Northeast Tennessee loves to come together to celebrate food! Whether a local or a visitor to the region, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to munch your way through saucy barbecue, delectable chocolates, and exotic international cuisines at Northeast Tennessee’s many food-focused festivals. Read on to find out when, where and how to attend these fabulous annual culinary events throughout the year.
Unicoi County Apple Festival
Each October, the little city of Erwin closes five full blocks of its downtown and welcomes over 100,000 people to the beloved Unicoi County Apple Festival. This year will mark the 43rd annual event, and will host over 350 craft vendors in addition to live music, kids’ games and activities, and contests like the Miss Apple Festival Pageant and the Apple Dumpling Contest.
The festival’s many enticing food offerings range from barbecue and burgers to Chinese and Greek fare, and of course, all things made with apples. Entrance to the Apple Festival is free, but guests should expect to pay for parking in surrounding lots.
Bristol Pepper Fest
For spicy food fanatics, there is truly no better event than the Pepper Fest held in downtown Bristol. The fiery festival is held annually in October and features live music, food trucks, kids activities, and an adorable pepper-themed pet costume contest. Brave souls can even register to compete in the Ultimate Pepper Eating Challenge, where they will attempt to eat their way through eight impressively hot peppers. The Bristol Pepper Fest takes place downtown along State Street and is free to attend.
Racks by the Tracks
Barbecue enthusiasts will be on Cloud Nine at this annual two-day festival held each May in Kingsport. Saturday attendees are invited to purchase food from the barbecue competitors, and then vote for their favorites in four separate People’s Choice Awards categories. While entrance to the barbecue portion of the festival is free for everyone, guests also have the option to purchase tickets, which range from $20 to $80 to special events like the live concert, a wine tasting area, and a craft beer sampling event. Make sure to purchase tickets in advance, and check out the parking and shuttle information before you go.
Spring Wing Fling
This exciting food-lovers’ event is an extension of Racks by the Tracks and is held on the Friday evening before the barbecue festival opens at the Kingsport Farmers Market. Guests at the Spring Wing Fling are invited to sample wings from a dozen different vendors and then cast votes for their favorites. There are also awards given for wing sauces but those are decided by a panel of judges. Aside from the variety of delicious wings, attendees can also enjoy music from a live DJ, beer and wine, and additional food options for those who aren’t in the mood for wings.
Jonesborough Chocolate Fest
Just in time for Valentine’s Day in February, Jonesborough will host the 5th annual Chocolate Fest throughout its historic downtown. Guests can look forward to sampling all different kinds of delectable chocolates, from truffles and fudge to dipped fruit and hot cocoa. Various businesses around Jonesborough act as stops during the Chocolate Fest and attendees can visit as many or as few of the participating shops as they choose. Each chocolate treat costs one ticket, and guests are encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance to be picked up at the event.
Elizabethton Covered Bridge Celebration
The small town of Elizabethton is perhaps best known for the beautiful 19th-century bridge spanning the Doe River, which is situated near the charming downtown area. Each June, the bridge becomes the center point of a weekend-long family-friendly celebration complete with live music, crafts, classic cars, and fireworks. Each year, dozens of local food vendors come out and serve fair favorites for event-goers to enjoy alongside the array of entertainment.
Rogersville Heritage Days Festival and Chili Cookoff
This year will mark the 41st anniversary of Rogersville’s Heritage Days Festival, a free family-oriented event that springs up each October on the town’s historic Main Street. On the Friday night before the festival, the Hale Springs Inn plays host to the much-awaited annual Chili Cookoff, where local cooks compete with their chili creations while attendees taste test, enjoy adult beverages, and listen to live music. The festival itself, which takes place on Saturday and Sunday, offers additional food vendors, a kids’ costume contest, local crafts, a vintage car showcase, demonstrations of heritage skills, and much more.
Thirsty Orange Beer Festival
If you like craft beer, you certainly don’t want to miss the Thirsty Orange Beer Festival in Johnson City’s Founder’s Park. The April event features over 150 craft beers and ciders, some of which hale from as near as down the street and others from all across the globe. The festival offers live music, food trucks, and mobile beer infusers, as well as special events like the Thirsty Orange Brew Off and the Tennessee Championship of Beers. Purchase your tickets to Thirsty Orange early— they begin at just $35 and increase as the event draws nearer.
For even more food festivals and events, visit Northeast Tennessee’s Event page.
Written by Madison Eubanks for Matcha in partnership with NETTA.
Featured image provided by Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association