It’s Almost Grillin’ Time at the South Sound BBQ Festival


Some people say spring smells like freshly cut grass or newly bloomed lilacs. For the rest of us, it’s the mouth-watering whiff of smoke and spice unique to outdoor grilling. Whether you’re cooking humble hotdogs or high-end Wagyu, briny halibut or plant-based burgers, a barbecue lends flavor and fun to any meal. On July 8, the Lacey South Sound Chamber hosts this year’s South Sound BBQ Festival and there’s still plenty of time to sign up as participant or vendor.

2023’s Festival fun runs from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 8, with the on-site beer garden running from 12 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Lacey’s Huntamer Park.

large crowd milling around the pop up tents at the South Sound BBQ Festival
The 2023 South Sound BBQ Festival is just around the corner, sign up as a vendor, Pro, or Backyard Joe today. Photo courtesy: Lacey South Sound Chamber

Calling All Pros, Backyard Joes and Tasty Barbecue Vendors

The South Sound BBQ Festival welcomes everyone both to eat and participate. Have themed items to sell? Make delicious sauces and spice rubs? Invent a perfectly balanced slaw? Sign up to be a vendor today. Chamber Executive Director Blake Knoblauch encourages vendors to submit their application forms right away. “Last year was our first year back after COVID,” says Knoblauch, “and 22,000 attended.” That’s a lot of potential new customers.

The team is also looking for Backyard Joes. These amateur grillers compete in one of four categories: chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork or Joe’s choice. They can set up 24 hours before judging and prepare their showstopper to win prizes, trophies and adoring fans. Simply fill out this year’s application and start practicing now.

Backyard Joes can’t sell to the public since they’re saving the best for judging, but the BBQ Festival is looking for culinary professionals as well. The pro-food application is accepting submissions now – and stomachs are growling across Thurston County as they read this – so come prepared. The Chamber’s event manager Cheryl Sparkuhl is happy to answer questions at, the Chamber office or 360.491.4141. If your family, group, club or organization would like to volunteer for the event, reach out to Chery Sparkuhl as well.

large barbecue grill piled high with meat
The Festival welcomes grillers galore to wow judges and the audience with their tastiest meats and treats. Sign up early to secure your spot and participate. Photo courtesy: Lacey South Sound Chamber

So Much to Do, See and Try at the South Sound BBQ Festival

Chris Lester owns The Tailgate BBQ and knows the BBQ Festival inside and out. He started out as a Backyard Joe for his first two events before getting a business license in 2012. Since then, he’s been a fan-favorite vendor. “I truly love this event as well as the July 3rd Fireworks Extravaganza,” says Lester. “I believe that the Chamber and the City of Lacey do an amazing job providing a perfect place for people to come together and celebrate this community. This is one of those events that there is something for everyone, music, chicken wing eating contest, food, local business booths, bands and all kinds of performances on the stage.”

And he’s right, there there’s more than just food at the South Sound BBQ Festival. All-ages excitement is around every corner. For the 21+ crowd, this year’s beer and wine garden has been moved into a closed off street giving it much more room. Bands will perform at both the beer garden and Huntamer Park main stage.

America’s Credit Union is sponsoring the chicken wing contest for youth and adults and there will be a Kid’s Zone of games and interactive fun. Admission is always free. You can find a list of BBQ Festival vendors, sponsors and performers on the event’s Facebook page.

kid eating a bunch of chicken wings out of an orange bowl, face is covered in bbq sauce
There’s even a fun (if messy!) chicken wing eating contest for kids and adults, sponsored by America’s Credit Union. Photo courtesy: Lacey South Sound Chamber

The BBQ World is Going Strong

You don’t have to be a professional pitmaster to appreciate barbecue. A method of cooking that’s as good for inexpensive cuts of meat as it is for high-grade options, it can handle just about anything you toss on top. Local Olympia-fresh oysters, ears of corn, seafood, portobello mushroom caps, which are perfectly sized for a hamburger bun, sausages, asparagus spears, you name it and it can be grilled, skewered, smoked or seared.

There are endless options wherever you look showcasing regional specialties, historical recipes and wild new trends. The Barbecue Bible says 2023 is the year of the Budget-que, the rotisserie, unusual global fusions or flavors and high-tech toys as a way of “transforming inexpensive cuts of meat into gustatory wonders through the careful application of spice, wood smoke, and patience,” say authors. Even the Bayview School of Cooking has Korean BBQ and Grilling Skills primers on their Spring 2023 class list.

Folks wanting to participate in the 2023 South Sound BBQ Festival as vendor, pro, or Joe should confirm their spot by mid-June. Don’t wait too long or you might miss out. And when it comes to barbecue, an empty plate is truly tragic…unless you’re going in for seconds.

For information, including how to sign up as a vendor, visit the South Sound BBQ Festival website.


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