The students of a Harvard engineering class believe that they have created the ultimate barbecue smoker. According to the Boston Globe, Harvard professor Kevin Kit Parker attended a barbecue competition in Memphis where he noticed that most people had crazy "homespun" smokers crafted from items like garbage cans and cinder blocks. Such cobbled together contraptions do not produce consistent results. So upon returning, he assigned a class of 16 students to build a "foolproof smoker that can repeatedly produce the perfect brisket, to be judged on texture, taste, and appearance," for less than $1,000.
Parker convinced Williams-Sonoma to provide design specs and a serious supply of brisket. And so the students set about working on the project for 40 to 50 hours per week. They built their own smoker, ran computer simulations, and well, cooked a ton of meat. Parker notes that the project requires a thorough understanding of "chemistry, heat transfer, materials science, prototyping, and solving problems."
In the end, a Harvard report notes that students put together a device that is made from ceramic, and can control the temperature of both inside the smoker and of the meat as it cooks "low and slow" — the best way to get tender results. The team also built an app that allows "cooks to [constantly] monitor the conditions inside the smoker and share their experiences through social media." There are no plans to put the smoker on the market yet.
Harvard students appear to have a penchant for food-related experiments. A team of undergrads from the university sent a hamburger into space in 2012 because they could.