Science and BBQ: GE makes its mark … and bark!

This is the fifth 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 fourth installment

One last hello from Austin, Texas!  Todd and I are sitting in the Austin airport waiting for our flight home to Albany.  It is a great airport too, easy in and out just like Albany!  We can tell GE has developed some major brand recognition here in Austin — someone shouted “BBQ Science!!” at Todd and I as we were walking to our gate! I don’t think Austin will forget GE’s BBQ Research Center anytime soon.

Yesterday was another good day.  170 pounds of brisket, 50 pounds of spare ribs, 25 pounds of sausage, 10 pounds of BBQ tofu and 10 pounds of beets – all gone!  That much food did cause us some problems though.  Sunday’s batch of briskets cooked perfectly.  We had put them in at 6 p.m., wrapped them at midnight and by 5 a.m. they were completely done, so we removed them and let them rest until it was time to serve them. On Sunday night we thought we would do the same thing with Monday’s briskets.  We put them on at 6 p.m., went to dinner with Morgan Intrator, co-founder of Upswing, and returned to the BBQ Research Center to wrap them. Since the briskets had cooked so quickly Sunday, we decided to let them cook a little longer at a slow rate and not wrap them until 5 a.m. Good night, good sleep, see you at 5 a.m.

5 a.m. rolled around and the briskets were wrapped and the ribs were on but we forgot that as the vertical cooker gets a greater mass of meat, it heats up much slower and the wrapped briskets create a barrier that block the heat and smoke making it difficult to get the temperature and smoke in the pit to equilibrium. We really struggled with getting the top of the pit hot enough to smoke everything. We did eventually get it all cooked but we had to crank up the temperature for the last two hours and we even had to flip some briskets.  That’s a “no-no” in the BBQ world!

So that brings me to our experiment results. Our experiment was to determine the optimum resting time for a brisket.  After cooking the brisket and removing it from the energy source, it is rested for a period of time.  During cooking the muscle fibers of the meat compress and shrink forcing juices out of the meat.  Brisket wrapped Evan-style (the half bowl method) collects the juices in the bowl.  When the brisket is resting it begins to cool and the muscle fibers relax and expand allowing the juices to be reabsorbed keeping the brisket delicious and juicy.  The plan was to take the briskets off, begin our resting time and, at regular intervals (20 minutes since our briskets were so big), slice the brisket and see how much juice is still flowing out of the meat.  We would continue this process until after slicing the brisket there were no juices on the butcher paper.  Luckily, our brisket finished resting just in time for serving!!!


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As researchers, I know we have all been there — a failed experiment. Sometimes it is possible to just clean up the failed experiment and start again, sometimes it is not and that was the case this time. Unfortunately we are not cooking another batch so we will have to say our experimental results are incomplete. Maybe this summer I will repeat the experiment in my backyard and share the results after the snow melts!

The other exciting thing yesterday was the panel discussion. Daniel Vaughn, BBQ Editor of Texas Monthly was the moderator, Evan LeRoy, Pitmaster at Freedmans BBQ, Aaron Franklin, owner and Pitmaster of Franklin’s BBQ and I discussed “Will Science and Data will change the Future of BBQ?” It was a lot of fun!  This was a BBQ- heavy discussion.  It was pretty clear that these guys are friends who have debated this subject in the past.  It was an easy exchange and just a great conversation.  Aaron Franklin is a self-proclaimed science nerd (his book, Aaron Franklin: A Meat Smoking Manifesto, is set to be released April 7) and was genuinely interested in hearing what we had been able to learn from the data.  He currently trains his staff on how to smoke foods on a 21-foot horizontal smoker using just one temperature indicator. He would love to be able to sensor up his smokers and create a dashboard for himself so he can see all the temperatures at one time.  There may be a little side science project opportunity here!  Evan did a great job explaining how he used the data to understand how the smoker was operating and how it helped him come up to speed much more quickly than he would have without the data. I shared some ideas on future experiments that would be interesting given enough time and brisket to test. Overall it was a good time and felt like a good conversation with friends!

There was more media, more interviews, more handshaking and hugs and then we were out of there to get some sleep before getting up early to arrive here at the airport.

I leave you with these a shot of my BBQ mentor, Evan LeRoy, and I in front of the Brilliant Super Smoker. Evan — thanks for all your time and coaching.  I will be in touch and share my backyard BBQ pics with you. Enjoy Australia and have Lindsay send pics of kangaroos!!

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I learned yesterday morning that GE’s BBQ Research Center is actually scheduled to be demolished this week.  I am sad to see it go. Treasure this shot, taken from the 10-foot ladder we used to load and unload the smoker, you won’t see this again.

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  1. Brock Kruzic

    Hi Lynn,
    First of all, thank you for your service. What you guys are doing will have a profound impact on our vets.
    Can you explain in more detail how the brisket foil bowl crutch looks like, and how it’s constructed?
    Fascinated by the discovery that a water pan has virtually no humidity effect, but the wood moisture has a tremendous effect on creating humidity. Does smoking the meat for the entire length of time of the cook create the danger of over-smoked sooty tasting meat?

  2. Michelle A. Othon

    Hey Lynn! Awesome series – thanks for doing the blow-by-blow account! (Although your experience makes me very homesick!) By the way…smoking great brisket isn’t exclusive to southern geography. I’ve fired up my smoker in 3 feet of snow before! It’s a bit harder to maintain the temp in our kind of weather, but it’s totally worth it. (What can I say…you can take a Texan out of Texas, as long as she’s got her smoker…) 😉 Great job, and PLEASE help me put some sensors on MY smoker! 🙂

  3. Vin

    Great Blog Series! I hope you are able to bring the equipment home to Niskayuna and allow all of us at the research center to experience a quality BBQ first hand.

  4. Evan LeRoy

    Thank you, Lynn! It was a pleasure working with you no happy smoking!