A Little Ribbing

Ribs. That’s what I need right now. Big, fat, juicy, thick, obscenely greasy, dangerously smoky, cardiac-distressing, country-style ribs.

Here’s the thing. Today was supposed to be our barbecue blowout rib contest. It would have been held in an Alabama state park, open to the public, and very fun.

I’m totally serious. Before the coronavirus hit, we were toying with the idea of throwing a rib contest on National Relaxation Day. Which was today.

It would have been easy to participate, free to attend, everyone would’ve been cheerful, and nobody would have been trying to sell you timeshares in Key Largo.

We would have had live music by a band that didn’t suck. A beer truck. And—here was my favorite part—there would’ve been dogs.

These would have been shelter-dogs who needed families. Like the rescued dog I just met a few days ago. His name was Bill.

Bill’s original owner was the kind of upstanding citizen who left Bill in an outdoor kennel for 6 weeks without much food or water. Bill survived on rainwater and even ate dead leaves. When rescuers found him he was underweight and had mange so bad he couldn’t open his eyes.

I don’t want to say anything ugly here, but cruelty toward animals is the blackest of evils.

So at my rib contest these shelter-dogs would be spiffed up, spanking clean, walking around on leashes. They’d be greeting kids, licking babies, eating free meat chunks. Anyone who wanted to adopt a dog like Bill could take him home THAT DAY.

Also, anyone who wanted to be a judge could be one. And I mean, literally, anyone who could prove they had a pulse.

At least this was the idea.

Food-wise, the only rule to the contest was that it was solely about ribs. No pork. No brisket. No tofu.

And it would’ve been great. People milling around, classic-country music playing, everyone chewing, laughing, grinning. I can almost hear the sophisticated culinary conversations in the crowd now:

“Hmmmm, what a piquant, and vaguely robust mouth feel!”


“I give it five stars.”

“Mom, can we adopt a dog?”

Anyway, the reason for the nothing-but-ribs rule is that some people are surprised at how many different varieties and styles of ribs there are. In fact, it blows some peoples’ minds when they discover the Wide World of Ribs. Some folks go their whole lives thinking there is only one kind.

These poor souls.

I don’t mean to toot my own kazoo here, but I have actually judged a few barbecue competitions in the southeast. And so far, I’ve only been chased out of two towns.

Also, I have sampled ribs in almost every U.S. state—I wear this as a badge of pride. Some men collect stamps. I collect LDL cholesterol. Eating regional ribs has become a serious hobby of mine.

In fact, the first things I do when I arrive in any new locale is:

1. Find some ribs.
2. Use the bathroom at an insurance office.

That’s right. Not only am I a barbecue guy, I am a road-trip bathroom connoisseur. And I have found that the cleanest public bathrooms in America are always—without exception—in small-town insurance offices.

Think about it. When you’re on a highway and you need to relieve yourself you usually pull over at an interstate exit. Your choices are bleak. You have the rundown truck stops or the scumsucking gas stations. And you just know these bathrooms contain four or five rare strains of tetanus.

But the insurance offices. They have doilies on their toilet seats, scented candles, and little bookshelves with inspirational literature. Read “Guideposts,” enjoy a Thomas Kincade painting, relax. Let it flow.

But remember, should you ever decide to try this trick, don’t just march into an office and announce to a roomful of agents that you have an urgent need to write your name in the snow.

No. You have to be polite. Ask about new coverage policies, show some interest, listen to their spiel. Nod your head a lot. Be patient. Courteous. Try not to pee your pants.

Then politely excuse yourself and go enjoy the serenity of the world’s cutest bathroom.

Usually, after I visit the small-town insurance restroom, I immediately hunt for ribs. I will eat ribs wherever I find them. I once bought ribs from an old man grilling in front of an auto garage in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Some of the best ribs I’ve ever had. I’m not choosy.

Then again, I’m not a cultured guy, either. In fact, I’ve discovered something about myself when it comes to ribs: I’m extremely easy to impress. The only thing I look for in a rib is that it’s not made from soy.

So I don’t care if they are Saint Louis-style, short ribs, back ribs, loin ribs, spare ribs, baby backs, riblets, or rib tips. The sauce can be sweet, tangy, spicy, mustardy, black-peppery, Alabama mayo, South Carolina red, Louisiana five-alarm, loose, thick, runny, or 40-weight synthetic grade. I even like naked ribs.

So it’s a shame we weren’t able to do the National Relaxation Day Rib Contest this year, not that anyone would have cared anyway. There are plenty of more important things going on in the world.

Oh well. Maybe some other time. Maybe when this virus is over and life goes back to normal. If it ever does.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a friend, you could always adopt a lonely dog who desperately needs someone.

There are a lot of dogs like Bill out there.


  1. Toinette Keeling - August 16, 2020 6:52 am

    I’m with you both concerning kindness to animals especially adopting dear dogs like Bill, and also the goodness of ribs. Great blog post. I do hope you have opportunities soon for great holidays like the one you describe. Sounds fun.

  2. Lucretia - August 16, 2020 7:01 am

    I so enjoyed your post, Sean. Thank you for sharing your gift. I am a rib lover and I would have loved to have attended your rib-fest. I hope you will be able to invite us next year on National Relaxation Day. It will be a wonderful day for people and the dogs! Hopefully many dogs will leave to a new home and we will be so appreciative of the ribs and the company of the festivities.

  3. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - August 16, 2020 8:46 am

    When ribs are on the menu it’s hard to order anything else. Unless you’re in a suit & on your way to a wedding or something. The best rib places ought to offer Tyvek coveralls because I know I’m going to drip.
    There used to be a place in Birmingham that brought a saucer with a warm wet washcloth to everyone that ordered ribs. Genius.
    My wife can eat half a slab & barely pick up her napkin. I’ll have a pile of 12 wadded napkins that you could wring a pint of sauce out of. The steering wheel of the car will still be sticky for a week.
    It sure will be nice when things are normal again & we can all hang around the grill together.

  4. Betty Eitson - August 16, 2020 9:51 am

    We have two rescue dogs. P was left behind when his people divorced and moved. It took a hamburger to capture Jack with his broken ribs from his last encounter with people. He bites, but not too hard. We don’t blame him. The best ribs in Alabama are from @Archibald’s Barbecue in Northport. Sweet, thin hot sauce is their own recipe.

  5. topdock - August 16, 2020 10:56 am

    Best ribs I have ever eaten were at Dreamland in Tuscaloosa. Old John was still alive. Just ribs and white bread with extra sauce. Don’t ask for fries. Don’t ask for slaw or beans. Just ribs!!

  6. Bartley Rogers - August 16, 2020 12:04 pm

    Sean, evidently you have never experienced a Buc-ees bathroom. Cleanest bathrooms in the whole wide world! I’m not kidding! Buc-ees is a Texas thing, a convenience store on steroids. I can’t begin to describe what all kinds of stuff they sell, a lot of it made on site, such as bbq brisket sandwiches and some of the best fudge you have ever tasted. And, best of all(lucky you!) they now have a Buc-ees in LA! That’s right you lucky dog, Texas has come to lower Alabama in the form of spic ‘n span restrooms and 120 gas pumps. It is definitely worth a visit. You could even get a column or three out of it. Plus you would get out of your house again. Plus, Buc-ees is just plain fun! And don’t forget, cleanest bathrooms you’ve ever seen!

  7. Bobby - August 16, 2020 12:27 pm

    And as our old friend Lewis Grizzard coined, “The best way to enjoy BBQ is eating it buck nekkid next to a tub of water.” 😀

  8. Sarah - August 16, 2020 1:01 pm

    Used to be a bbq stand behind Stolz’ Grocery in Old Washington TX, run by Tom, who made the best ribs in TX. Tom was old. Next best was a roadside stand between Tyler and Longview TX run by Lightnin’ who was also Old. When he died, his second-in-command, named Noon, took over bbqing and while good, it just wasn’t up to Lightnin’s quality. Closed now. Neither of these fine places offered any extra dishes — bbq and white bread, and sauce if you wanted it!

  9. Teresa Blankenship - August 16, 2020 1:24 pm

    You put sunshine in my day. Thank you.

  10. Curtis lee Zeitelhack - August 16, 2020 1:42 pm

    The only kind of Person lower than one who abuses animals is one who abuses children.

    Dogs are the BEST! Find one and adopt!

  11. Robert M Brenner - August 16, 2020 2:05 pm

    Amen for the dogs! Remember they are “Man’s Best Friend”, especially if you have BBQ rib sauce on your face!

  12. Lou Hoover - August 16, 2020 2:20 pm


  13. Bette - August 16, 2020 2:35 pm

    NO PORK ??? Beef ribs are vastly inferior..

  14. Bette - August 16, 2020 2:37 pm

    Isn’t that in May?

  15. Patti Couger - August 16, 2020 3:04 pm

    Sean, thinking about Bill incents me to share my theory on how to handle animal abuse. The punishment should be infliction on the person of what ever he/she did to the animal!

  16. Lynn Beumer - August 16, 2020 3:04 pm

    Yes, we discovered Buck-ees on a trip back from Wimberley to Dallas. Lots of gas pump stations, but their BATHROOMS. Oh, My ! Best in my life time except maybe onennin Germanhy, whichnhad an attendant.

  17. Linda Moon - August 16, 2020 4:50 pm

    Open & Fun & Ribs. We could all use some of that right now…with ribs smothered in Alabama mayo! My kin passed the recipe for it on to me. I’d like to adopt a ‘Bill’, but my two furry cats won’t let me. They said, “No” just now when I mentioned it to them. And, honestly, no dog could ever replace my ASL-Reading dog of 18 years. I hope Bill finds a home and lives a long life, too!

  18. MAM - August 16, 2020 5:04 pm

    Our younger daughter had a family nickname when we lived and traveled overseas. No matter where we were she needed to go to the bathroom.So we called her our “international bathroom inspector.” However, she was not picky! And as for dogs—All of our dogs have been from shelters. We call them “used” dogs, but they have all been delightful and well loved in spite of their often quirky ways. And ribs—just YUM!

  19. Billy Moore - August 16, 2020 5:24 pm

    I have just survived a traumatic event. No, I didn’t have Covid. No death in the family. No one stole or ran over our three-legged cat, Hopalong Catsady. No car wreck. My internet was out for almost a week. I have a new appreciation of how an alcoholic or drug addict must feel when they are cut off. But there is a positive side. Today, with restored internet, I got to read five Sean of the South postings in one morning! I broke it into two sittings to avoid overdose. On a serious note, I really appreciate your stories on depression. I have now been on antidepressants for more than twenty years. I remember how it feels, though. It is real. If you suffer, get medical help! As Sean says, it is as real and as treatable as diptheria or influenza or diabetes. Thank you for that series of articles!

    billyloranmoore.com billyloranmoore@gmail.com (another Republic of Lower Alabama writer)

  20. Larry Cornelius - August 16, 2020 6:17 pm

    I would like to come to the next rib fest. When and where will it be? I am originally from Alabama but now live in Gainesville Ga. I have friends in the Birmingham area that like to travel for the weekend, and it could be one of our outings. We will need time to plan.

  21. Helen De Prima - August 16, 2020 7:06 pm

    I’m with you; ribs are Nature’s most perfect food, with Sausage Egg and Cheese McMuffin a close second. Pulled pork is so iffy, and brisket? Just a palette for a smoke ring.

  22. Ann O - August 16, 2020 7:49 pm

    Thank you for brightening my day with your love of ribs, dogs and cute clean bathrooms!😊

  23. Berryman Mary M - August 16, 2020 9:20 pm

    Keep us posted on the next rib fest! I’m sure we would all like to be there!

  24. MAUREEN - August 16, 2020 11:21 pm

    Sounds like a dream event. I just adopted a 2 year old rescue dog a month ago. What a joy she has been to me and is bringing so many smiles to neighbors as we go for a walk. Sure is good to focus on something other than the virus. Dogs are truly our earth angels. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face every day when I read your column.

  25. Melanie - August 17, 2020 1:29 am

    no pork? 😨 you mean no pork ribs? oh dear 😭

  26. Patricia Gibson - August 17, 2020 3:21 pm


  27. Elaine Harper - August 18, 2020 9:35 pm

    Who adopted Bill and how is he now????😘😘😘🐾🐾🐾

  28. Steve (lifer) - September 21, 2020 8:32 pm

    I think he meant pulled pork. Pork ribs are the only kind.

    • Art N - July 23, 2021 3:23 am

      There are beef ribs just not quite as good as pork ribs.

  29. Dean - September 5, 2021 2:11 am

    Could never understand why anyone would buy a dog when there are so many available and need a home in the shelters

  30. Trudy - September 5, 2021 2:31 am

    Next time you are in Memphis, try the ribs at Cozy Corner. The Best Ribs Ever. I prefer the dry rub.


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