Oil & gas, a Super Bowl party, and a 12-foot-tall meat smoker

Pit master Tom Spaulding, from Austin, checks meat in the GE Oil & Gas brisket smoker on Friday, Feb. 3, at the public pre-Super Bowl party in Houston’s Discovery Green.

Super Bowl Live, the public party on downtown Houston’s Discovery Green, was crammed full of science and technology exhibits over the weekend: A virtual reality game from Royal Dutch Shell. A tower drop ride by NASA that included Mars Journey virtual reality goggles. A 3-D light show from Reliant Energy.

One of the most popular: GE Oil & Gas’s vertical smoker, which doled out free hunks of beef brisket to visitors. The black cylinder stood at least 12 feet tall. It was computer-designed, precision-cut and shoved full of sensors to measure the humidity inside, the air speed of the smoke and the temperature of the meat.

Pit master Tom Spaulding, 41, from Austin, was feeding the bottom with armloads of stacked wood. The machine held 300 pounds of brisket at once and needed the fuel. Stats flashed on a large monitor next to the smoker: Smoke velocity, 13 feet per minute. Humidity, 30 percent.

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And yet, with all that technology, it required a human touch to judge when the brisket was ready. After 16 to 18 hours, Spaulding said, he puts a flat hand on each piece, jiggles it softly, and, if firm enough, pulls the meat. Few pit masters use thermometers. “We all go by touch,” he said.

The result: Thick slices of smoky, peppery brisket, with a half-inch thick smoke ring, that were quickly gobbled up by the crowd.