Barbecue's an art, not a science. For every traditionalist Michelangelo of Meat there's a Banksy of Brisket that comes along and breaks all the rules. But despite the broad interpretations of how to cook and eat barbecue, there are some cardinal pieces of etiquette that all good smokers should heed. Take note of these 14 dos and don'ts, lest your barbecue experience be the pits.
Smoker tech has taken much of the guesswork out of cooking, but the human element is what takes barbecue from good to great. There's no hard-and-fast rule to how to cook low and slow in terms of gas, wood, or charcoal. No matter the method, you must fan those flames with love.
Don't compare your meal to other restaurants while eating
Most barbecue fiends have a personal ranking of favorites, but keep your mouth closed when you're chewing. That chopped pork might not square up to the Skylight Inn's, but don't spoil everyone's experience by spitting out your opinions.
Don't automatically use sauce
Some purists might tell you saucing is a sin, but a solid sauce can definitely take meat to the next level. That said, you wouldn't smother a nice steak in ketchup without at least taking a bite first. Give the meat a chance to shine before squirting it with sauce.
Don't praise tenderness over flavor
If you don't need teeth to eat that beef, that doesn't make it the greatest. Same with ribs falling off the bone. A mushy texture is often a pitmaster's crutch.
Don't worry too much about equipment
Everyone starts somewhere. You don't have to go all-in on a thousand-dollar smoker, a simple grill is enough to get started.
Don't use liquid smoke
Don't let it get cold
A quick Instagram never hurt anyone, but a pitmaster works damn hard to ensure that meat comes out at a specific temperature, so don't idle.
Goat, rabbit, chicken neck, beef tongue -- go wild. It takes real finesse to make the lesser cuts shine, so if they're on a menu, odds are they're something the restaurant is proud of and are worth giving a bite.
Do know your pit
Even two identical smokers are going to heat differently, so if you're cooking at home it's crucial to know your equipment like the back of your hand.
Do reheat your BBQ correctly
There's still life in them bones! Tomorrow's barbecue might never be as good as today's, but follow these tips to make sure it's as good as can be.
Do ask questions
Appreciate your meat. Occasionally time shrivels a pitmaster into a crusty old burnt-end, but usually they love to talk about their process. Ask them about the wood they use, their smoker, and how long the meat has been cooking. You'll likely be rewarded with an extra bite or two.
The key to improving as a home cook (especially as an amateur pitmaster!) is practice, practice, and more practice. Also beer, but mostly practice, so if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He does eat barbecue whenever he can and does not ever turn down a good brisket. Follow him to both moist and lean tweets at @Dannosphere.