How a Harvard class project changed barbecue

How a Harvard class project changed barbecue

Desora co-founder and CTO, Yinka Ogunbiyi, knows first-hand the challenges of “low-and-slow” barbecue in the dead of winter. Along with CEO, Michel Maalouly, Ogunbiyi spent hours in the cold every weekend attempting to perfect a grill design as part of an engineering course at Harvard in 2015. The goal was to outperform what many consider to be the pinnacle of backyard grilling and smoking machinery: The Big Green Egg.

Big Green Egg

“We were amateurs, smoking a brisket every week in the cold Boston snow,” Ogunbiyi said.

There was another wrinkle to the assignment, though. Professor Kevin “Kit” Parker had arranged for the class to have a real client, and it was a legit one: popular kitchen retailer Williams-Sonoma. This meant there was potential for the final designs to become an actual product if they could offer something better than the grills available at the time could muster.

“Boston’s worst winter on record made quick work of showing the faults and shortcomings of existing products,” Maalouly explained. “We had been using the industry-leading smokers at the time and found the cooking experience to be severely lacking.” The pair needed a way to maximize heat coverage, accelerate the process and enhance flavor if they were going to beat the Egg.

In addition to the overall cooking process, a lot of grills — even in 2019 — don’t have a way for you to remotely monitor your meat unless you splurge for a more expensive model. Companies like Traeger, Rec-Tec, Green Mountain Grills and others allow you to keep tabs on things from your phone, but those are wood-pellet grills, and they aren’t exactly cheap. Plus, they’re electric, so it’s not a huge leap to add WiFi connectivity when you already have a power source that regulates temperature. Ceramic grills, like the Big Green Egg, use charcoal or wood chunks to cook and flavor food, so remote control and monitoring is a little trickier, unless you have an additional device.

For Maalouly and Ogunbiyi, the ability to watch their long smoke sessions from indoors became a must. To ensure they were getting accurate data without having to venture into the Boston white-out, the pair created a mobile app that allowed them to monitor temperatures from the classroom. But the goal of the project was to enhance the overall process, which included making the cooking vessel itself as efficient as possible. Remote control was certainly part of that, but changes to the design of the grill itself would also achieve that goal.

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