Zibo has become a social media star for its distinctive barbecue style. Now the city is overrun with visitors.

Diners and servers at a barbecue place in Zibo, China, May 2, 2023. (Photo: The New York Times/Qilai Shen)

The flame-shaped neon archway was visible from miles away, which was good since there was little other reason for anyone to be in that part of town, an expanse of fields outside an industrial city in eastern China.

The lights flickered between icy blue and red-hot, leaping toward the night sky beside a jumbo sign: “Zibo Barbecue Experiential Ground.”

And what an experience awaited. Inside this Coachella for barbecue, visitors could pose with a mascot dressed like a meat skewer. They could watch a concert against an LED backdrop of radiating flames. They could eat from one of the hundreds of grills scattered across the grounds the size of 12 football fields – if they waited hours for a table, and if their chosen meat purveyor hadn’t run out of food.