By Mike Pomranz
Updated May 07, 2015
Is this the right way or the wrong way?
© Kelsey Brown

Think a college class in cooking barbecue sounds like an easy A? At a university as prestigious as Harvard, think again.

The Ivy League institution offers a course for undergraduate juniors called Engineering Problem Solving and Design where students must tackle a real design problem for a real client. This semester, professor Kit Parker, who teaches the class, partnered with Williams-Sonoma in a quest to have his students construct the ultimate smoker.

By applying advanced science and engineering, Parker believed his class could come up with a smoker that would be able to produce a perfect brisket every time.

Each member of the 16-person team spent an estimated 40 to 50 hours a week designing, modeling and—the most delicious part—testing the smoker, starting with computer simulations of smoking digital brisket before upgrading to nearly two dozen weekends' worth of actual barbecuing—going through 220 pounds of meat in the process.

In the end, what sets Harvard’s smoker apart is its ability to eliminate hot spots and keep a constant and precise low temperature both in the smoker and the meat itself. Part of the project is that the end result also has to be consumer-friendly, so students also invested time in making the smoker aesthetically appealing and producing a unit that could retail for under $1,000.

The students are claiming success. Their brisket scored a 9 from Willaims-Sonoma, the barbecue equivalent of an A. Now the university is attempting to patent their design. So yes, maybe a bunch of youngsters from Cambridge can make the perfect brisket. Just don’t tell anyone from Memphis that.

Meanwhile, Williams-Sonoma has brought the project back to headquarters to see if it can actually be brought to market. Just make sure to look for the Harvard smoker—not one of those crappy Cornell knock-offs.