Humans being smart, the first thing they probably did after discovering fire was to throw some meat over it. So America may not be the birthplace of barbecue. It’s just the place where barbecue become perfect.

A handful of people have shaped American barbecue into what it is today. They’ve elevated our primordial instinct into something amazing, and they’re in a class of their own. Here are some of the most influential pitmasters and BBQ personalities in the country.