If you have never owned a wood pellet grill before and just started to learn about them the first brand/manufacturer that you probably heard of was Traeger. Furthermore, if you have only ever owned a charcoal/propane grill in the past and have browsed the prices of pellet grills you may have thought to your self. “Well if I’m going to be spending that kind of money I want to make sure I’m buying the best!” And that’s reasonable, after all your average wood pellet grill is more expensive than your average charcoal/propane grill. There are valid reasons for that, but I’m not going to get in that in this post. The point of this post is to help you determine the answer to the question, is a Traeger pellet grill really the best option for you?
As you would imagine, there are several different models/versions of Traeger pellet grills on the market today. Therefore, determining which Traeger pellet grill (if any) is going to be the best option for you, you will need to consider various factors such as:
- What is your budget for the pellet grill?
- How many people do you want to cook for on average?
- What type of food do you intend to cook?
Below I’m going to discuss the different pellet grill models in the Traeger range and discuss why Traeger believe they are still the best pellet grills on the market today. As a juxtaposition/comparison, I’m also going to discuss Camp Chef pellet grills, one of Traeger’s main competitors and discuss why Camp Chef think they produce the best pellet grills.
The Traeger Wood Pellet Grill Range and Best Features
Back in the 1980s, in Oregon USA the original Traeger pellet grills were produced. In fact, they were the first commercially produced pellet grills for sale. With an on/on power switch and very basic means of controlling the pellet combustion process, these pellet grills would be the start of an outdoor cooking revolution that would bring the great taste of cooking with wood in line with the convenience of using a gas propane grill. As you would expect, the Traeger pellet grills on to sale today while they share the same basic principle of feeding wood pellets gradually into the firepot to control cooking/smoking temperatures, they operate very differently. Below is Traegers latest promotional video on why they feel they still produce the best wood pellet grills on sale today.
What I do want to clarify, in the video above Traeger shows one of their latest wood pellet grills (the Ironwood 885) and the features it includes to provide precise and accurate temperature/smoke control. Not all of Traegers current line up, hence their cheaper/budget models include all of the features referenced in the video which I’ll explain below. However, the video above is part of Traeger’s argument why they still produce the best wood pellet grills on the market today. Therefore it makes sense to show off their best/latest pellet combustion technologies.
Traeger also believe they produce the highest quality BBQ wood pellets for use in their range of pellet grills: Image – Amazon
As noted in the video above Traeger do produce their own range of BBQ wood pellets which are recommended for use in all Traeger pellet grills. I have a specific post on how Traeger wood pellets are made if you’re interested. With any pellet grill its very important to only use food-grade hardwood BBQ pellets. As I discuss in my Traeger accessories post you also ideally want to sieve those wood pellets before they are fed into any pellet grills hopper. Excessive dust/fines within the pellets can over time cause problems for the pellet feed auger and excessive dust also reduces pellet combustion performance. Therefore, when a pellet grill is cleaned its always a good idea clean out the pellet hopper to remove the build-up of wood dust around the auger.
Below I’m going to give a brief summary/description of the different ranges and models of Traeger wood pellet grills on sale today. I have specific posts on several of the Traeger models, so if you want to look into them in more detail there are also links below to those articles. I’ll discuss what I think are the best features/capabilities of the different ranges/models before I then later compare Traeger pellet grills to models offered by the competition.
Budget/Portable Traeger Wood Pellet Grills
If money is no object to you, just skip this section and review the details below on the Traeger Timberline. For the rest of us, and particularly for anyone who has never owned a wood pellet grill before and is looking to dip their toe in the water, we are going to look at the cheapest Traeger pellet grills currently on sale. These small compact units don’t feature Traeger’s latest and greatest technological advances. However, they do include tried and tested control panels and components which have been used on previous generations of highly trusted Traeger pellet grills.
The Traeger Scout and Ranger Portable Pellet Grills
Starting at under $300 the Traeger Scout is a very compact portable pellet grill. Developed and marketed primarily as a pellet grill/smoker for camping, hunting and fishing trips it can also serve as a good introduction into the world of wood pellet grills. The Ranger is exactly the same size as the Scout but with a larger pellet hopper and more advanced control panel to better regulate the temperature of the pellet fire. While the Scout can maintain temperatures within a 25-degree bracket, the Ranger can hold temperatures with a 5-degree bracket with its Digital Arc Controller. I have a detailed post discussing the differences between the Traeger Scout vs Ranger pellet grills.
The Traeger Tailgater, Bronson and Renegade
While the Scout and Ranger are the cheapest models of Traeger pellet grill and I do believe a good introduction into the world of pellet grills they offer a very limited cooking surface. Fine if you are cooking for one or two people. However, they are not practical if you are trying to cook a meal for a family/group of friends. Therefore, the next size up of Traeger pellet grills and the next cheapest range of models are the Tailgater, Bronson and Renegade. However, as I write this section, the Bronson and Renegade models appear to be in the process of being phased out. The reason being, while you can purchase the Bronson and Renegade models on websites such as Amazon, they are no longer available on Traegergrills.com.
While budget models such as the Traeger Renegade/Bronson appear to be still available through retailers such as Amazon, they are no longer available for sale through Traeger’s own website: Image – Amazon
Furthermore, while the Tailgater is still universally available it to is in a transition period. For instance, Amazon still appears to have stock of the Tailgater with the previous generation Traeger digital control panel. However, that model is out of stock on the manufacturer’s website but is now available with the more advanced Digital Arc Controller. As referenced above with regards to the Scout and Ranger grills, the Digital Arc Controller is superior as it can hold a more stable temperature. Furthermore, the price appears to have remained the same. Therefore, if you are interested in one of these small Traeger pellet grills your best option is to purchase the current model with the Digital Arc Controller.
The Traeger Pro Series Pellet Grills (Mid-Range Option)
I must admit, I do find Traeger’s choices with their branding of the current model range a bit odd. For instance, with the previous generation of Traeger pellet grills, the Pro Series as you would think as its an abbreviation of ‘Professional Series’ were the highest spec pellet grills Traeger offered. However, as I discuss in my post on the Traeger Pro Series Gen 1 vs Gen 2 that’s no longer the case. The second-generation Pro Series grills are now the mid-range option. With more advanced features and capabilities to grills such as the Tailgater. However, not as advanced/feature-rich as the Ironwood and Timberline models below.
There are still a few first-generation Traeger Pro Series pellet grills floating around with the older control panel and AC auger/fan motor platform: Image – Amazon
However, the reason that Traeger may have now positioned the Pro Series as their mid-range option is that they have been their most popular, and the industries most popular pellet grill range over the last decade. Therefore, with that in mind, it does sort of make sense to position the Pro Series as the mid-range ‘average guys’ pellet grill/smoker of choice. So what features does the Pro Series have over the Scout, Ranger or Tailgater pellet grills? Despite the obvious fact as you can tell from the images above and below these are much larger pellet grills providing a larger cooking/smoking surface.
D2 Direct Drive and D2 Controller
The key upgrades with the latest second-generation of Traeger Pro Series is they feature a drive system which Traeger calls D2 Direct Drive. I have a separate post on D2 Direct Drive linked above, but I’ll just quickly run through the improvements here. In the latest generation, of Pro Series, Ironwood and Timberline models below they are all based on a DC (Direct Current) motor platform for the auger pellet feed motor and induction/combustion fan. Not only are these DC motors more powerful than the AC motors found in previous generations of Traeger pellet grills they are also variable speed. This enables the Gen 2 Pro Series to much more accurately control the cooking/smoking temperature within the pellet grill.
WiFire Remote Pellet Grill Monitoring and Adjustment
All Traeger pellet grills fitted with the D2 controller also benefit from WiFire integration which is the term Traeger is using to brand their grills with WiFi capabilities. Through the WiFire app, you can monitor the current temperature of the pellet grill and also adjust it. You can also set a timer to alert you to inspect/adjust the temperature on the pellet grill. For those that opt to install a Traeger pellet sensor, you can even see what percentage of wood pellets remains in the hopper. This can be a very handy feature when it comes to very long and slow cooks with something like brisket or pork butt so you don’t run out of wood pellets before the cook is finished. The WiFire app also has recipes and videos built into the app which are constantly being updated. You can select a recipe and the specific grill settings needed are then downloaded to the pellet grill, very cool. I’ve also got a post comparing Traegers WiFire app vs Camp Chef Connect.
Traeger Ironwood Pellet Grills (Lower-Premium Option)
The next step in the Traeger pellet grill range but not quite to the level of their best offering is the Traeger Ironwood range. These grills/smokers also have the D2 Direct Drive system along with the D2 Controller with WiFire found on the second generation Pro Series pellet grills. However, the Ironwood has a few more tricks up its sleeve. To read more about the features and specifications I have a separate post on Traeger Ironwood pellet grills.
If you compare the image of the Traeger Ironwood pellet grill above and the Pro Series image you will notice some similarities in their appearance. For instance, the general construction in terms of the support legs, wheels and cooking barrel appear the same. The hopper is the same capacity and it features a D2 control panel. Not the same D2 control panel as the Pro Series, but I’ll get to that later. Their appearance is indeed very similar, but wait, where’s the Ironwoods chimney?! This is the most significant difference between the Pro Series and Ironwood range, how the grill circulates and exhausts its smoke.
With the traditional chimney found on the Pro Series and all cheaper/previous generations of Traeger pellet grill, there was a pretty direct route for the heat/smoke to follow. Its produced at the bottom of the grill in the pellet firepot. It then rises past the grease drip tray, past the food continuing up and out through the chimney stack. Well, the Ironwood (and Timberline below) work very differently to the Pro Series. They feature a horizontal draft exhaust. This enables Traeger’s new Tru Convection cooking system bringing better smoke penetration into your food and more consistent/even temperatures across the grills cooking surface. I should note, the D2 controller on the Ironwood also benefits from Super Smoke and Keep Warm modes not found on the Pro Series control panel.
Traeger Timberline Pellet Grills (Currently The Best Traeger’s)
So the best, most feature-rich and highest quality pellet grills Traeger currently produce are called the Timberline range. These grills in terms of their core features related to pellet combustion are almost identical to the Ironwood range. However, there are some important differences. There are also what I would refer to as small differences. For instance, the Timberline range includes a pellet sensor as standard where that’s not currently the case on Ironwood grills. While the technology used to run the Ironwood and Timberline pellet grills is fundamentally the same, their construction is very different. I have a separate post on Traeger Timberline pellet grills which explains the differences in more detail.
The Timberline range features far greater use of stainless steel. Not only externally in terms of shelving, but also internally. All internal surfaces on the Timberline range are stainless steel lined, including the lid, sides and back surface of the pellet grills. Furthermore, more of the Timberline’s construction is of insulated twin-wall. Furthermore, the lid on the Timberline range has a full perimeter gasket. What that means is when the outside temperature significant increases or drops the internal temperature of the Timberline pellet grills will be less affected. Hence, that not only means the cooking performance of the grill/smoker remains more consistent, it also means reduced pellet consumption. The Timberline range are also the only models from Traeger to offer full stainless steel grill racks.
Camp Chef Pellet Grills – How Do Traeger Compare?
I just want to make clear I’m not implying Camp Chef pellet grills are Traegers only competition. There are lots of other pellet grill manufacturers out there. However, I currently feel several of their models/price points are quite comparable in terms of specifications/features and cooking area. For instance, Camp Chef has their budget offering with the SmokePro pellet grill range and their more premium offering with their Woodwind pellet grills. Camp Chef has also released a Gen 2 WiFi controller which can be retrofitted to all Camp Chef pellet grills.
Camp Chefs Patented Ash Cleanout Feature
Camp chef does hold a patent on the ash cleanout system used on their pellet grills. There is a slide valve located under the firepot. Once the grill has powered down you simply pull the slide valve and the ash drops down into a removable steel ash cup located under the grill. This does mean you have to clean a Camp Chef less frequently than say a Traeger grill. However, please note, every now and again every pellet grill, even a Camp Chef needs a good clean with an ash/shop vac. Not only in the base of the grill but in the base of the pellet hopper/auger as well.
Direct Flame Grilling/Broiling
Something that’s worth noting is that on a Traeger you cannot cook directly over the flames from the pellet firepot. The grease drip tray on Traegers completely covers the pellet fire pot below. However, on some Camp Chef pellet grills, there is a sliding heat baffle over the firepot you can pull to let the flames through. Therefore, on some Camp Chef models, you can flame grill/broil up to 650 degrees. Whereas the cooking temperature inside a Traeger is going to achieve a maximum of 500 degrees.
Optional SearBox or SideKick Propane Attachments
Another thing you will find on a Camp Chef pellet grill which you don’t currently find offered by Traeger is the option of a small propane grill attachment. Now you may be thinking if you have the ability to cook with wood pellets why would want a propane grill side attachment? Well, while you will always get superior flavour with a wood pellet grill whether you are cooking or smoking, pellet grills will not reach the same high temperature a propane grill will. Hence, this option on the Camp Chef gives you a convenient means to sear meat, fish or vegetables at up 900 degrees. I have a separate post on the Camp Chef Searbox vs The Sidekick if you’re interested.
Conclusions On If Traeger’s Are The Best Pellet Grills/Smokers Currently Available
As I’ve shown above, there are certain features such as direct flame grilling/broiling at up to 750 degrees and 900 degrees searing (with an optional) propane attachment which are not currently available on Traeger pellet grills. However, that does not necessarily mean that alternatives such as a Camp Chef pellet grill are the better/best option.
For instance, I do believe that the D2 Direct Drive system fitted to the Pro Series, Ironwood and Timberline Traeger pellet grills is currently the best available drive system on any pellet grill. I also believe that the WiFire app offers the widest functionally and features with video recipes and downloadable grill settings. Furthermore, the downdraft exhaust fitted to the Traeger Ironwood and Timberline range I believe to be the best chimney design for even heat and smoke distribution.
When looking at premium pellet grills specifically, such as the Traeger Ironwood and Timberline, in particular, these do offer the best-insulated construction found on the market today. Furthermore, the Timberline range with its extensive use of stainless steel means they are likely going to last a lot longer than many competing grills while being easier to clean at the same time.
While there are pellet grills out there from the competition which have features/capabilities not currently found on a Traeger they are not features/capabilities which detract from the key reason to purchase a pellet grill in the first place. Namely, to cook/smoke food at generally lower temperatures over a longer period of time to let the wood smoke penetrate and flavour your food. Therefore, when you factor in the high build quality of many of the Traeger products and their proven ability to produce great tasting wood-fired food, its hard to argue they are still not producing some of the best pellet grills on the market today. If you need more help, I have another post on how to choose the best pellet grill to meet your needs. Within that post, I discuss the different classes of pellet grill from economy up to luxury.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post interesting. You can purchase any of the models mentioned above directly from Traegergrills.com. They also have some great financing deals with 0% interest, starting from $40 a month. If you are interested in learning more about all the different brands of pellet grills and BBQ wood pellets please review my wood pellet grill/smoker guide. 🙂