Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em: Harvard students’ device makes perfect brisket

harvard students smoker makes amazing brisket
Jim Bowie / Shutterstock
We’re trying and failing to remember a final exam as delicious as this one: Students in Professor Kevin Kit Parker’s Engineering Problem Solving and Design class at Harvard were tasked with designing a smart smoker to make a flawless brisket.

A barbecue enthusiast, Parker paired with Williams-Sonoma and challenged the budding engineers to make an intuitive, connected smoker for less that $1,000. Roughly 220 pounds of brisket and several 13-hour cooking sessions later, the students came up with an hourglass-shaped prototype that reliably makes tender, juicy meat.

The Harvard Smoker maintains both a constant flow of smoke to the meat, and a consistent, low temperature, staying  below 120 degrees Fahrenheit at first in order to tenderize the brisket, and then heating up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit over a 15-hour period, according to The Boston Globe. The 16 students who worked on the project range from bioengineers to environmental engineers, but according to Parker, the class teaches them all principles of heat transfer, materials science, chemistry, and prototyping.

After experimenting on commercially available smokers, the students decided on a material and shape for their device. The ceramic smoker’s shape helps deliver a uniform temperature throughout the meat, so certain parts didn’t overheat and dry out. Sensors on the cooking surface keep track of the temperature and deliver feedback to a smartphone app.

To test the students’ results, Parker and his teaching fellow became certified judges through the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The evaluation process relies upon three criteria:  taste, appearance, and texture. The brisket from the Harvard Smoker garnered a nine, the highest score, according to Williams-Sonoma reps. “They’ve gone from basic science to really understanding how you optimize for flavor and texture,” Patrick Connolly, chief strategy officer for the company, told The Boston Globe.

Harvard is now working on a patent for the device, and if licensing and development follow, maybe one day you’ll be able to taste a perfectly engineered brisket.

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