10 Food Festivals Worth a Pit Stop

Fuel up for the most unique (not to mention delicious!) summer food festivals across America.

By Perri O. Blumberg
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine July 2014
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Sarah Beard Buckley

Kennebunkport Festival

June 1 to 8
Bring your own lobster bib: This cozy seaside village in Maine offers up events ranging from intimate dinner parties (hosted by acclaimed chefs in magnificent mansions with stunning views) to a tented tapas party with food from around the world. While that’s all digesting, take a stroll riverside for the art show with live music. If you’re lucky, it’ll help make room for Academe restaurant’s famous Lobster Pot Pie, a dish so beloved that DIY kits are now shipped nationwide.

R.C. & MoonPie Festival

June 21
From the watermelon seed–spitting contests to clog dancing, brace yourself for head-to-toe fun at the 20th annual event honoring R.C. Cola and MoonPies in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Join the wacky ten-mile run that ends with participants indulging in the celebration’s namesake treats, or take it easy on your feet and enjoy a simple MoonPie toss. Fun fact: Festival organizers load up a whopping two semitrucks with the pillowy marshmallow sandwiches for the day’s fun. 

Photo by Stacey Irvin

Hot Chicken Festival

July 4
This volunteer-run fete in Nashville, Tennessee has attendees clucking for seconds of down-home spicy yardbird with that crackling skin you crave. Watch the annual Amateur Cooking Competition as contestants whip up atomic delights or check out the fire truck parade, complete with antique fire trucks and live jams from The Half Brass Band.

Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival

July 11 to 13
Pitmasters from local barbecue joints spoil attendees with the best of Louisville, Kentucky’s finger-lickin’-good grub. Expect staples such as chicken, ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, and roasted corn, along with traditional fairground eats like corn dogs and ice cream. When you’re not inhaling thrills from the grill, kick back to the sounds from live blues musicians (lawn chairs and blankets welcome).

iStock/Thinkstock

Tales of the Cocktail

July 16 to 20
Head down to New Orleans to treat yourself to a blur of "bon temps;" tequila tastings, cold-distilling classes, cocktail tours, gin aroma academies, and over 200 other events for cocktail connoisseurs and beginner boozehounds alike. Oh, and did we mention Hurricanes? A competition pits bartenders from near and afar head to head to stir it up with their best interpretation of the historic 1940s French Quarter cocktail.

Courtesy Vt Cheese Council

Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

July 20
Wander around idyllic, 1,400-acre Shelburne Farms to sample from the mother of all cheese plates: more than 100 cheeses from 40 local creameries. Between mouthfuls, cleanse your palate with local beer, wine, and artisanal foods. With no shortage of demos and workshops like “cooking with chocolate and cheese” or “beyond the curd,” there’s little doubt that you’ll have mounds of fun.

Widadg/Flickr

Gilroy Garlic Festival

July 25 to 27
Nobody worries about smelly breath at this 100,000 attendee–strong food fair honoring the pungent bulb, 30 miles south of San Jose, California. Garlic kettle corn? Check. French-fried garlic artichoke hearts? Check. Daring palates can also dive into hits like garlic frog legs, garlic chocolate, and garlic ice cream. Be sure to venture into Gourmet Alley, a huge outdoor kitchen, where Pyro Chefs put all flames on deck in a spectacular, fiery show that involves tossing garlic-laced calamari and scampi in massive iron skillets. P.S. Don’t forget the travel-size bottle of mouthwash!

Eric Allix Roger

The Pierogi Fest

July 25 to 27
Dive into Eastern European fare like the signature doughy stuffed dumplings, kielbasa and more at this festival in Whiting, Indiana. Or check out the beer garden to loosen up your dancing feet for the Polka Dance Off, judged by the festival's very own "Polkahontas."

iStock/Thinkstock

Pittston Tomato Festival

August 21 to 24
You say "tomato;" we say "Pittson, Pennsylvania." Join the Tomato Fight—just $8 (eye goggles included) let's you barrage fairgoers with as many rotten tomatoes as you can throw—or enter your garden's bounty into a tomato contest (Fret not, "Ugliest" is a category) at this yearly tomato jubilee that attracts over fifty thousand fans. Looking for a way to burn off all the saucy goodness? Join the 5K run which benefits Miles for Michael, an organization dedicated to helping local families fight cancer.

Lisa Haneberg

Hatch Chile Festival

August 30 and 31
Don’t say we didn’t warn you: Handle the heat in dishes like the Green Chile Cheeseburger, Green Chile Ice Cream, and Chile Colorado con Carne (a red chile and pork stew) with more than 10,000 fellow chile fanatics. Those looking to cool off can head to the beer garden at this yearly celebration in Hatch, New Mexico, honoring the town’s chile farmers. Also not to miss: mud volleyball, a mariachi competition, and the 43rd annual crowning of the Chile Queen.

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