The Internet of BBQ

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Earlier this summer, I spent the weekend with 50 of my fellow BBQ enthusiasts at the BBQ Summer Camp.  It’s a program run by Foodways, a Texas food history and culture organization and led by Dr. Jeff Savell (slicing a brisket in the photo above). There is something very satisfying about cooking outdoors, especially over a long period of time which is the way true BBQ is made – low and slow.

Beef, pork and chicken, smoke and spices seem pretty far away from information technology. But, the Venn diagram intersection between BBQ cookers and techies is pretty large.  In fact, when we were doing introductions as the weekend started, there was an over/under of 5 for the number of IT folks in the crowd – I think the number was 8.  Add to that the number of gadget fanatics, the world of BBQ is rich with tech, from electronic, pellet-fed smokers to thermometers that read cooker and meat temperatures and adjust a fan that stokes the fire.  Some of the gadgets allow remote monitoring and even control thru mobile and web services – The Internet of BBQ is here.

IoT Closes Loops and Accelerates Cycle Times

After a few days immersed in BBQ cooking secrets and tips, I quickly applied the lessons learned to planning to smoke a brisket for July 4th.  When you will spend 12-18 hours cooking a hunk of meat, you want to make sure you think it through to maximize your chance of success (I guess part of the fun of BBQ is that it doesn’t always work perfectly, adding a bit of challenge into it).  Here are some of the things you have to think about:

  • Meat: size, shape, weight and quality
  • Seasonings: simple, complex or none
  • Fuel: logs, charcoal, wood chips, pellets
  • Temperature: cooker temp, target meat temps, done temp
  • Time: when to start the fire, how long at certain temps

All of these factors when taken together, make for a pretty complex set of relationships.  The ability to work through all of the permutations and arrive at a successful plan has largely been the realm of BBQ competition champions and top BBQ joints.  But that’s starting to change with the introduction of new products that greatly reduce the tedious and tiring process of regularly testing cooker and meat temperatures and adjusting the fire, thus closing and automating the cooking loop.

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In effect, this is what the Internet of Things is about.  It’s about automating, connecting and measuring tasks that were previously done manually, aided by guesswork or not done at all.

The BBQ IoT example is a simple one, but one that’s not fully cooked.  While sensors and actuators are available to speed up the BBQ cooking cycle time, they don’t yet incorporate historical time and temperature readings of successful (and unsuccessful) cooks in their analytics and determine actions.  They don’t provide access to this data during planning nor do they factor in weight and quality of the meat.

What tasks do you have that are manual, time consuming and lack facts and visibility?  Maybe the Internet of Things can help you get the loops closed and cycle times shortened?  Then you’ll be cooking.

This post also appeared on PwC’s Emerging Technology blog.

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