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Mar 24, 2011 07:53 PM

Best BBQ fest in Southern Ontario?

Hi All,

As we approach summer, can anyone recommend a good BBQ/rib fest in and around the Toronto area? A few coworkers have noted the Burlington Rib fest but they also said last time the line ups were a major turnoff.

Although not large, I enjoyed the BBQ fest at last year's CNE; great food and great prices (for the CNE). I will be back to that one this year, but I wonder if there are any others worth attending?


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  1. Just come out to the Pickering Ribfest (June 3-5). Being the newest fest it doesn't get nearly the crowds as the older ones, and there's plenty of free parking across the street at Pickering Town Centre mall (park in front of the Sears). They get the same ribbers at all the others, including my favorite Camp 31. Oshawa's fest is excellent too as it's the last one of the year (weekend after Labour Day), the weather often sucks (wet and chilly) and few people from Toronto/west GTA want to drive out that far. If you hate crowds, Pickering and Oshawa are the clear winners.

    The one to avoid is Markham -- they charge a ridiculous $10 admission fee (because of the crappy bands they bring in) and after you've paid that, you are FORCED to walk by all the pushy snake-oil salesmen (they put up fencing so you can't just cut over from the admission gate to the food, you have to take the long way around -- seeing older people with walkers or wheelchairs having to make that long trek was just wrong). They cancelled last year's fest, maybe they learned their lessons and won't pull that crap on us this year.

    16 Replies
    1. re: TexSquared

      Someone should have a BBQ fest that does everything but Ribs. I want to see a pulled pork/brisket competition, Chili competition, Mac n Cheese competition, Fried Chicken competition, Competition on just BBQ sauce and just Hot Sauce!

      They could also have ribs I guess, but dont market it as a Ribfest, and maybe call it the BBQ Olympics.

      This site makes me hungry sometimes...

      1. re: jmarcroyal

        There are already comps doing what you mention, only issue is that in Canada the public doesn't want to visit those...
        In the deep south some of the contests are HUGE - American Royal can have upwards of 1000 teams, Memphis in May upwards of 500... BBQ in Canada just sucks in General (yes, I said it)

        1. re: BusterRhino

          I hear you. Southern Ontario seems to have just 2 BBQ places that are good enough to survive in the U.S., you guys and Camp 31.

          1. re: BusterRhino

            Yea, theres really no BBQ culture in Canada, other then in backyards. In a way this is a good thing. Ontario has the chance to form its own unique identity, I dont know what it would be but Ontario Style BBQ has a nice sound to it. Maybe Maple Smoked with a nice spicy maple BBQ sauce...

            Also, you guys should expand to Toronto, theres very little BBQ in the city, especially the East End, and you guys would fill the void very nicely!(I just dont want to drive 30 minutes for your tasty brisket!

            1. re: jmarcroyal

              Personally I'd rather we do authentic rather than screw it up and pass it off as "Ontario style". We already screw up Louisiana and Japanese cuisine, let's not screw up BBQ.

              Buster Rhino is South Carolina style, Camp 31 is Alabama style, and they advertise this fact. They're going for authenticity.

              "Ontario-style" BBQ already exists -- just go to any Montana's or Baton-Rouge... (although Baton-Rouge would be "Quebec-style"!)

              It's really sad to think that western NY, with a fraction of the population of the GTA, has a thriving BBQ culture. Completely ignoring the national chains (Smokey Bones and Famous Dave's), they have places like Dinosaur, Kentucky Greg's, One-Eyed Jack's, Big Belly, Desperado's. etc. If Duff's wings can expand north, be amazing if Kentucky Greg or Dinosaur did the same.

              Buster Rhino's
              2001 Thickson Rd S, Whitby, ON L1N, CA

              1. re: TexSquared

                I’d argue that the Southern Ontario food “style”, including BBQ, is diversity.

                Other than NYC, where else can you get a good Carolina BBQ, Korean BBQ, and a good selection of other smoked products like Polish Kielbasa, and Hot and Cold smoked fish, and Smoked meats (just to name a few). Plus, with places like Buster's, Blue Sage, Hadleys, Paul & Sandy's, Phil's (a pioneer), Sweet Smoke, Memphis, and Memphis Fire, we are doing pretty good.

                We may not have the world's best Carolina BBQ, but you can’t beat our selection.

                1. re: PoppiYYZ

                  "I’d argue that the Southern Ontario food “style”, including BBQ, is diversity."

                  I'll paraphrase that for you. Southern Ontario is a jack of all trades but a master of none.

                  1. re: TexSquared

                    well said. I guess being a jack of all trades is better then being a jack of no trades. There still isnt any reason we cant get any masters in the GTA, I mean, Ill compare it to sports. There are a lot of reasons why a team like the Raptors has difficulty in an American League, like BBQ, a lot of the big names dont want to come up north.

                    BBQ is different because anyone devoted to the craft and willing to do things right can make their own out here and it can be equally as good. We can get any ingredients, materials, wood, smokers etc...

                    So, I guess we have a few groups doing just that, but maybe we need more people trying to attempt good BBQ. Its clear theres room to grow in the BBQ world, and by no means has everything already been done, so id like to see a bit of creativity and experimentation here. Maybe we can add a bit of ethnic flare to some BBQ classics?

                    1. re: TexSquared


                      Great discussion. In fact, some would say the "master of none" applies to bagels, sushi, fish&chips, fried chicken, pho, shawarmas, pizza, etc etc. But there are some very very good versions available in S.O. and we have the fun of hunting them down.

                      To expect S.O. will have the best of each style of BBQ is a tall order. As you know you can get in a fight in the states if you misstep in the vinegar / ketchup, sauced / dry rub, or pork / beef discussion. Here, we seem to be leaning towards the pork, ketchup, sauced combination (or at least I am).

                      Let's keep encouraging the dedicated people here making these wonderful things, enjoying the selection, and most importantly, turning new people on to them.

                      1. re: PoppiYYZ

                        There are some who feel it can't be right if they're not in the place of origin (I am specifically referring to those who answer "Book a flight to Tokyo" when asked where to get sushi, or "Drive to Montreal" when asked about bagels). That I disagree with.

                        If you get the right ingredients and copy the preparation techniques to the letter, you SHOULD be able to clone anything, anywhere in the world. Sure, with sushi it can get prohibitively expensive to bring in ingredients from Japan, but that excuse doesn't fly with BBQ or bagels. You don't need to ship in pork and wood from Alabama or flour, water, and honey from Quebec....

                        Which brings us to Duff's, Camp 31, and Buster Rhino. You don't have to be in Buffalo to have a proper wing, as Duffs has shown by expanding here. You don't have to be in southern Alabama to have proper Alabama BBQ, as Camp 31 has shown. And you don't have to be in the Carolinas to have proper Carolina BBQ, as Buster Rhino's has shown. These 3 restaurants have successfully exported their "native" dishes here, without having to import all the ingredients. They went for authenticity, which is to be celebrated.

                        Buster Rhino's
                        2001 Thickson Rd S, Whitby, ON L1N, CA

                        1. re: PoppiYYZ

                          Surely you have not tried Gryfe's bagels - we at least have one single master...

                          Fresh from the oven, these are the best bagels I have ever eaten.

                    2. re: TexSquared

                      I'd love if Dinosaur came up here and opened up two locations, one up in the 'burbs and one downtown. The perfect place would have been the roundhouse where, unfortunately, Leon's went into.

                      1. re: lister

                        I'd say the perfect place would be in Pickering at the corner of Whites and Kingston replacing that God-awful Lone Star Texas Grill (which used to be OK until they got rid of the smoker... which lost my business).

                        I'd be happy with any of the BBQ places in western New York I listed. I'd be content with Famous Dave's or Smokey Bones, either of which blows Montana's and Baton-Rouge out of the water.

                        1. re: TexSquared

                          Heh, I don't care where in the 'burbs as long as the downtown location is in a good spot. Pickering it is! ;-)

                          The only concern I'd have with some of the other WNY places is what sort of beer they have. We haven't visited all of them yet. Dinosaur does a pretty good job with the beer, draught and bottles, mostly micros. We went to Kentucky Greg's and was massively disappointed with the crappy macro bottles only there. Sticky Lips in Rochester also was a disappoint with macro bottles only too.

                          I want good beer to go with my good BBQ!

                    3. re: jmarcroyal

                      Maybe I have used the wrong maple, (red maple) but I grabbed a bunch years ago from a locally cut down tree and found the wood, after sitting in the garage cut for a year to dry, giving off all I can describe as 'dirty smoke' . Using small amounts, the smoke was not pleasant, and the food I made wasn't to write home about so I use the uncut stumps I have now as chopping blocks.

                      1. re: ebay3392

                        why did you let it sit for a year?

              2. Had a gas at the Peterborough ribfest last year. Smaller crowds and good food. Check out the Rotary Ribfest or the Festivals & Events Ontario websites and go to one of the smaller town festivals for a fun weekend or day trip.


                1. Any opinions on the Gravenhurst rib fest? My in-laws live upthere. They say that it's small, but good. I'm just wondering how accurate their opinions actually are. :)

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Midknight

                    Nothing wrong with the smaller ribfests, you avoid some of the worst crowds of the bigger ones and there's more of a local, community feel to them, less "corporate" (which the Rotary tour has become).

                    We went to the one in Uxbridge a couple years ago. I think they only had 3 ribbers there but since it's not a Rotary fest (it was Canadian Legion) there were some differences -- these were ribbers we'd never seen before, which was a welcome change (as much as we're Camp 31 fans), and instead of all the snake-oil salesmen that go on the Rotary tour (which we try to avoid), this one had nearby farms selling just-picked produce, local artisans selling all sorts of handmade things (jewellery, clothing, toys, etc).

                    1. re: TexSquared

                      Thanks everyone! So basically the one in Toronto at Centennial Park is a write off of HUGE line ups?

                      I guess I gotta hit the burbs this summer...

                      1. re: dmartins123

                        There can be huge lineups in Pickering too, if you go in the evening. Best way to avoid lineups at any fest, if you can swing it, is go Friday early (don't go right when they open as many of the ribbers may not have product ready to serve) -- I recommend Friday a couple hours before the dinner/after-work crowd appears. That or, as you said, avoid the bigger fests and take a drive to the smaller, suburban or rural ones. Uxbridge really was a pleasant surprise, in a hilly wooded area in the middle of nowhere. Oshawa fest is the eastern GTA version of Burlington -- it gets a large number of ribbers so that spreads out the load.

                        Another hint to avoid lineups -- some of the popular teams will have a second booth out there under a different name. One I know for sure is Thirsty Cactus, which is owned by Camp 31. In Oshawa I'll often see a long lineup at C31 but a short one at TC, so I'll go to TC and get exactly the same product a lot faster.

                        1. re: TexSquared

                          Just checked the website and saw that the Uxbridge fest for 2011 has been cancelled due to insurance issues. A bummer as I was getting all hyped up for it.

                          1. re: terrycar

                            Thanks for the heads-up, I was going to look up the dates for several fests I go to but didn't get around to it (only one I'm 100% sure of is Pickering as it's listed in the city's Bicentennial Events calendar; it's always been first weekend in June).

                            Markham fest's website hasn't been updated since they announced the cancellation of 2010's event. I'm still waiting to see if they have one this year and if they do away with charging $10 admission.

                            1. re: TexSquared

                              August long weekend is always, Thompson Park (Scarborough)
                              Labour day weekend is always, Spencer Smith Park (Burlington)

                          2. re: TexSquared

                            I usually go to the Oshawa one and if you go early on Friday, Saturday or on the Sunday, then the lineups are pretty short.

                            1. re: ricoboxing

                              Another hint (that I post here often) is, drive around to the back parking lot behind the kiddie rides; there are usually spaces there really close to the back entrance, and you avoid having to run the gauntlet of snake-oil salesmen.

                          3. re: dmartins123

                            Unless you can skip off work early or during lunch hour on the Friday..I take customer there every year and we can just walk up to any of them on that day.

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