BBQ – Is it Science or Art?

This is the first 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 the second installment, the third installment, the fourth installment, and the fifth installment.


There’s the old saying, “Eating is a necessity. Cooking is an ART.”  When you are about to descend on Austin, Texas to eat some of the world’s best barbecue, the first part is certainly true. The second part? Well, I’ll reserve judgment on that until after the weekend.

As you may have read or, if you are in Austin, seen for yourself, GE has a 12’ tall brilliant super smoker that is part of a whole interactive experience around the Science of BBQ that we are hosting. Lucky me… That will be my grill for the next three days. And what’s even cooler? I will be grilling with some of Austin’s top pitmasters – Evan Leroy and Aaron Franklin as part of GE’s Science of BBQ experience at SXSW.

The GE brilliant smoker is not your typical smoker. It will be outfitted with the tools of science (sensors and data collection) to track every step and aspect of the BBQ experience.  I am excited!! As a GE scientist who analyzes data from the machines we make, like jet engines, for a living, I can’t wait to see what we learn from our brilliant smoker. I must admit having a personal interest here – I love to barbecue!

When you see pitmasters like Evan and Aaron in action, you think barbecuing must be an art. But this weekend, we will gather the data and see for ourselves. Throughout the weekend, I will be posting regular updates on our experience in the pit.  It’s one I am really looking forward to.

My colleague, Jim Vartuli, a materials scientist, will also be at SXSW. He will participate in a food panel on Saturday with a celebrity chef, Katie Button, talking about the similarities between food creation and materials innovation. You would be surprised how much scientific thinking appears to go into cooking.

Between Jim and I, we will try answer the big question – is BBQ an art, or is it a science? Stay tuned and check back to  for updates. And if you’re at SXSW, stop by from some delicious BBQ.


1 Comment

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