How To Cook Steaks On A Traeger

Hi, I’m Chris. I started back in 2007.

I’ve previously produced my main article on the best methods for how to cook steaks on a pellet grill/smoker. This article is going to be more specific about cooking steaks on a Traeger pellet grill/smoker and their recommended methods. We’ll discuss searing and reverse searing (smoking then searing). We’ll also discuss why you might not want to follow Traeger’s methods to get the best sear possible on your steaks. Right, let’s get into this!

How To Cook Steaks On A Traeger
To get proper grill marks/browning/crust on your steaks, your Traeger may need a little assistance: Image –

Disclaimer: Hey! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon or other sites are affiliate links, and I earn a commission if you make a purchase.

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Key Takeaways

  • Cooking Time Searing: Typically 3 to 5 minutes
  • Cooking Time Reverse Sear: Typically 30 to 60 minutes
  • Traeger Temp: Reverse sear (225 F), Searing (Max Temp)
  • Steak Internal Temp When Done: 130 to 135 F (we’ll discuss this)
  • Best Pellets For Steaks: Mesquite, Hickory, Oak, Pecan

I’m no BBQ expert, my expertise is how pellet grills/smokers work and the range of makes/models on the market. When it comes to how to cook on a pellet grill/smoker, I’ll be referring to the professionals.

Below we’re going to look at two methods of cooking steaks on a Traeger. First, straight searing with direct heat, and then we’ll look at reverse searing steaks.

There are other methods to cook steaks. However, I’ll explain why reverse searing (smoking then searing) your steaks is the best approach for pellet grill/smoker owners.

Searing/Grilling Steaks On A Traeger

You may have heard some people claim that ‘you cannot grill/sear a good steak on a Traeger!’. That’s not strictly true, but there are reasons that some people have that perception.

First-generation Pro Series models had a maximum 450-degree temperature setting, and even modern versions of the Pro Series, Ironwood and Timberline max out at only 500 degrees.

To get a good sear/crust on your steaks from the Maillard reaction, you really need a grate surface temperature of around 600 degrees, maybe even a little bit higher.

Hence, you can see the obvious problem and why Traeger’s often gets criticized for their grilling/searing performance. However, it is a problem that can be solved quite easily.

This video shows it is indeed possible to sear a good steak on a Traeger

In the video above, Kosmo, who has won various awards for his steaks, shows it is indeed possible to grill/sear steaks on a Traeger with the assistance of some GrillGrates.

Now, Kosmo removes the grease tray/heat deflector in the process. However, I would not suggest going for such an approach. My main article on searing steaks also shows its not necessary either.

What the GrillGrates are able to do are build in temperature much more successfully than the racks that come standard in the Traeger. While the Traeger may state 500 degrees, the GrillGrates will be 600 degrees, maybe more.

Just searing/grilling steaks is not taking full advantage of the functionality of your Traeger. In other words, let’s get some smoke in your steaks before you sear them with a nice crust.

Reverse Searing Steaks On A Traeger

Below I’ve included a video of Matt from Meat Church reverse searing a Ribeye steak, though the same process applies to any other cut of beef steak you’re working with.

The reason you want to reverse sear (smoke then sear) as opposed to searing and then smoking is very simple. It comes down to smoke penetration into the meat.

Smoke finds it much easier to get into the muscle fibres of the steak while its at a lower temperature. Searing also seals off the steak, hindering smoke penetration.

A good approach for reverse searing steaks, though a set of GrillGrates would improve the sear considerably: Video –

In the video above, Matt smokes his steaks at 225 F with Super Smoke enabled. Then once the internal temperatures of the steaks are at 120 F, he then ups the temperature for the searing finish.

However, you will note that Matt is not using any GrillGrates, and I think his steaks don’t get the sear most people would be looking for as a result.

Matt takes the steaks up to an internal temperature of medium-rare (130 to 135 F) which is many people’s preference, including my own, but why is that?

The Steak 101 video in my main steak article discusses this in more detail, but here’s the crux of it. When rare, the fat within the muscle fibres has not rendered properly. Hence you get less flavour as a result.

If you continue to cook a steak beyond medium rare, you start to dry out the steak, and the muscle fibres can start to become tough and fluffy in texture.

Below I now want to discuss your choice of steak in more detail, as it really does matter. After all, you can only cook a good steak if you are starting with a good quality steak in the first place.

1: Purchase The Best Steaks You Can Afford

When purchasing your steaks, you first have to choose the cut. Do you want a Ribeye, Strip, Tenderloin, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Hanger, Skirt, Short Ribs, Flap, Flank, Tri-tip, Rump, Top-Sirloin, Tomahawk or Denver?

Obviously, a lot of options there, and I’ll leave it up to you to research what you want to go for. However, you also need to decide what grade of steak you are going to purchase.

Are you going to go with the cheapest (USDA Select), or are you able to spend a little more on a USDA Choice steak, or maybe go up to a USDA Prime steak?

But what do these USDA grades actually mean? What’s the difference? Well, its all about fat marbling within the meat, the more fat marbling, the better quality the steak.

Fat in between the muscle fibres improves flavour when that fat renders, and it also keeps the steak moist and juicy. If you want and can afford the best steaks available, look for a Wagyu steak.

Wagyu Beef Steaks
See that extent of fat marbling on these Wagyu steaks? You won’t find that on cheaper steaks: Images –

Wagyu beef is a breed that originally came from Japan. However, you now have outfits such as Snake River Farms, which imported and bred their own Wagyu cattle.

Now trust me, Wagyu beef is lovely, but your wallet will feel the pain. Therefore, I only personally eat Wagyu on special occasions or when I really want to treat myself.

The overall point is if you can afford to step up from a USDA Select steak to a Choice/Prime steak etc, its worth it. If you can only afford a USDA Select brisket, you’ll likely want to baste with butter more heavily.

2: Preparing Your Steaks For The Traeger & Seasoning

If your steaks have large chunks of fat around the perimeter, you will likely want to trim that down before cooking your steaks, but what about seasoning?

You definitely want to season your steaks, at least with some sea salt and black pepper. Ideally, you’ll then have enough time to put your seasoned steaks back in the fridge for a while before cooking.

This will help the salt/pepper penetrate into the steaks. However, salt/pepper is seen as just basic seasoning by many people. You can obviously add a lot more flavour if you wish.

Traeger Rubs For Steaks
Traeger sells a selection of rubs which are suitable for cooking steaks: Images –

While I would encourage you to play around with seasoning your steaks, if you have purchased a high-quality Prime/Wagyu steak, I would personally stick to a relatively simple bit of seasoning.

After all, if you have spent good money on a premium steak, you want to, first and foremost, be able to taste the quality of that premium steak.

In general, whatever seasoning you choose to go ahead with, I would encourage you to go light on the seasoning, similar to that of cooking burgers, not like you are cooking a brisket.

3. The Best Traeger Pellets For Cooking Steaks

With beef, in general, its well suited to bold smoke flavour produced from using Mesquite, Hickory, Pecan or Oak pellets.

However, there are also many different custom pellet blends sold by Traeger and many other brands that can also work well with steaks. You may also want to try liquor pellets for a new flavour profile.

Beef can work well with any type of pellets, really. If you want to stick to a lighter/sweeter smoke profile, then Apple or Cherry pellets may also be an option you want to consider.

Best Traeger Pellets For Cooking Steaks
Steaks can be cooked well with any flavour of Traeger pellets suitable for your flavour preference: Images –

If you want to get the hottest temperatures possible from your Traeger for grilling/searing steaks, then you may want to consider some charcoal pellets.

What I can tell you is that if you want to purchase the best value pellets, you’ll typically find that from other brands.

Traeger pellets are widely available, which is their best attribute. However, they are not the best value on a $ per lb basis. Therefore, I would encourage you to check out my article on the best value pellets.

4. Reverse Searing Steaks & Smoke Settings

If you own a Traeger model that was built before 2019, you will have a temperature dial and a Smoke Setting. You may also have a P-Setting adjustment.

I would encourage you to consider the reverse sear/smoking process by using the smoke setting initially at least, to get as much smoke flavour into your steaks as possible.

However, I would encourage you to read my article on the P-Setting, as if you set it wrong, you could end up with a flameout situation which can be a right pain.

Now, if you own a Gen 1 or Gen 2 Ironwood or Gen 1 or Gen 2 Timberline, then you have a smoke setting branded as ‘Super Smoke’. However, you don’t have to worry about the P-Setting.

The general point to remember with all pellet grills/smokers is they will produce more smoke at lower temperature settings when the fire is smaller, and the pellets are more likely to smoulder.

You generally want to finish smoking the steaks around 10 to 20 degrees below the target temperature. That way, after searing, your steak will be at the correct internal temperature.

Therefore, for a medium rare steak to finish at 130 to 135 degrees, you generally want to start searing when the steaks have an internal temperature of around 110 degrees.

5. Searing Steaks On A Traeger & GrillGrates

Above, I’ve discussed how a Traeger can indeed sear a good steak. However, the reality is it will struggle to do so unassisted. Hence, the need for GrillGrates.

Traeger’s do not feature thick cast iron grates or direct-flame access like some other pellet grills. Therefore, a set of GrillGrates can help to overcome those missing features.

GrillGrates & Charcoal Pellets
The key to searing great steaks on a Traeger is a set of GrillGrates and 100% charcoal pellets: Images –

GrillGrates are made from hard-anodized aluminium that is able to build its temperature to create a much hotter cooking surface than the thin wire racks found on many Traeger models.

If you want to provide the hottest grate surface temperatures possible on your Traeger, you can combine using GrillGrates with burning 100% charcoal pellets.

With the combination of GrillGrates/charcoal pellets, any Traeger pellet grill can sear steaks to create a fantastic outer crust that any BBQ enthusiast will be happy with.

6. Steak Internal Temperature Monitoring

When you’re cooking steaks on your Traeger, whether you are just searing them or reverse searing them, you need to be able to monitor their internal temperature to cook them to your perfect doneness.

Now, your Traeger will have the capacity for a wired meat probe or maybe even a wireless MEATER probe if you own a Gen 2 Ironwood or Timberline model.

However, I would also encourage you to have another means to test the internal temperature of your steaks. In other words, I would encourage you to get an instant-read thermometer.

Instant Read Thermometer For Steaks
The Thermapen is one of the most trusted instant-read thermometers currently on the market: Image –

Personally, I’ve found the use of an instant-read thermometer to honestly be the cliche of a ‘game changer’. No more guessing, no more cooking to ‘how a steak feels’, cooking to a precise temperature.

I have a Thermapen, as seen in the image above. While there are indeed cheaper instant-read thermometers available, the fact is many of the cheaper versions are just not that accurate.

Final Thoughts About Cooking Steaks On A Traeger…

Don’t let anyone tell you a Traeger cannot sear a good steak, because its not true. What is true is a Traeger will need a little assistance to sear a good steak.

However, I would encourage you to always reverse-sear your steaks if you have the time to do so. It makes the best use of your Traeger’s capabilities, and you’ll get a better steak as the end result.

I’m not going to tell you that cooking a steak to medium rare is the only doneness you should cook it to. However, as I’ve discussed above, there are measurable reasons why most people prefer a medium-rare steak.

There are obviously many different methods you can customise your cooking process of steaks with butter basting etc, and I’ll leave you to try as many of those methods as you would like to.

The main point of this article is for you to understand how the get the best results when cooking steaks on your Traeger, whether searing or reverse-searing.

That’s it! Thanks for reading. As always, please check out my Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide or my Smoking/Grilling guides for more advice. 🙂

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Chris -

Hi, I’m Chris. I started back in 2007. This website is intended to be an educational resource on BBQ pellets, pellet grills & smokers. I hope you find the information useful.

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