No ribbing: Barbecue has etiquette
Jim Auchmutey – Staff
Saturday, March 6, 2004

National Barbecue Association’s trade show

9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. today, Atlanta Airport Hilton, 1031 Virginia Ave. $10 admission, $5 for each additional admission, children under 12 free with adult.

The sign outside the workshop said “barbecue etiquette.”

Chip Manning thought that sounded a little strange. “What’s etiquette got to do with barbecue?” asked the proprietor of C&J Bar-B-Que Market in College Station, Texas. “If sauce isn’t dripping down your arm, it ain’t barbecue.”

Amy millsOf all the seminars at the National Barbecue Association’s trade show, continuing through today at the Atlanta Airport Hilton, none seemed less likely than the session on etiquette. Barbecue, after all, is the most rustic of foods. Forget about the proper place setting; some barbecue joints don’t use silverware. Some don’t even have plastic. But many of the association’s restaurant members are doing more catering these days, and if getting comfortable in relatively chichi settings will add to the bottom line, they were willing to listen. The class was full.

The pink-jacketed instructor, Amy Mills Tunnicliffe of Boston, started with the messiest topic: pork ribs — or pigsicles, as some of the participants call them. No matter how fancy the affair, she said, it’s perfectly acceptable to pick them up with one’s fingers. One does not, however, extend one’s pinkie in an ostentatious show of taste.

Tunnicliffe then handed out a sheet titled “How to Eat Ribs in the Proper Manner,” with tips about everything from gnawing the bone to dabbing one’s lips with a napkin to avoid “sauce mustache.”

“Be sure to dab your mouth before taking a drink,” Tunnicliffe counseled, “as a greasy glass is quite unappetizing to your fellow diners.” Manning listened attentively, but he doubted that ribs would become a staple at his high-end jobs. They weren’t even on the menu when he fed more than 1,000 people at the Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M. “Mr. Bush loves his ribs,” Manning said. But he added, “I guess people don’t want to mess with them when they dress up.”

The National Barbecue Association’s annual conference will open to the public today with an expo featuring barbecue products, gadgetry and gear, from big tailgate smokers to little balcony grills. There will also be a sauce contest, with expo-goers doing the judging.