It's Thanksgiving Day. Before you sits a fleshy 15 pound bird. It's cold. It's white. You've never cooked a chicken, let alone a turkey. Your guests arrive in 10 hours. What do you do?
Well, GE appliances thinks it has an answer for you. If you are one of the 500,000 people in America who owns a connectable GE smart oven, the company has pushed a software update called Turkey Mode to your very 21st century cooking device that encourages you to just pop in the cold turkey, press a button and wait a few hours for a crispy brown bird.
The GE appliance testing lab in Kentucky takes this business very seriously. Somewhere around 100 dead turkeys saw their day in the electric sun over the last six months as the engineers in actual white lab coats tested how each GE oven could be programmed to cook a turkey to perfect doneness. The turkeys were poked and prodded and probed, cooked to safety and then donated for others to eat. Did they taste delicious? Who knows. Were they safe to eat, and technically cooked perfectly? Guaranteed.
But there's a catch. For Turkey Mode to work, you have to connect your oven to the internet. And GE sees the update as a great opportunity to get the countless oven-owners living in IoT-free bliss to finally sign up for that Wi-Fi connection. "Part of this is consumer adoption. We're encouraging people to connect their unit to Wi-Fi," Allie Cowan Holtz, a marketing manager at GE Appliances, told Protocol.
Smart ovens are one of the many home appliances now thoroughly stuck in a future where everything in your house communicates with your phone, your internet and the outside world. If you're the kind of person who worries about your oven turning itself on in the middle of the night, or hackers hijacking your home internet through your oven, these are not solved problems. The Internet of Things has been a mess for years, and it's still a mess today. Connecting your oven to the internet is just probably not for you.
But if the bigger questions about security and privacy don't bother you, there still remains the problem of the smart oven's intelligence. Could your GE oven really solve your Thanksgiving turkey dilemma? It depends on who you ask.
Smart ovens aren't all that smart, according to Saba Wahid, an appliance tester and corporate chef for Yale Appliance and the 2021 winner of Chopped. Many of them are glitchy, struggle to connect with Wi-F, often surface odd and unexpected errors in the companion phone apps or sometimes fail to alert the user when cooking is finished.
"As I've done some research, it looks like there's a lot of promises that the apps make, but not all are really delivering on them because they are still kind of in their early phases," she said. (She recently tested an entry-level GE smart oven).
For Wahid, the promise of smart ovens far outweighs their reality. If the glitchy technical errors weren't such an omnipresent hassle, the idea that you can preheat your oven from your phone, set timers that monitor your food and tell you when it's cooked and watch from your camera are heaven-sent time savers for any chef, amateur or otherwise.
Where intelligent ovens really sing are the guided cooking programs, according to Wahid. These tools include thermometer probes that can be used to control the temperature of the oven and cook various cuts of meat — like a turkey — or other dishes to the perfect temperature, reducing the anxiety many amateurs feel around determining whether their food is safe to eat.
And this is the big selling point to Taylor Dawson, the director of Digital Transformation for GE appliances. He's been with GE for 9 years, and he's a smart oven evangelist. During his conversation with Protocol, his enthusiasm was unbounded and unstoppable.
"We aren't going to be able to do anything for the people who are anti-technology because they like the experience of cooking. It's the other people we are stepping in for," he said when asked about the critics who see these ovens as automating and dehumanizing a job that's meant to be more intimate and physical.
"Whether or not you want to step in and monitor the temperature of your turkey all day, even if you are the type of person who likes to know a turkey should be 165 degrees, we are helping you with that utilitarian task," he said.
Dawson's team decided to build a Turkey Mode because they see their work as trying to address the most common shared problems for oven users. According to the data they use, most Americans see Thanksgiving as the most important meal of the year, and most see turkey as essential to that meal. If you're not bold enough to move beyond the oft ill-fated, dry and (in my personal opinion) sad member of the poultry family, then perhaps there is something to letting your oven do the work. It might not taste great, but at least you have less stress.
If there are no technical issues, of course.
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