Can GE teach Texans something about BBQ?

Can brainwaves help make better BBQ?
Can brainwaves help make better BBQ?   

General Electric has come to Texas with an ambitious plan: To try and cook up the perfect barbecue.

In Austin, home to brisket and rib heavyweights like the Salt Lick, La Barbecue and Freedmen's, attendees at the South by Southwest Interactive festival are stumbling upon a big bold pop-up. That would be GE's BBQ Research Center.

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The centerpiece of the GE pod is a web-connected smoker standing 12 feet tall. The contraption is loaded up with sensors linked to screens monitoring the temperature and other chemical actions taking place inside. Visitors to the accompanying tent can see how their brain reacts to eating smoked sausage, or the taste of liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Having a big presence at SXSW is part of GE's effort to change how the company is perceived. It's no longer just a giant industrial conglomerate developing everything from light bulbs to jet engines, but is right in the middle of the big data, and Internet of Things trends that capture the headlines.

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The art of BBQ

GE faces energy headwinds
GE faces energy headwinds   

But to truly make a statement amid the conference madness, a novel and entertaining approach is required.

So GE commissioned a small Oakland, California outfit called Sheet Metal Alchemist to drum up a contraption with plenty of of Texan flare. Sean Cusack, the product's lead designer, was excited—because who doesn't want to know more about barbecue?

"There's a lot of art behind it," said Cusack, a chemical engineer by training, referring to the perfect smoked meat. "It's really fun looking at it from a science perspective—what is the unifying scientific principle that makes all these ideas work."

GE may win points for grabbing the attention of thousands of techies traipsing through downtown Austin. However, don't expect the company to upend Austin's tasty barbecue scene anytime soon.