Harvard Engineering and the Quest to Build an Ultimate Barbecue Grill

This is a great story in The Boston Globe about a Harvard engineering course in which students were tasked to design an ultimate barbecue grill:

For months, this 16-person team had been designing and modeling and building the prototype for the ultimate barbecuecooker. The handcrafted Harvard smoker is their solution. Tested by countless computer simulations of virtual brisket smoking, nearly two dozen weekend smoking sessions — often in snow or sub-zero temperatures — and 220 pounds of meat, the smoker is a rigorous, data-driven tool for making a feast.

How did the idea for the unusual class come about?

The idea for this unconventional engineering class, offered to Harvard juniors, came three years ago when engineering professor Kevin Kit Parker attended a barbecue-cooking competition in Memphis. Parker grew up in the South and has a deep appreciation for barbecue, and when he looked up from his plate that day, he saw a problem that lacked an optimal solution.

Many products have been refined by cycles of science and engineering. Barbecue, however, has been a veritable Wild West in which pit masters build mishmash setups that incorporate garbage cans, cinder blocks, a giant rotisserie. There seemed to be little in the way of deep understanding of how — or why — one smoker was better than another, Parker said.

And lest you think the class sounded like a joke, the students spent 40 to 50 hours a week on the project! In the end, there is a patent pending and perhaps an actual product in store shelves in the very near future.

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