos from the 2015 Red Dirt Fest
HOUBBQ puts a big focus on Houston area barbecue with a few special guests. It’s a great way to explore the Houston barbecue scene in a single day. The 2016 event featured a wide range of barbecue that included alligator and smoked pastrami.
Here are my photos from the 2016 HOUBBQ Fest
Here are my photos from the 2015 HOUBBQ Fest
Smoked Dallas has kicked up their music lineup and this year features headliners The Toadies. The opening acts are solid, too, and include the Dirty River Boys who performed at Red Dirt 2016. Great barbecue from local and farther distanced locations are offered up this year.
Here are my photos from the 2015 Smoked Dallas Fest
The Woodlands BBQ fest is all new for 2016 and proceeds benefit the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. For a first year event they’ve drawn a good number of participants and the hosts want to make this an annual event, it’s definitely worth a visit. First time event participants Southern_Q and newly opened but extremely well reviewed The Pit Room are included along with many quality joints. Discount codes can be had from participating barbecue joints.
Gettin’ Sauced is a great little event that is part brew fest, part sauce competition, part barbecue festival, and all fun. While it may not sport the largest lineup of barbecue joints, it features some high quality well known joints and some very hot new joints that are worth checking out. Along with quality well-known establishments are Slab BBQ, Truth BBQ, 2M Smokehouse and Catering (featuring former la Barbecue pitmaster Esaul Ramos), and Brotherton Barbecue (who has been referred to as the Pfranklin of Pflugerville). Six breweries will also be in attendance.
Here are my photos from the 2014 Gettin Sauced Fest
TMBBQ Fest features 25 joints from the Texas Monthly top 50 list and special guests Evie Mae’s from Lubbock and The Beast from Paris. The fest is large and intense. While the higher entry fee may make for a costlier day, ample free cold water is available and for 2015 free samples of adult beverages and desserts were also available. This is also the only fest where Aaron Franklin is in attendance, and has the highest concentration of quality barbecue joints.
Here are my photos from the 2015 TMBBQ Fest
BBQ fest comparison
*Red Dirt and HOUBBQ details from 2016 event
September 24, 2016
Main Street Garden, Dallas
Concert Only: $28
BBQ General Admission + concert: $48
VIP + concert: $90
VIP includes: Early Entry, 2 drink coupons, VIP-only area with VIP bar, restrooms, and stage viewing
BBQ on the Brazos
Bet The House BBQ
Chef Dean Fearing
Heim Barbecue & Catering
Louie Mueller Barbecue
Meat U Anywhere BBQ
The Slow Bone
Schmidt Family Barbecue
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
18th & Vine Barbeque
Side Dishes: Cafe Momentum
Dessert by: Haute Sweets Patisserie
Dirty River Boys
Dean Fearing’s Lost Coyote
September 25th, 2016
Town Green Park, The Woodlands
General Admission: $60 (15% discount available via participating BBQ Joints)
VIP includes: Early entry, 2 drink tickets, t-shirt, and tote bag
Discounts also available for volume purchases
Southside Market & Barbeque
Tin Roof BBQ
Spring Creek Barbeque
Blood Bros. BBQ
Roegels Barbecue Co.
The Brisket House
Goode Company Barbeque
Harlem Road Texas BBQ
True Texas BBQ (HEB Magnolia)
The Pit Room
Jesse Raub Jr. & Clayton Gardner
October 16, 2016
Shady springs Party Barn in Austin
General Admission: $40
VIP includes: Early access, pint glass, koozie
Louie Mueller Barbecue
2M Smokehouse & Catering
Tin Roof BBQ
Brotherton Barbecue Catering
Milt’s Pit BBQ
Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Independence Brewing Company
South Austin Brewery
Infamous Brewing Company
Pedernales Bewing Company
The Shady Rest Band
Long Center for Performing Arts, Austin
General Admission: $80
VIP includes: Early Admission, goodie bag with 2 beverage coupons and goodies from sponsors
Austin’s BBQ and Catering, Eagle Lake
The Beast, Paris, France
The Original Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart
Buzzie’s Bar-B-Q, Kerrville
Cousin’s Bar-B-Q, Fort Worth
Cranky Frank’s BBQ, Fredericksburg
Evie Mae’s, Wolfforth
Franklin Barbecue, Austin
Gatlin’s BBQ, Houston
The Granary ‘Cue & Brew, San Antonio
Hays Co. Bar-B-Que and Catering, San Marcos
Hutchins BBQ, McKinney
Killen’s Barbecue, Pearland
La Barbecue, Austin
Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Austin
Lockhart Smokehouse, Dallas
Louie Mueller Barbecue, Taylor
Miller’s Smokehouse, Belton
Opie’s Barbecue, Spicewood
Pecan Lodge, Dallas
Pody’s BBQ, Pecos
Snow’s BBQ, Lexington
Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue, Tyler
Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, Austin
Two Bros. BBQ Market, San Antonio
Tyler’s Barbeque, Amarillo
Santiago Jimenez Jr.