Once a year, Lakeland gears up for over 150 of the best competition barbecue teams from around the nation to make a monumental visit to one of the largest barbecue competitions in America. Lakeland Pigfest, an event which ended its 24 year in operation last weekend, ran from Jan. 23 to Jan. 24.
Pigfest was held this year at Lakeland Linder Airport’s Sun ‘N Fun expo campus, approximately a 30 minute drive from Florida Southern College.
The event was first started in 1997 by several Lakeland businessmen who had visited a Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) barbecue championship in 1994. The KCBS would sanction the event in 1996 just before the first annual Pigfest on March 27th 1997.
Pigfest has grown to become one of the largest annual events in Lakeland, and not only focuses on being a place for people to find excellent barbecue, but also on giving back to the community as well.
Pigfest boasts to have raised over a million dollars in its history that has gone towards several different charitable causes in the community. In 2019 they partnered with organizations like Exploration’s V and the Sun ‘N Fun Youth Education program, both of which are local charities dedicated to enriching the lives of children in Lakeland.
Pigfest isn’t just a competition for the most famous barbecue teams across the nation, there is also a backyard division sponsored by Publix for smaller and more local teams. Pigfest also features a competition where kids are able to compete under the same rules as the other divisions.
Raymond Duffy was one of the many competing teams at Pigfest this year, competing in the backyard division with his team “The Sons of Hamarchy”. Near their tent one could witness the mayhem as they prepared for the last turn-in of their barbecue for the night as they rushed to finish off the sauce.
“I’ve been competing here for 10 years now” Duffy said, “My favorite part has to be the camaraderie involved with the other teams.”
“Persistence is important in this competition, just keep trying,” Duffy said when asked about the key to success in this competition. At the end of the night, word was spreading around their group that they had won the sausage part of the competition.
Sponsors to the event include companies such as Publix, Kingsford and Coca-Cola. Pigfest is also sponsored by the City of Lakeland.
Entertainment was yet another feature of Pigfest, as bands such as The Betty Fox Band, the Rusty Wright Band, and Soul 2 Earth. The local singer-songwriter Dan Signor also put on a show. Some vendors even got in on the fun, having their own bands play songs near their booth.
Samantha Couch was among the many visitors attending Pigfest on Friday night among a group of her friends, all of them sitting on a ledge and eating barbecue.
“Honestly, my favorite parts of this entire thing are coming with all my friends old and new, as well as the fried oreos,” Couch said.
Pigfest has been an integral part of Lakeland’s culture since its inception over 20 years ago, celebrating the art of barbecue and bringing people from all over together.