My Old Kentucky Home BBQ

If there’s one thing that Bardstown is known for – other than bourbon – it’s tradition and the feeling of nostalgia that goes with it.

For half-a-century, the weekend of Kentucky Derby was capped off with a festive barbecue on the lawn at Wickland Estate, the 209-year-old Georgian mansion that was home to three governors (two in Kentucky and one in Louisiana).
The barbecue became a “must-do” event of Derby weekend, attracting celebrities and politicians as well as regulars who loved some good ‘cue washed down with beer or bourbon. At its peak, it had grown to 5,000 attendees.
So popular was it that by 2015, the event had outgrown Wickland’s grounds, and the organizers moved the barbecue to Louisville, thinking that Derby City would prove a natural new home.
They thought wrong. In basketball parlance, Louisville proved a one and done. Was a much-loved tradition a thing of the past?
Not in the eyes of Jeremy Riggs, park manager at My Old Kentucky Home State Park. In 2019, Riggs actively began planning to return the barbecue to its original home in Bardstown. Only this time it would be held at the state park which provided much more space for revelers.
As Riggs says, the park not only provided more space, but a larger staff as well. Even the sponsor, the Pork Producers of Nelson County, were re-invigorated by the thought of a return. All systems were go. But suddenly that green light changed abruptly to a blazing red.
Just as Barbecue at My Old Kentucky Home was set to debut, COVID reared its ugly head, and as Riggs says, “We were forced to outwait it.”
They did, and in 2023, the legendary barbecue came home to Bardstown welcomed by………..a downpour that Riggs says resembled a monsoon.
“It poured for most of the day,” he says, “But we still had almost 1,000 people and they had a ball.”
Riggs is hoping that this year’s event, which will take place Sunday, May 5th from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. will have better weather and even more people to enjoy it, although he says, “we will be prepared with plenty of tents and shelters just in case.”
One thing guests are sure to enjoy at this year’s barbecue, billed as “a burgoo picnic,” is the thick stew that Kentucky has come to claim as its own.
According to Riggs, there will be “at least 50 gallons of burgoo made from the Pork Producers’ original recipe of three meats, vegetables and spices that is well over 80 years old.”
In addition to the burgoo, pulled pork, baked beans and baked apples will also be on the menu.
To wash down the food, Bardstown’s Smith Brothers Distributing Company will have a 62-foot Budweiser Bar; Heaven Hill Distillery will have a spirits bar offering Elijah Craig, Larceny and Evan Williams among other bourbons, and in a nod to the Derby, a special mint julep bar will also be available.
The cost of admission ($30 in advance on, and $35 the day of the event) includes all food; there will be a cash bar for all alcoholic beverages.
What is a Derby event, and especially this year’s 150th Derby event, without music? Guests won’t have to worry as there will be plenty available in the rotunda outside the park’s visitor center.
Opening will be Nathan and Chesi Arnett from Magoffin County whose passion for bluegrass took them all the way to a contract with Rancho Mirage, California-based Turnberry Records and the 2019 season of “The Voice.” The Arnetts will perform from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
This year’s headliner will be the Louisville Crashers, whose career arc has taken them from NBC’s official pre-game band at Super Bowl XLVI to sharing the stage with the likes of Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Aerosmith.
The group will interact with the crowd during their set which features hits from the 50s through today. The band will take the stage at 2:00 p.m. and play until the barbecue ends at 5:00 p.m.
Get your tickets now for the My Old Kentucky Home Barbecue, and honor both the 150th Run for the Roses and the event’s homecoming to Bardstown. And be prepared for a little nostalgia.