After years of hosting the annual International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro, it appears some competition may be arising from across the river. According to a circulating social media post, the city of Evansville will be hosting its first Evansville BBQ Festival this year with the plan of being an annual event in conjunction with the 2019 Roar on the River.
While Owensboro will celebrate its 40th annual International Bar-B-Q Festival on May 10 and 11 this year, Evansville will host its festival later in the summer, on Sat., Aug. 17. Those running the Owensboro festival say there’s no stress to be had over one city stealing the other’s thunder.
While the Evansville BBQ Festival will be sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, Sharon NeSmith, past Executive Board Chairman for the Owensboro International Bar-B-Q Festival says Owensboro doesn’t need sanctioning for its yearly festival.
“Owensboro is unique in that we’re not a Kansas City or Memphis-style competition. We get asked, ‘Why don’t you get sanctioning?’ all the time,” NeSmith said. “We’re Daviess County barbecue. We don’t need to get sanctioned.”
NeSmith said she believes the unique style of barbecue that reigns from Daviess County and Owensboro is part of what makes the local community a true barbecue capital of the world. If Owensboro were to have a sanctioned event, NeSmith said the rules would have to change, including what kind of meat could be served during the competitions.
“The rules are different, the times are different. At this point, there’s no plans to change that, but in the future, we’d love to show other people what Owensboro and Daviess County can do,” NeSmith said. “Our goal is to continue to grow the backyard cooks because they’re as fun an element as the pit teams.”
From NeSmith’s perspective, a little healthy competition from across the river isn’t a bad thing. In fact, NeSmith believes Evansville’s festival could drive even more people to visit Owensboro for its festival.
“People who compete there will want to compete at the Owensboro Bar-B-Q Festival too. One of the main attractions of community barbecue festivals is it creates a competitive factor. We’d fully support any community doing that,” NeSmith said.
NeSmith said Owensboro is known for its well-organized, extremely competitive cook-offs, and she doesn’t expect that competitive nature to subside because of Evansville’s newly adopted festival.
“People from outside of Owensboro compete in our festival in May. We’ve grown from four to five teams to 35 or 40 teams. We are a nonprofit, and we’re very organized with our competitions,” NeSmith said. “Evansville could only enhance awareness of barbecue festivals and competitions.”