The Barbecue Festival in Lexington, NC is one of the best BBQ festivals in North Carolina. But, before we get into it, we need to discuss North Carolina barbecue.
There are two types of North Carolina barbecue, western style (also known as Lexington Style), and eastern style. Most people think of the eastern style with its tangy vinegar sauce and use of the entire pig. Lexington style is different. The sauce is a red “dip”, a tomato based sauce that contains vinegar, red pepper flakes, and a variety of spices. Western style also tends to use pork shoulder.
Now this is important because you do NOT want to wander into the Lexington Barbecue festival talking about eastern style barbecue and stirring up trouble. That will not go over well. This is a festival to celebrate the western style with its richer sauce.
This is also why the festival is the “Official Food Festival of the Piedmont Triad Region of the State of North Carolina”, and not the “Official NC Barbecue Festival”. Turns out politics got involved and the NC senate wouldn’t approve a festival celebrating one style of barbecue as the official NC barbecue festival.
That’s how seriously we take our barbecue here.
Lexington Barbecue Festival Food
Surprisingly, there aren’t a ton of food trucks at this festival. You’ll find several barbecue stations where you can get a sandwich for about $8. Beyond that, there are caramel apples, two of those booths that sell everything from nachos to fried onions, an ice cream truck, and drinks like iced tea, lemonade, and soda. There are a couple of additional food trucks, but not many.
A hospitality garden is set up at Breeden Amphitheater for adults willing to pay $15 for entry. Included in the price is a commemorative glass and access to upscale bathrooms. Several local vineyards do wine tastings here and you can purchase a glass or bottle. Grab a ticket and enjoy the live music from the amphitheater stage while sipping some wine.
Keep in mind that the main star of this festival is the barbecue, and they want to push you in that direction.
Childress Vineyards makes a special wine for the festival called Fine Swine Wine. I bought a bottle and will let you know how it is.
Lexington Barbecue Festival Activities
There is a kids’ area where they had the blow-up dinosaurs that I’ve been seeing on the festival circuit. In addition, there was a bouncy house, a giant blow-up slide, and a third blow up fun house.
Three stages feature different live bands throughout the day. The stages are small, but well-spaced so the bands didn’t play over each other.
Just past the entrance is a giant sand sculpture the festival does every year. It seems that getting an annual family photo in front of the sculpture is a popular thing.
Other than that, it’s about walking up and down a 9 block stretch of Main Street and enjoying the vendors. This is where the Lexington Barbecue Festival separates itself from all the other NC Festivals. They have over 300 vendors.
I’ve never seen so many vendors at a fair. The tents are lined up in the middle of the street back-to-back so you visit some as you head down the street and others as you head back. But they’re literally next to each other, not spaced every now and then. It was crazy, and fun.
Lexington Barbecue Festival Events
There’s an Antique Car Cruise-In located at the Davidson Funeral Home parking lot. Anyone with an antique car or truck can come. It’s limited to the first 65 vehicles with a $15 entry fee that goes to a local charity.
If you don’t own an antique vehicle, you can still stop by and admire the cars. There are awards given out in several different categories.
Tips for First Timers at the Festival
This is more of a “walking” festival, designed for you to walk nine blocks up Main Street and then back. While there are a few things for the little ones, I found it was more of an annual family event where people had certain traditions.
Dogs are not allowed, but I saw several. Do yourself a favor and leave yours home. The ones I saw did not look good. It was too hot, they were overwhelmed, and they appeared stressed. Festivals and dogs just aren’t a good mix.
The festival has a website with information on events, bands, and parking.
Parking and When to Arrive
I never thought I’d say this about a North Carolina festival but spend the money and park in one of the lots a block away. Several organizations take over parking lots as fundraisers and I saw several on 5th street, easy walking to the festival, with plenty of open spaces at 2 pm. Plus, the lots were easy to get in and out of.
You can also park for free at a Walmart on Lowes Street, and at Childress Winery. I parked at Childress, and it took about 40 minutes waiting to get on a bus and then another 10 minutes to get to the festival. On the way back, the line was long, and I wound up on the 5th bus that came by after waiting almost an hour.
While it was still better than the shuttle wait at the Cheerwine Festival, an hour in the hot sun is still brutal.
Ideally, I would arrive in the morning, or wait until around 2 pm when people start to leave. If you’re parking in one of the free lots and using the shuttle, either plan to Uber back to your car, or wait until 6 pm when the line is shorter.
Attractions and Vendors
There were over 300 vendors at the festival selling a variety of handmade crafts. While I saw a few vendors I’ve seen at other festivals, there were several I had never encountered. As I meandered down the street, there was everything from leather goods to art to soaps and candles to aprons to……well everything.
It was a little overwhelming, but it helps break up the crowd and with so many vendors, it felt like there was more room to peruse the items for sale.
Sunscreen and Water
Like most festivals, you’re in the middle of a downtown street where the sun is shining down. Slather yourself with sunscreen and bring water. It’s going to be hot.
Navigating the Festival with Groups
The festival was crowded, but groups and families should be able to stay together. While it looks like a throng of people, once you’re in it, there’s room to maneuver, and the sidewalks were mostly clear making them ideal spots to pull over.
Final Thoughts about the Lexington Barbecue Festival
This was a nice, laid-back festival that focuses on vendors. One thing I liked was that the festival organizers strive to cut back on trash. They have recycle bins throughout the area and were working to sell drinks and other items in packaging that could be recycled.
While it’s crowded, it seemed family oriented, and it appeared that many families come every year and have specific traditions. I saw more than one parent take a photo of their children in front of the sand sculpture and the kids knew the poses.
I really enjoyed the Lexington Barbecue Festival and plan to come back next year to start my own traditions.