From fancy French fare to finger-licking BBQ, there’s a perfect food festival for everyone—even Fluff fanatics. That’s why we’re rounding up the best of the best food festivals to put on your calendar in 2020.
Our motto has always been “the only thing better than food is more food.” And the best place to find more food (and maybe even a little more after that) is at a food festival. Picture yourself (or better yet, picture me) strolling from vendor to vendor, tasting a little deep-fried this and a little slow-cooked that as the sun beats gently down upon your neck. Yes, food festivals are most definitely a happy place.
Summer and all its festival glory will be here before we know it, so you’d be wise to start mapping out your food fest plan of attack. Most counties, states, or regions have something local to offer, and while we encourage you to explore whatever your hometown has going on, there are a few extra special food festivals on the culinary calendar worthy of a little extra effort (and travel).
So grab a sun hat, some walking shoes, and a few wet naps cause we’ve got sticky BBQ in Memphis, even stickier Fluff in Boston, pickles in Pittsburgh, and a whole lot of everything in New Orleans. These are a few of the best food festivals to hit in 2020.
Best Food Festival for Hobnobbing w/ Celebrity Chefs
Cayman Cookout – Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
The Cookout has been going strong for 11 years now, the baby of French master Éric Ripert (Le Bernardin) and host hotel Ritz Carlton, which houses his seafood outpost, Blue. The weekend-long series bounces around beachy venues, but the aforementioned Ritz plays host and hub for much of the action. If you manage to book in time, you’re all but guaranteed a lavish hotel experience, truly unending good food, and some facetime with culinary superstars like Emeril Legasse, José André, Dominique Cren, and more.
The festival is punctuated by a few signature events like the Beachfoot BBQ and you can buy tickets to as many or few as you’d like. Next year’s Cookout is scheduled for Jan. 13-18, and the property sells out every year without fail, so we’d suggest booking soon.
- What to eat: You’d be hard-pressed to find food here that isn’t totally freakin’ fabulous, but some favorite events include Éric Ripert and José Andrés’ iconic beach battle: Paella vs. Bouillabaisse (to which Chef Andrés always arrives in some over-the-top way, including in a submarine on year), the ultra-luxe caviar brunch at Blue, and the (very boozy) Barefoot Beach Barbeque, complete with dance party and fireworks.
- When: Jan. 13 – 18, 2021
- Website: https://caymancookout.com/
Best Food Festival to Carbo-Load
PizzaFest – Naples, Italy
I don’t think there is any question that the festival in this category would come from Italy, but one question still remained: pasta or pizza? While pasta is perhaps Italy’s most famous culinary export, pizza retains a cult-following (is it still a cult if we’re all in it?) like no other. That probably explains why Naples Pizza Fest, which touches down on the coastal city each spring continues to draw thousands of pizza-seekers from around Europe and elsewhere.
- What to eat: Spinach salad. Just kidding…pizza. Lots of it.
- When: May 29-June 7
- Website: https://www.pizzavillage.it/en/home-page-english/
Best Food Festival if You Want to Eat While Riding a Ferris Wheel
Minnesota State Fair – St. Paul, MN
Depending on where you live, state fairs rein with varying degrees of intrigue and influence. But in Minnesota, the beloved state fair—now in its 62nd year—has proven to be one of the epicenters of regional food and general revelry. Globetrotting food and travel blogger Nicole Sunderland of (EatLiveTravelDrink) calls the annual fair “an absolute must-visit” at least one time in your life.
The Minnesota State Fair is also the second most-attended state fair in the nation (only behind Texas’ state fair), and though the food changes year-to-year, the Minnesota Star Tribune’s food critic Rick Nelson once ate his way through 53 (!) items so you don’t have you. But seriously, you should probably never eat 53 of anything at once. At last check, Nelson was said to be in stable condition.
- What to eat: Focus on the unusual like fried chicken tikka sliders, duck drumsticks, and shrimp and grits fritters—all of which were highly-regarded by Minnesota’s food critic of record.
- When: Aug. 27-Sept. 7
- Website: https://www.mnstatefair.org/
Best Food Festival If You Love Marshmallow Fluff (and Even If You Don’t)
Fluff Fest – Somerville, MA
Did you know Fluff was invented in Somerville, MA (just outside Boston)? Of course you didn’t but now you do! If you’re a fan of the pillowy sweet spread you should definitely make your way to the 16th annual Fluff Festival in Somerville, MA this September. A few insane and (I imagine) sticky activities from past Fluff Fests include rounds of Fluff cornhole, Fluff constructions, and even a Fluffy marriage proposal.
- What to eat: Fluff
- When is it: Sept. (dates TBA)
- Website: http://www.flufffestival.com/
Best Food Festival That’s Not Actually a Food Festival
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (or any other) – New Orleans, LA
New Orleans is the best food city in America (fight me) and there are about 20 different festival moments per year when the city’s unique melting pot of Creole, Cajun, and Southern fare is on display. Of the many celebrations to consider visiting for (Mardis Gras, BUKU, Big Easy Festival), my vote actually goes to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (Apr. 23 -May 3).
While JazzFest is technically a music festival, you can get more than a heaping of New Orleans best cookin’, like seafood po’ boys, gumbo & jambalaya, all set to one of the best jazz, blues, and rock music lineups you’ll find anywhere in the world.
- What to eat: Muffaletta sandwiches, shrimp po’ boys, gumbo, jambalaya, soft shell crab, fried chicken…all of it.
- When: Apr. 23-May 3
- Website: https://www.nojazzfest.com/food/
Best Festival for Garlic Lovers
Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy California
Sadly, this California festival received a deluge of national coverage last year following a horrific shooting, but the Gilroy Garlic festival forges on with three full days of great garlicky food, fun, and live entertainment planned for this July. The festival has been going strong since 1979 and folks still flock to devour garlic-laced dishes like calamari, garlic fries, garlic ice cream (yup), and more. Just don’t forget your mints, folks.
- What to eat: The heart of the Garlic Festival is Gourmet Alley, a gigantic outdoor kitchen where “Pyro Chefs” (?!) prepare flaming garlic calamari and shrimp scampi in huge iron skillets. Go there. Go there now.
- When: July 24, 25, & 26
- Website: https://gilroygarlicfestival.com/festival/food/
Best BBQ Food Festival
World Championship Barbecue Contest – Memphis, TN
BBQ is one of a few cooking styles that truly originated and flourished in the U.S., along with some influence from other global cuisines. If you’re looking to get your mitts on sticky ribs, brisket, beans, slaw, and the like, you’d be wise to head on down to Memphis in May for the World Championships of BBQ.
Related Reading: Size Matters, Grass-Fed Doesn’t & Other Secrets from a BBQ Pitmaster
Sound serious? It is. The country’s best pit crews come here to compete for $115,000 in prize money, which ain’t no hogwash, mister. And yes, there is a BBQ sauce wrestling competition (pictured above), in case you were wondering.
- What to eat: As much BBQ as your brave paper plate will hold.
- When: May 14-16.
- Website: https://www.memphisinmay.or
Best Food Festival for Pickle People (& Best Festival Name)
Picklesburgh – Pittsburgh, PA
Considering Americans eat 28 billion pickles per year (not per person), it shouldn’t be shocking that a pickle festival has grown to the size of Picklesburgh, in Pittsburgh, PA. Besides having the all-time greatest name for a food festival (sorry, Smorgasburg), this popular pageant—which pops off on the pretty 9th St. bridge—packs a punch with pickled provisions, booze, and activities for all kinds of pickle-poppin’ peeps.
- What to eat: Pickle everything. There’s even pickle beer, Eau de pickle, and dill pickle moonshine so you can practically pickle yourself. Pickle!
- When: July (dates TBD)
- Website: http://www.picklesburgh.com/
Header image courtesy of Joshua Brasted.