QUESTION: At a dinner party recently we were served fried chicken. In my family, we were taught to use the knife and fork to cut meat from the bone. Several of the guests picked their chicken up and ate it with their hands. What is proper?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Fried chicken is an informal meal, although I have a disgusting image in my head of someone eating a fried chicken leg with their fingers as they make sure they get every bit of it off the bone.
It is proper for me not to lose my appetite watching you eat. Please use your utensils. THANKS!
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Usually fried chicken is served in a casual setting, and I was taught that it is OK to use your hands — and lots of napkins — then when eating it.
However, it is always greasy and messy and I would rather not make a scene when doing that, so I try to eat it as discreetly as possible, or I use a fork to help take the chicken off the bone.
Carey Sue Vega of Expeditions in Etiquette includes a lesson about eating chicken on the bone in one of her etiquette/cotillion classes for high school students.
In it, she serves baked chicken at a formal event and teaches them to eat it with a fork and knife.
“We are preparing the students for that uncomfortable business dinner/eventfundraiser when they’re faced wtih something challenging on their plate,” she wrote in an email. “They’ll have that experience to pull from to help make them feel comfortable and confident.
However, she notes, eating fried chicken depends on the setting.
At a picnic, fried chicken is finger food and best eaten with a napkin and without licking your fingers.
“If you’re still left wondering which way to go, watch your host or hostess … and follow their lead,” Vega said.
HELEN’S ANSWER: If you have fried chicken at a picnic and in a really casual setting, you can use your hands. If you have fried chicken in a restaurant and sometimes at home, use a knife and fork. If the chicken is greasy, use the fork.
If your hostess serves fried chicken at a dinner party, she will probably say pick it up and eat it with your hands. However, I personally think that chicken requires a knife and fork in most circumstances. It is not fun watching someone trying to get all the meat from the bones.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Christina Nihira, journalist and community volunteer. Many foods are yummy. Yet knowing the proper way to eat different types may not be ingrained in everyone. Fried chicken easily fits into that category. The traditional knife and fork rule does apply here especially because it’s at a dinner party.
The same goes for turkey or duck.
Fried chicken, served at a picnic or as an appetizer, is considered more casual so it’s perfectly fine to use your hands.
So knowing the setting and understanding the social situation should help guide you in the future.