In an industry of misfits, eccentrics, outliers and otherwise strong-willed people, barbecue pit bosses seem to crowd at one extreme end of the cooking spectrum. To say they are individuals is a gross understatement.

In an industry of misfits, eccentrics, outliers and otherwise strong-willed people, barbecue pit bosses seem to crowd at one extreme end of the cooking spectrum. To say they are individuals is a gross understatement.

This is a story about three Columbus pit bosses. One has posted a manifesto about the color of his barbecue. Another hacks open tree-trunk sections daily. The third rigged a parking lot smoker out of a commercial beverage dispenser. They're what you might call characters, but there is method to the madness. All of them are dedicated to their craft, and they want to feed you smoky goodness, eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head sides and, if you've got room, maybe a little pudding.

Columbus does barbecue its own way. It pledges no allegiance to Kansas City, Texas or the Carolinas. Like it does most things, Columbus borrows from tradition and then twists a big beautiful knot in it. Meet three of the guys who are doing barbecue their way.

Jamie Anderson of Ray Ray's Hog Pit

Age: 32

Years cooking barbecue: Started cooking professionally in 2004; opened Ray Ray's in winter 2009

Fantasy barbecue plate: Half-slab of ribs, dry rubbed with a thick hickory smoke ring. Ribs are baby back or St. Louis cut. Sides are collard greens and mac 'n' cheese.

What's in the dry rub? "It's paprika based."

Jamie Anderson looks every bit the rock 'n' roll food truck guy: His goatee, a foot or so long, is secured at regular intervals with rubber bands. Tattoos tell stories up and down his arms. That's no facade. Anderson is fiercely passionate about barbecue, and he'll tell you as much in carefully chosen words, spoken and written.

A sign next to the window at Ray Ray's is a manifesto on the deeply rosy smoke ring - color near the surface of meat that's a telltale sign it's been smoked - that encircles Anderson's slow-smoked pork and brisket. Diners who don't positively associate pink with pork must scare easily; the message explains that all the meats are slowly smoked over hours, and that yes, the meat really is done. In fact the food reaches an internal temperature that exceeds health standards. The message concludes: "I like pink ribs. I love pink ribs." Those who don't should eat elsewhere.

Anderson started cooking barbecue professionally in 2004, two years after the death of his father, a pit master who cooked barbecue in Cleveland.

"I went to a barbecue that he was doing before he got in an accident and got to see him in action," he said.

Anderson had a successful career as a photographer and didn't think he'd ever give it up.

"Then I did, and I never looked back," Anderson said.

He started out by testing barbecue at home for family, "serving a bunch of bad stuff."

"Consistently, rookies will over-smoke the meat. Part of being a veteran means the meat is slightly smoked," Anderson said. "You don't leave the meal with the smoke taste in your mouth."

Trial, error and experience have earned Anderson the title of "pit boss;" "pit master" will follow later.

"I think once I get to be old and gray, around 60 or 70," he said. "I don't use that term lightly."

The line at Ray Ray's on a weekend afternoon is a testament to how well Anderson is honing his craft. The clientele include neighborhood hipsters and suburban families.

"How do you want that?"

"I want it however Jamie makes it," a customer responds.

Jamie knows customers by name, and he's the one slicing brisket behind the counter. More than at most restaurants, visitors to barbecue joints are likely to come face-to-face with the person cooking their meal. The entire experience at Ray Ray's - from the pink-ring manifesto to the soul music piped over the comfortable seating area - feels like a deeply personal letter from the pit boss.