The Big Idea: The Grilling Calculator, for Tech Geeks who Love to Barbecue

With Summer 2015 winding down and the Labor Day weekend coming, you may be thinking about throwing that epic barbecue. The kind of relaxing, end-of-the-summer barbeque where you man the grill from the moment you fire it up at noon to when you snuff out the flames late into the evening, signifying the end of the season with a culinary event people will talk about well up to Thanksgiving.

Whenever I host at the house and assume my command post at the grill, I’ve got the steaks, I’ve got the hamburgers, and I’m ready to go. Then somebody says those words that—I’m not kidding—really puts the pressure on you:

“I want mine medium rare.”


It’s not that I can’t  do medium rare. The problem is that those words carry, and somebody else says “Well, I want mine medium well.” and somebody else says “Fine, I want mine rare.” Now I’ve got twenty different steaks—I have a big grill—and twenty different orders. This is supposed to be a relaxing cookout for me, and I feel like I’m working at a Logan’s Steakhouse.

Calculating how long a steak should cook for me, a physicist, shouldn’t be that hard. It’s just basic thermo-conduction going through the steak, right? Just a one dimensional thermo-diffusion problem. Plug it into the differential equation. Base calculations on the thermal conductivity of the meat. I could probably go and compute exactly how long to cook each of these pieces…

But there’s a slight problem at this approach:

  • I really don’t want to do that much math when flipping a T-bone.
  • By the time I finish calculations, everyone’s gone off to Ruth Chris.
  • Remember that part about wanting to host a relaxing end-of-the-summer cookout? The last time I tried solving thermal diffusion equations for optimum grilling, my wife Mary Anne told me “Just put away the laptop and throw the steaks on.”

Well it turns out, for the tech geek and grillmaster in all of us, there is a calculator out there designed specifically for grilling! You go to where they offer in their main menu a Cookout Calculator. Under the “What’s Grilling?” section, you enter in the type of meat, whether it is beef or chicken or steak, because all of those cook at a different rate, and then you put in the cut of the meat, the thickness of the meat and the degree of doneness you want. The last thing you plug in is the temperature of your the grilling surface and whether it is a covered grill or an open grill, and whether it is charcoal or gas. As you can see, there may be some prep time with Charcoal Bob’s site, but in the end you have a printable cooking timeline, a handy project management timeline or a flowchart for barbecue, if you will. I want to start cooking at noon and this flowchart tells me what to do at each moment so that everything comes out at the same time!

No need sixteen different clocks to figure out each cut of meat. Charcoal Bob’s Cookout Calculator tells you when to put the T-bone on, when to put the sirloin on, then the hamburger, and it gives you a start time and when to turn it along the way. One clock, and you just follow that and it all comes out perfectly.

Here’s the ending your summer with culinary style. Happy grilling!



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.

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