Barbeque fans, rejoice! January kicks off a new year… And the return of BBQ festival season to Polk County.
Well known winter barbeque festivals such as the Lakeland PigFest, Smoke on the Water and Ribs on the Ridge will soon provide residents, and visitors alike, the mouthwatering opportunity to experience some of the best barbeque in the country. These events include live entertainment and nominal, if not FREE, admission. Come hungry, as many of the competing teams will be selling their delectable fare for the public to enjoy. No matter how you spell it (the esteemed Kansas City Barbeque Society uses a “q”), it’s going to be good.
The 18th Annual Lakeland PigFest takes place Friday, January 24 (from 3 to 10 pm) and Saturday, January 25 (from 10 am to 5 pm) at the Tiger Town Sports Complex in Lakeland. Admission is Free, however, attendees must exchange cash for “Pig Bucks” – the official currency of the Lakeland PigFest – to purchase food. On-site parking is $5. More than 150 teams are expected to compete, providing a weekend of good eats, good friends and good entertainment; to benefit Lakeland-area charities. Lakeland PigFest, the area’s largest barbeque competition, is a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) sanctioned event. The KCBS is the world’s largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts, with over 15,000 members worldwide.
The 10th Annual Budweiser Smoke on the Water BBQ Competition returns to Winter Haven on Saturday, February 1 (from 10 am to 5:30 pm). More than 80 teams from across the country will compete in this event, a qualifier for the World Food Championships, the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational and the American Royal Invitational. Four stages will provide varied entertainment and the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team will be in action for two thrilling shows on Lake Cannon. Admission is $1 per person and premier parking will be available for $5. Funds raised will benefit the Citrus Center Boys & Girls Clubs of Winter Haven, Lake Wales and Haines City.
The 6th Annual Ribs on the Ridge takes place at Lake Eva Park in Haines City on Friday, February 14 (from 5 to 9 pm) and Saturday, February 15 (from 10 am to 5 pm). This growing event has been the Florida BBQ Association’s largest competition for the past four years – and is a qualifier for the Jack Daniel’s World Championship in 2014. (Qualifying for “The Jack” – considered the Super Bowl of barbeque competitions – is quite an honor, since that competition will feature some of the finest BBQ chefs in the world.) Admission is Free and approximately 100 teams are expected to compete. The festival will include live outdoor entertainment, food and craft vendors and fun activities for the whole family.
Local barbeque festivals taper off as warmer weather arrives. Fortunately, Polk County offers numerous barbeque restaurants, so you won’t have to suffer withdrawal in the off-season. Historic eateries include Peebles Bar-B-Q, a Central Florida landmark that has been serving up barbeque for more than 57 years, and Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q, a Lakeland tradition since 1964. Family owned Schack’s Bar-B-Que has been serving hungry guests since 1979 and Brock’s Smoke Hut was recognized in 2011 by National Barbecue News as one of the “Best of the Best Barbecue Restaurant’s in America.” Both Schack’s and Brock’s are in Winter Haven. Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q and Woody’s Bar-B-Q are familiar names with locations all around Polk County. And in early 2014, Polk County will gain a new barbeque venue, when Johnson Barbeque opens at the site of the former Fred’s Southern Kitchen in Winter Haven. The Johnson family has nearly 60 years’ experience in offering tasty southern cuisine to Central Florida, having started their first barbeque venture back in 1954. This lineup barely scratches the surface of area dining options.
Area barbeque fests return to the calendar as fall rolls in with some cooler temperatures. Mulberry’s 11th Annual Fine Swine at the Pit is scheduled for October 10 and 11, 2014. This Florida BBQ Association sanctioned event continues to grow, offering up delicious barbeque along with quality entertainment for all ages.
A relative newcomer to Polk’s barbeque scene, When Pigs Fly South returns to Lakeland’s SUN ‘n FUN campus for its third year, Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8. Admission is Free and parking is $5. This expanding Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event is scheduled for the weekend leading to Veterans Day, to incorporate tribute events and activities at the campus.
* Please note that events are subject to change