By Jenny Kane
Right as we arrived in downtown Lenoir at around 11:30am on that Saturday, October 21st, we could already here the sound of live music playing and people crowding around the small area. Most of the shops on the strip were closed apart from a coffee shop and a restaurant that were located side-to-side. The entire festival was only two blocks long, but it was entirely lined with barbecue vendors, craft vendors, and information tents. Right at the center of the festival was a stage tucked into a patio with a live band playing folk and blue grass tunes. Entire extended families were filing in to get seats on the grass and the smoky aroma of barbecue filled the entire event.
Eager to try some of Lenoir’s famous barbecue, I went up to the tent that had the most trophies in front of it. We found out that on top of the festival was both a barbecue competition and a poker tournament, and restaurants, vendors, and poker players actually come from across the nation to compete in this festival. That would also explain the large crowd of bikers with their affiliated gang jackets, as they made up the majority of the crowd that surrounded the poker tent.
However, I was slightly disappointed that there were only two barbecue tents from North Carolina, and only one of those two was actually from the City of Lenoir. Nonetheless, I was already hungry, so I hopped in line at the most decorated tent, knowing well what I was going to order. I asked for a half a rack of ribs and the woman kindly responded that they took cash only. I immediately panicked as I hadn’t been able to reach an ATM yet and was out of cash. What shocked me the most was when the woman told me she would give me the ribs and I could come back and pay here that day once I got to an ATM. Luckily, my friend Claire had a ten-dollar bill and took care of it for me, but I was extremely appreciative of the respect and honor that woman gave to me, knowing that if it came down to it, I would of course come back with the cash. My next question to her was where they were from. She said she and her mobile restaurant partners had driven all the way from Ohio to be at this event and were on their way to several others afterwards.
Digging into the first rib, I was immediately in barbecue heaven. It was like nothing I had ever tasted before. The glaze was thinner than I had expected but had the perfect blend of acidity and sweetness that every good barbecue should have. The base was clearly tomato, also something I had never experienced before. Finally, the pork melted right off the bone, and I finished all six ribs and made sure to lick my fingers after and tell the vendor how much I loved them.
After sitting and watching the band play while eating my ribs, we decided to walk around a little more to get a sense of what other vendors there were. We had been to a few festivals and farmer’s markets already on our journey and were happy to see that this festival had all local soap, candle, and craft vendors—nothing too commercial. Everyone we talked to was extremely kind and friendly, and it was amazing to see how many outreach groups were there spreading their information and trying to reach out to the community. Overall, this was the most comfortable I felt on our entire trip, as there wasn’t a moment that I felt like we didn’t fit in or felt like tourists.