When Joe Sink, Jr., publisher of THE DISPATCH, discussed his love of festivals with BB&T officials in 1983, he had no idea that it would lead to Lexington hosting one of the Country’s most popular food festivals.
BB&T and THE DISPATCH agreed to hire Kay Saintsing, a local organization developer and manager, to complete a feasibility study on a new community event. With Saintsing’s research and recommendations in hand, both companies felt it was time to launch the first annual Barbecue Festival in Lexington on October 27, 1984. Event specialist Kay Saintsing and her staff at Saintsing Management Services (now Preferred Events) produced the festival. Preferred Events now works throughout the year planning Lexington’s largest event. Tragically, Kay Saintsing unexpectedly passed away at age 53 on June 7, 2002. Continuing with the family tradition, Kay’s daughter Stephanie continued to plan this significant community event.
Critical to the event's success has been the special cooperation given to the festival by the City of Lexington, Davidson County, and the owners of the famous barbecue restaurants throughout the area. This support, coupled with sponsorships provided by area businesses, has ensured the continued vitality and growth of the Annual Barbecue Festival.
Today, the festival has become an annual tradition that is held on one of the last two Saturdays in October. The 39th Annual Barbecue Festival will be held on Saturday, October 28, 2023. In addition to the festival, the City of Lexington and Davidson County has officially declared October as “Barbecue” month. Events are held throughout October which lead to the grand finale, the Barbecue Festival. Events typically held during the month of October include the Tour de Pig-the annual cycling event, golf tournament, and Hawg Run-5K run. All of these events draw talented athletes from across the Southeast. There is also a contest for creative writers, the Pepsi “Pig Tales” writing competition. The event is open to children and adults. Professional staff at the Lexington Branch of the Davidson County Public Library serve a judges for the competition. Winners in all divisions win a year’s supply of Pepsi.
In 1984, the Barbecue Festival attracted approximately 30,000 people, and the barbecue chefs cooked 3,000 pounds of barbecue. In 1994, the crowd exceeded 100,000 people, and 11,000 pounds of Barbecue were served. In 1995, some of the literal and figurative distance between East and piedmont was bridged when the state pork producers association voted to accept the city’s invitation for the annual North Carolina Championship Pork Cook-Off to be held in Lexington in conjunction with the Barbecue Festival. Piedmont residents, accustomed to seeing pits full of pork shoulders, could watch the state’s top whole-hog cooking experts- nearly all of them from the coastal plain-demonstrate their craft. In 2000, crowds were estimated at more than 140,000 visitors to Lexington. In 2014, an estimated 200,000 people celebrated the biggest-, and by many accounts, the best Barbecue Festival in the city’s history. Indeed, everyone is proud of the growth and success the festival has accomplished over the past thirty-eight years. On Saturday, October 22, the festival was successfully held after enduring two consecutive years of cancellation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Incredible weather and pent-up demand resulted in record-breaking crowds attending the 2022 festival. Attendees were delighted at the opportunity to celebrate again in Lexington, NC. The City of Lexington and festival planners are preparing for the 2023 festival and will be ready for all Lexington Style barbecue fans to descend on Lexington, NC Saturday, October 28. We invite you to be one of them!
The festival is held in Uptown Lexington. A nine-block stretch of Main Street is closed to traffic. More than three hundred exhibitors sell everything from handmade crafts to handmade fudge. Also a juried competition includes artists and craftsmen from across the country. This competition is held throughout two blocks of Main Street in front of the Edward C. Smith Civic Center. Six stages of entertainment showcase local and national artists. The festival is for people of all ages and includes a special section of rides and games for children, the Barbecue Carnival & Family Area. This year's notable attractions will include an antique car cruise-in, Dinosaur Show, Bicycle Stunt Show, 50-ton pig themed sand sculpture, Corvette display, and much more! Barbecue is served out of three main tents, one at the square and the two others on the North & South ends of the festival. The tents are amazing places where no fewer than 35 people work beneath each red and white tent chopping barbecue, fixing slaw, and serving pigtail french fries. Here from “Mission Central”, the heart of the festival, comes the special festival barbecue, which is a result of the combined effort of the masters of the trade. The Barbecue Festival is especially proud that many civic and non-profit organizations are able to raise funds by providing parking or selling concessions, raffle tickets, etc., during the festival. This is also an excellent opportunity for organizations to present information and educate the public.