BBQ Festival on the Neuse organizers announce changes for this year

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KINSTON, N.C. (WITN) - In just a few short weeks, Downtown Kinston will be a busy place as thousands gather for the 36th annual BBQ Festival on the Neuse.

WITN is proud to sponsor the event on Friday and Saturday, May 5th and 6th.

Organizers have announced a few changes to enhance your festival experience.

It's the largest BBQ cook-off in our state. Last year, about 90 teams competed in the whole hog contest in one of two categories: The Professionals and The Backyard, or the locals.

This year, there's also another prize.

"The North Carolina BBQ League is giving the top scorer in natural source a trophy and the chamber is giving them a cash award," says Tammy Kelly, the Hog Happenin' chairperson.

Kelly says last year they had a handful of people competing with natural source, like wood or charcoal.

"We're one of the contests in North Carolina that has the most number of cooks that use natural source," Kelly says.

Last year was also the first year the cook teams were moved off of Heritage Street.

Normally they're stationed by the river, but Kelly says they needed more space to accommodate more teams.

"They loved it," she says. "And see the people that came to the festival had to come through them, so it was almost like a little social event coming through the teams. They got to see their friends and hang out, so it ended up being fabulous. We were really worried and really nervous, but it was great."

Kelly says the car show, which is one of the largest in the state, is returning again this year and there will also be live animals for kids at the festival.

"It's sort of 'come a little early this year' in our minds because of the flood this year, kind of set us back a little, but we're ready, we're getting there," she says. "Last year was such a change that this year we feel a little more comfortable with that, we're happy that everybody liked it, and all the businesses are very happy around us."

The BBQ judging will take place on Saturday morning and then you'll be able to feast on those dishes. Plates go on sale at 11 a.m. and you'll also get BBQ takeout at the mall.

Along with takeout at the Vernon Park Mall, don't forget you can also catch a free shuttle to the festival there Friday and Saturday.