Lexington Barbecue Festival- 2017

By Jessica Mohr

For me, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a North Carolina barbeque festival is the smell. That scent of pigs parts being slowly roasted over a variety of wood wafts all around you, and you can’t get the vague taste of barbeque sauce out of the clothes you were wearing until they’ve been washed three times are all landmark experiences when it comes to barbecue festivals.  Unfortunately, these things were not present at the 2017 Lexington BBQ Festival.

Before we get into my criticisms of the festival, let’s start off on a sunny side! Lexington, on a normal day, is a small, quaint North Carolina town with a sign for barbecue restaurants just about as frequently spaced down the road as they do signs for churches. Small, local joints with their own secret sauces and methods of smoking pig parts line the road down the center of town. Even as you drive up on 64, you can tell you’re approaching Lexington by the increasing number of billboards advertising for these local joints, as well as the large one advertising the annual, famous Lexington BBQ Festival. This is, without a doubt, a barbeque town.

Upon arriving at the festival, I was surprised to notice the remarkably normal smell of the town. When you’re going to a BBQ festival, you expect to smell some of the food you’re going to be sampling, right? We’ve all seen the TV shows of pitmasters going ham (pun intended) on half a pig over a bed of crackling wood or charcoal. After continuously being slathered in rich, homemade barbecue sauce, the meaty smells of pork and sauce waft over everything nearby. There was none of this in Lexington. If anything, I smelled more of the gas station down the road than any sort of pork products. Even while standing outside the sole barbeque food tent, I couldn’t really smell anything distinctly pork-ish, at least until I unwrapped my sandwich from its tinfoil prison.

Overall, I would say I was definitely underwhelmed by the Lexington BBQ Festival this year. There were more flea market-style merchants selling trinkets than there were actual barbecuers selling delicious pork foods, and, to be completely honest, the fried apple pie I bought from a church stand was far more satisfying than the small sandwich from the sole BBQ food tent in the middle of town. Given the hype and cartoon pig proudly advertising the festival as a BBQ festival, the event itself was not what I expected. Maybe something has changed within the town to alter the “flavor” of the festival, and make it more driven by miscellaneous vendors than restaurants? Maybe this was just a fluke year, and it will be back to normal in 2018?

Thankfully, a representative from the governing board of the festival reported that they are indeed aware of the overabundance of miscellaneous and redundant vendors, as well as the disappointingly low number of actual barbeque stands. I was happy to hear that they are planning to begin regulating vendors at the festival more stringently in upcoming years. In the recent past, the overseers of the event decided to relax regulations on who is allowed to set up shop during the festival. This, as we’ve seen, allowed people selling artisanal soap and postcards to be more prevalent than actual barbeque stands. In order to make the Lexington BBQ Festival just that again, a BBQ festival, the governing board is prepared to take action in order to restore the smells of pork to Lexington once again. I will be very excited to go back next year and see how they are doing.