The aroma of wood smoke and succulent meat wafted up Sparks Street yesterday, wrinkling the noses of the vegetarians, watering the mouths of the carnivores and signalling the opening of the 18th annual International Chicken-Rib Cook-off.

Eleven BBQ outfits from Canada and the U.S. have come to share their pork (and chicken) prowess with the public this year. Today, a panel of the judges will perform their solemn duties and taste test entries for best rib choice, best rib sauce, best chicken choice and best chicken sauce. Winners will be announced Sunday at 3 p.m.

“Everybody has the same meat, so it’s all in the sauce, how they prepare it, cook it, even the wood they use,” says the Sparks Street Mall’s Sharon McKenna.

The contestants’ signature sauce, while absolutely essential to the experience, can make for messy dining, especially if one can’t find a perch on one of the benches or picnic tables on which to consume it.

Enter the Sticky Fingers Brigade, which provides much-needed wet naps, in return for a donation to the Children’s Wish Foundation. This year, they’ll attempt to beat their fundraising record for the cook-off, $14,000.

“That’s almost two wishes,” said McKenna.

Many Sparks Street restaurants are inviting guests to bring their ribs to their patios, order a drink, and enjoy the slow and low-cooked feast in style.

The Chicken-Rib Cook-off continues until Sunday at 6 p.m.