Today’s New York Times features an article titled “Learning to Engineer a Better Brisket“ in the Business section no less (BU-3, west coast edition). In the article, the author, Ms. Claire Martin, extols the virtues of a “superior” barbeque grill invented by engineering students at Harvard.
Before delving into the horrors of this “invention” we have to recommend wines that go well with barbecued ribs. A good California zinfandel that can stand up to the mop and the sauce are always good. We recommend the 2012 Hartford Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard Zinfandel ($55). If you’re looking for something a bit older, try the 2007 Thomas George Estates Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley. We bought a couple of bottles of this back in 2009 and opened one the other day. Great stuff. But sold out at the winery 🙁 . And we reviewed the classic Ridge zinfandels last year.
So many things wrong with that simple phrase. “Engineering students at Harvard” means they couldn’t get into MIT. (Disclaimer: I am an MIT graduate.) “Superior barbeque grill?” Impossible. And their design is based on the execrable “Big Green Egg,” disavowed by every real barbeque cook.
What a travesty. Harvard students purport to show the rest of us how to “improve” barbeque. How can they hope to improve on something that’s nearly perfect? And the $1500 price tag could only appeal to residents of Manhattan, Long Island and Connecticut.
A few years ago my lovely wife bought me a Char-Griller Outlaw. Today you can buy the same unit for $170 direct from the company, probably less if you look around.
One of the “features” of the Harvard model is a chute that lets you add fuel without opening the lid. Two questions come to mind. First, does the chute slope downward? Second, do you have to open the chute to add fuel? If the answer to both those questions is, “Yes” then you’ve just destroyed the entire purpose of the chute. Clue: warmer air rises to displace cooler air.
But what’s worse is that there is a zero-marginal-cost solution to this problem. Just bolt on the (included) side fire box to your Outlaw. You can add wood without opening the lid. And the firebox is mounted horizontally to the barrel unit. Meaning there’s no place for the heat to rise.
Which is largely beside the point for me. My specialty is ribs. And every single recipe worth cooking requires use of a mop blend, a liquid with spices blended that is painted onto the ribs every hour or so. Once the folks at Harvard can figure out how to get a mop that will cover the ribs without opening the lid, I might listen. On the other hand, an easier solution is just to leave the ribs cooking for another hour. If you’re in a hurry you should probably be cooking burgers over direct charcoal heat.
Oh, yes, there’s more to barbeque than just fuel. What about the actual smoke? Presumably they can include wood chips when they’re adding fuel. I won’t speculate on the likelihood of that succeeding. But I would like to know if their design can accommodate wood-only smoking (no charcoal).
Reluctant as I am to give this horror any more publicity, here it is:
First peas in guacamole. Now this. I have a simple request for the Times: please stick to cooking you folks east of the Hudson actually know something about. As Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) put it, “That’s a felony in Texas.” Somewhere Steven Raichlen is crying.