Ice tongs are sometimes used behind the bar for hygienic reasons – they keep the bartender from touching the ice. Health departments love them for adding ice, fruit, garnish, etc to a glass. But from what I’ve seen, they are much more trouble than they are worth.

Of course, some bars do use them (I find, usually lower volume, higher end cocktail bars) and some bartenders like the extra showmanship that goes along with. However, it seems the majority of bartenders find them frustrating – ice tongs are slow, slippery and frankly, pretty annoying if your bar is ten people deep on a Friday night.

Hygiene & The Law:

Every once in a while a well-meaning legislature will pass a food safety law that attempts to limit bartenders’ ability (and frequency) of touching raw ingredients. In California, a few years ago, Bartenders were briefly required to wear gloves when making drinks or handling garnishes. Eventually the industry won the repeal, arguing that following existing hand washing rules was just as safe and hygienic for food preparation.

When it comes to ice tongs, I’m going to have to agree. As long as you’re washing your hands frequently and following the standards you likely learned during your TIPS or ServSafe certification, your drinks should be perfectly safe to drink.

Personal preference

Rumor has it, some bartenders find tong use to be second nature, providing an excellent way to keep the glass clean while also making perfect drinks. Personally, I’ve never met one of these bartenders. I’m sure with practice anyone could become very quick with ice tongs, but usually they are such a liability bartenders won’t have time to “get up to speed.”

That said, I have seen tongs used beautifully in a cocktail competition – and in that case, I felt their use (and the bartenders skill with them) contributed to his eventual win. Anecdotal evidence seems to show that Japanese bartenders may use Ice tongs more often, but I can’t say I have personal experience to back that up. (Do you? Let me know in the comments below!)

Choosing the right Ice Tongs for the job

In the photos, I’ve taken a picture of the three sets of ice tongs I own. I only ever use one of them – the other two are terrible and absolutely unusable. Can you guess which? Hint: Grip!

Look at the ends of all three sets of tongs – the first and third above can’t grip ice at all and are extremely frustrating to use. The ones in the middle are my go-to tongs when needed. The “teeth” at the end of the tongs grips ice well and (with a bit of care) won’t chip or scratch up your beautiful ice.

Too often, folks only own the ice tongs that came with their ice bucket – and that’s exactly how I came to own the two “unusable” pairs above. If you’re not using your tongs because your own tongs are awful, I get it! But consider investing $10 in a good pair and you mind find they get a bit more use.

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Types of Ice Tongs:

There are a huge variety of ice tong types out there – some weirder looking than others.
Here’s my personal preference. (Affiliate link) $5 for one or $6 for 6, it doesn’t get cheaper. Plus, they don’t look bad and have a good grip at the end as well. If you’re looking for a go-to pair, I’d start with these.

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To Tong or Not to Tong?

What do you do? Do you use tongs at your bar? Why or why not?  Let me know in the comments!

P.s. Don’t Forget the Scoop:

By the way – whatever you do, don’t use ice tongs to fill your shaker with ice. Really, that’ll take forever. Stick with a good old fashioned ice scoop (or your shaker tin) for that. (Affiliate link)

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.