american royal bbq festival, KC
Hi, my family is coming to town and wants to go to the festival next saturday. But I'm hearing mixed reviews on the experience that people will get if they don't know any vendors. We're definitely looking forward to one of the musical acts that night but should we not plan on getting any good bbq to eat? How much time during the day would you recommend for us to stay?
Everyone I know in KC that goes, goes on Friday night because to my understanding, it's the only time that competition teams (not really vendors) can serve food to the public. It's before the actual competition starts and it's basically a huge camp-ground of parties. However, as chileheadmike said, you really have to know someone who is competing or sponsoring. Lots of big corporate parties or larger sponsored teams with their own bands or DJs and then lots of the smaller teams that are just sitting around eating, drinking, and chilling with their families and friends. I can't think of any tents/parties that are just open to the public. As the night gets later and things wind down you can probably crash parties, but usually the food and beer is long gone. There is a stage close to the front gates that has bands playing on it, but I feel like I rarely remember too many people actually there. There are some food/beer vendors near the stage, but they are more the type who travel around the country to these sorts of things, so it's usually overpriced and lower quality compared to other que you can get in KC. There are also a couple of fair style vendors who sell hotdogs, cheesecurds, and that sort of thing. It's certainly fun to walk around, look at the enormity of the event, people watch, and check out all the different teams, but I think it'd be a lot less fun if I didn't have parties to go back to as a 'homebase'.
I've never gone on Saturday or Sunday, but that's because I've always been told it was kind of pointless unless your direct family member/friend was competing and you are their for help/support or if just want to walk around and look at stuff. The actual competition is going on those days so people are focused on that and they also can't give out food anyway.
Basically, my experience has been that you need to know someone competing. If you are expecting to wander around and find plates of BBQ set out at each competitor's tent for you to try, you'll be sorely disappointed. It's a big place and you could easily spend a few hours wandering around and looking at all the different set-ups people have. Keep in mind you have to pay admission to get into the event (maybe 8 or 10 dollars, I think) and that doesn't get you any food or drink. Parking/getting there is also kind of a pain. The best thing to do is take a shuttle, but that adds on a good 30 mins at the least, more so if you go at busy times.
If you go into it with the expectation of walking around, looking at crazy BBQ rigs, people watching, and experiencing the atmosphere it's a pretty cool experience and probably a pretty fun afternoon/evening. If you are expecting to gorge yourself while sampling a dozen different teams, you probably will leave disappointed.
I had a team and we competed in the Royal for about 10 years. The last time was in 2005. A lot of work, a lot of fun, but it did have it's downside. If the weather is nice, there can be 60,000 people in attendance. Some will overindulge, way over. There is a food court and bandstand set up where you can buy barbecue, but generally that barbecue is pretty bad. There's other stuff you can buy too like funnel cakes and deep fried things. Beer is available.
Keep in mind that this is a contest, teams are there to cook and compete. They cannot give out samples and they won't let you into their sites. There are some large sites that host parties but you will need some kind of a special ticket to get into those. They are most corporate sponsored events. There are lots of bands around, and a few DJ's. It can be a fun evening just walking around and listening to the bands.
Some teams will have purchased the right to sell barbecue. You can buy tickets and then redeem them for barbecue. I think they have all of these teams in one section so you can find them. I've never done this, so I can't say how good it is. My guess is that it will be better than the barbecue at the food court.
I highly recommend going to the their website and getting a map and schedule for the shuttles.
It's a lot of fun but don't go in expecting to chat with the cooks and sample their barbecue during the busy part of the evening.