BBQ Science Experiments Reveal Winning Rack of Ribs

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


Another Good Morning from Austin Texas!  This is my last morning in Austin – tomorrow I will be flying back to winter in Upstate New York.  Yesterday was even crazier than the day before, we served somewhere between 1,500 – 1,700 people genuine Texas barbeque!!

Along with the glow of barbecuing under the hot sun, the glare of the cameras was there as well. It was a big media day.  I don’t know; I’m not used to it, but the media was everywhere.  Every time you turned around someone had a microphone and camera in your face.  And I don’t mean just me! You looked around the area and there were little pods of people being interviewed against all of the interesting posters, chemical displays, BBQ FYIs etc.  There were also famous people here. Adrian Grenier from Entourage was chillin’ – it was a crazy!

GE's Greg Petroff, second from right, is joined, from left to right, by Eater's Amanda Kludt, Modernist Cuisine's Scott Heimendinger, and musician/culinary entrepreneur Questlove for a panel on "The Art and Science of Food Innovation."
GE’s Greg Petroff, second from left, is joined, from left to right, by Eater’s Amanda Kludt, Modernist Cuisine’s Scott Heimendinger, and musician/culinary entrepreneur Questlove for a panel on “The Art and Science of Food Innovation.”

On to the more important stuff!  Our very own Greg Petroff shared the stage with Questlove, a culinary entrepreneur and renowned musician (you’ll recognize him on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), as well as Scott Heimendinger from Modernist Cuisine and Amanda Kludt, Editor-in-Chief of Eater. They discussed “The Art and Science of Food Innovation.”  Questlove talked about a recent experience he had where he was served a postage stamp size meal.  All the flavors were there but not very filling he said!  When asked about GE and BBQ, Greg pointed out that GE is innovating to build the Internet of Things and Brilliant Factories and that we currently sensor enable our devices such as aircraft engines and locomotives just like we sensor enabled the BBQ pit. He did a great job and the talk was well received.

Long lines

Then the feast began: 130 pounds of brisket, 30 pounds of ribs, 15 pounds of tofu and smoked beets.  The line was serpentine!  Evan LeRoy was slicing and dicing for a couple hours.  It never slowed down until the food was gone! It was awesome!

Testing BBQ Theories

Brisket Experiment Day 2

The experiment we did yesterday was “Low and Slow” vs. “High and Fast.” We smoked two racks of ribs over low heat for 6 hours and three racks of ribs over higher heat for 4 hours. We were able to do this using the top rack of the smoker for the “low” cooking and the bottom rack of the oven for the “high” cooking. So I obviously do not mean “low” and “high” placement, I am talking about “low” and “high” temperatures. With the real-time sensor data we could see on the user interface, we were able to adjust the feed rate of the fuel to keep the bottom rack that is directly over the firebox hotter than the top rack.

BBQ Smoker sign

To measure the results we again conducted a customer survey and again, we had a fly-away winner, “Low and Slow”!!!  Customers commented that the “low and slow” had a nice ring, great flavor, delicious and not greasy, but my favorite comment was, “tender with an aftertaste of smoke”.  That exactly describes what I felt.  I took a bite, it was amazingly tender and juicy and then… BAM!  Smokey! OMG!  These have to be made again!  And luckily, we are making more today!

Wrapping Up Another Day In Austin

I met up with an old friend and former GRC intern, Morgan Intrator.  He is living in Austin and is a young entrepreneur with some amazing ideas.  Follow him on his blog “Morgan at Work”.  Morgan, Todd Alhart and I went out to Justine’s a very nice French restaurant east of downtown.  It was great to get away from some of the hustle and bustle!  The meal was also fabulous!

I returned to the BBQ to help Evan wrap the brisket but he decided to let them smoke at an even slower rate and said we would not wrap them until the morning.  His Sous chef was keeping him company so I hung out a while, then the team from Sheet Metal Alchemists, fabricators of the Brilliant Super Smoker, stopped by and hung out a bit.  It’s the first time I felt like I was at a bonfire in a downtown metropolis!!!  Very relaxing and enjoyable.  I took a pedicab home.  They are great!  Every city needs a fleet of bicycles as cabs instead of honking horns!!

Today, Evan and I are on a panel discussion with Aaron Franklin of Franklin BBQ, rated No. 1 by Texas Monthly.  The discussion will be moderated by Daniel Vaughn, BBQ Editor of Texas monthly. We will be discussing “Can Science and Data Influence the Future Taste of BBQ?

Stay tuned for the final blog post tomorrow.

1 Comment

  1. Loretta Keimel

    Looking forward to purchasing a smaller…home version smoker with sensors!