The GE BBQ Center is open, innovating and serving some delicious BBQ

This is the third in a five-part series of dispatches from GE’s Science of Barbecue Experience at South by Southwest. Our state-of-the-art Brilliant Super-Smoker is outfitted with sensors to collect data as our barbecue cooks and two GE Global Research scientists are on hand to serve as pitmasters and interpret the data. Click here to read the first installmentthe second installmentthe fourth installment, and the fifth installment.


Another Good Morning from Austin, Texas! Yesterday was the first day the GE BBQ Research Center was open to the public and we were super busy to say the least. We served over 1,300 people genuine Texas BBQ, and it was Excellent!!!!  The venue was flooded with people, with more standing in line! This, I have learned, is a good sign here at SXSW!!

People were eating some very tasty ice cream made with liquid nitrogen;  I had some excellent BBQ sauce whipped up in our chemistry BBQ lab; and people just loved the “Your Brain on BBQ” station.  It was booked solid from 1-6 p.m.!

Our very own GE Researcher Jim Vartuli participated in the panel discussion on “Cooking at 2,400F” with Katie Button, Chemical Biomolecular Engineer and Chef and Owner of Curate, and Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, both of AsapSCIENCE. He did a fabulous job!  Katie was interested in some specially designed high temperature cookware and Jim assured her GE could do it but… at a price!  Katie is going to hold off on that! At the end of the day, we got a real BBQ treat. One of the great Texas Pit Masters, Kent Black of the famous Black’s BBQ, addressed the crowd and did a BBQ show-and-tell.  We even got to sample some his great BBQ – simply delicious.

We smoked 65 pounds of brisket, 6 pounds of sausage, 40 pounds of ribs, 25 pounds of chicken and 10 pounds of tofu yesterday! Not a morsel left.  The highlight was the smoker and the data.  People would come up and ask, “This is Texas and we do BBQ. Why is GE bringing  this monster smoke pit full of sensors?”  We would talk to them about how GE is driving the Industrial Internet and we want to connect our machines that power the world. We want to make our factories brilliant and it starts with making our manufacturing operations smarter. We want to provide our operators with the ability to see how their manufacturing process is performing, so they better understand how to optimize their operations, scheduling, supply chain etc. We explained that the sensor-enabled smoker is an analogy for our manufacturing equipment.

Evan Leroy, Pit Master at Freedman’s, is the operator and with the data provided to him, he is able to understand how the pit is running to make things a lot easier. He doesn’t have to keep opening it up, touching the meat and looking at the color all the time, which lets out the smoke and changes the temperature of the pit because the door is open.  He KNOWS how the meat is cooking because he can watch the temperature profiles on the screen.  This provides him with a more even heat, constant smoke velocity and more reproducible BBQ! I am starting to sound like one of our manufacturing engineers.

In fact, the kind of line of sight Evan is getting is just like what we want to provide our manufacturing process operators for their machines. But having a generator that is sensor-enabled at SXSW would not be nearly as interesting to people so… we sensor enabled a BBQ Pit.  People GOT it!! Now they are waiting for GE to take it on the BBQ circuit tour!!!

The Experiments

Let’s talk data, the experiments yesterday were around how the brisket was wrapped and how that affected the bark, ring, moistness and flavor and we had two different rubs: Salt and pepper and Salt, pepper and garlic. In the picture below you can see the ring is much more pronounced in the sample on the left, the brisket wrapped in the LeRoy style bowl.  This is what we want when smoking meats.  You can also see that there is significantly less juice around the slices.  This does not mean it was dry, this means that the juices sitting in the bowl on the lean side of the brisket continued to cook but the juices were reabsorbed into the collagen of the meat.  Hands down the foil wrapped brisket had the best ring, was moist and delicious!  The rub is a matter of personal taste.  I will be making mine with salt, pepper and garlic at home!

brisket 1

The Chicken experiment compared a salt and pepper rub vs. brine vs. marinade.  We took a customer survey poll, and brine was the winner, with a deeper, smokier flavor than the others.  A close second was the salt and pepper rub that was juicier and smoky at the same time.  The marinade was good, but just not like the others.  My personal favorite was the salt and pepper rub.


One of the most surprising things we learned from the data was from the relative humidity sensor. We had a pan of water in the smoker and thought we could control the relative humidity, but it really had no effect.  However, we would see it spike at various times in the process.  We found the cause was the wood being used.  It is year-old oak post wood. Every time we added more wood the humidity spiked because of the moisture evaporating from the wood.  We learned that by giving the fire a constant feed, one or two pieces every 30 minutes, we were able to regulate the humidity much better and keep the smoke flying!!!

Well, it is time to get the fires burning again.  Last night we loaded up 130 pounds of brisket, and they are already resting this morning!  Stay tuned for today’s experiment, we planned to smoke pork loins and optimize the resting time but they are expecting an even bigger crowd today so they had to order even more food!  That could change the laboratory experiment menu. Hopefully, everything will “scale up” nicely on the cooking front.

All the best from Texas!


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