An Engineer’s Checklist for Preparing Thanksgiving DinnerNovember 26, 2020 by Kate Smith
The perfectly engineered Thanksgiving dinner is within reach, with the help of some perfectly normal and definitely not overboard technology.
Engineers can catch a lot of grief for paying attention to the finer details. But this year, show your friends and family that engineering and highly-advanced technology has a very important place in their lives as you engineer your way to the world's nerdiest Thanksgiving dinner.
Here are some ideas of where to sneak in some casual technology into your dinner planning.
For a Coordinated Cooking Schedule
First things first. It's crucial to plan your cooking schedule in advance to optimize not only how long to cook each dish but also how to get maximum freshness, given your kitchen's limited stovetop and oven space.
Obviously, the first step will be to create a digital twin of your kitchen with as much data available as possible, and then develop a modest neural network to give you a cooking schedule. This should only take several days or weeks to prepare.
For Perfectly Cooked Turkey
A basic bit of tech that many homes have on-hand is a probe thermometer, but did you know there are IoT versions available? These are usually Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-based, allowing you to monitor your turkey's cooking progress from afar.
Of course, a far more sophisticated methodology is to use a thermal camera to ensure that the center of the bird is cooked through to perfection. At only a few hundred or thousand dollars apiece, it's a worthy investment.
Additionally, having an IoT-enabled air quality sensor monitor the kitchen will alert you to any smoke should your plan go awry. You could also consider adding in a VOC sensor. Just in case.
For Moist Stuffing
Nothing's worse than dry stuffing. A clever chef will use a moisture sensor to ensure that the stuffing is moist without being soggy. There are some capacitive moisture sensors out there that use probes that you could consider.
But, if you're really into Thanksgiving, you could always go for the professional-grade equipment. Some industrial food moisture sensors use NIR (near infrared) to determine how soggy or dry food products are on a manufacturing line. I can't speak to how cost-effective these sensors would be, given that their primary utility is found in multi-million dollar facilities which typically buy such sensors in bulk—but can you really put a price on perfect stuffing?
For Not-Too-Sweet Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be prepared in many ways, but a common preparation is boiled and mashed with butter and brown sugar. But how much sugar to add can be a point of debate as too much will turn this dinner dish into a dessert.
Sure, you could measure with a tablespoon, but a finer level of detail is to note how the color changes with the addition of the molasses in the brown sugar. We at All About Circuits humbly recommend an RGB sensor, calibrated according to cultivar, for that perfect balance of sweet and savory. If you've never tried making a custom one before, check out Robert Keim's project on designing an RGB sensor to get started.
For Low Maintenance Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce can come from a can, but those who make it from scratch have to contend with constant stirring to ensure the bottom doesn't burn. Thermostatically-controlled simmering is a high-tech option that can help ensure consistent heat.
A little mechatronics can also yield you a dedicated cranberry-stirring robotic arm using servo motors (and bonus points if you design some simple motion planning). May we suggest a flexible gripper attachment to make sure the bot can scrape the sides of the pot?
For Tender Green Beans and Corn
Perfection in vegetables is hard to attain when you're boiling the traditional beans and corn. If you'd prefer to avoid the sogginess associated with boiling veggies, an alternative methodology is sous vide. Sous vide involves wrapping food in a plastic bag and submerging it into boiling water, achieving evenly-cooked and tender results without losing flavor to the water.
Don't have a sous vide machine? Luckily, we have an Arduino-based sous vide project right here on AAC, which requires only a few components to assemble.
For Well-Cooked (and Well-Guarded) Pumpkin Pie
There are only so many ways to tell when your pumpkin pie should be pulled from the oven. A knife coming out of the middle of the pie clean is a reliable indicator, but it mars the surface of the pie. There's also the trusty "jiggle test" which relies on your imperfect ability to gauge how wibbly-wobbly the mix is.
For those looking to level up, why not give a viscosity sensor a go? These are perhaps most commonly found in continuous processing facilities such as oil refineries. Sure, they're a little spendy and unwieldy, but, if you're looking for excellence, it might be worth programming the necessary custom HMI.
Perhaps more importantly, protecting the pie from overeager diners can be a real problem (as I've seen more than one piecrust pillaged in my day). A remote-monitoring surveillance system to guard the pie is an obvious, perfectly reasonable answer. Video cameras equipped with sensitive electret microphones should give you eyes and ears on the pie, while readings remotely reported from PIR motion sensors can tell you if someone's getting too close.
For Enjoying Your Meal
As long as you've learned from the simulations you prepared using your digitally-twinned kitchen, you're guaranteed to have a well-engineered feast.
All that's left is to employ a pH meter to select the perfect wine to pair with the meal, utilize wearables for biometric monitoring to optimize everyone's caloric intake, and use facial-recognition cameras paired with sentiment analysis software to make sure no fights occur at the dinner table.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us here at All About Circuits.