Every state hosts at least one massive summer gathering of all things fatty, pulled, smoked, and grilled. Here’s how to enjoy top-quality BBQ while surviving with your health intact.

1. Brisket, then beer

Eat some meat first—the food will slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol, keeping you sober longer. A beef base will also “slow the blood-sugar spike, so you’ll store less fat,” says Liv Langdon, of Liv Lang & Prosper.

2. Go “Carolina” with the coleslaw

You’ll be tempted—especially if you like your BBQ Memphis-style—to pile on the (usually mayo-packed) slaw. So look for cooks hawking Carolina-style fare to find a less-fatty, vinegar-based variety.

3. No sauce? No prob.

Since most cook-offs feature pro chefs cooking top-quality meats, you won’t need heavy sauces to “fix” them. “BBQ sauces are notorious for hidden sugars,” says Lori Zanini, R.D., of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If a ’cue needs a lot of sauce, skip it.

4. One H2O, one beer

Sage advice from Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly’s first-ever BBQ editor: “Eating tons of salty meat can sneak up on you and dehydrate you before you know it.” So drink even more water than you would for a typical outdoor event.