While Traeger is currently the biggest/most well-known player in the pellet grill/smoker market, they are not the most well known for outdoor grills in general. Pellets are still a smaller percentage of the BBQ market compared to well-established alternatives such as charcoal and gas grills. One of the biggest brands in the outdoor grill market producing high quality/premium charcoal and gas grills is Weber. However, Weber has now also decided they want to compete in the pellet grill market. Not surprisingly, as some market analysts predict over the next 5 years that pellet grills will overtake charcoal and gas grills due to their combination of offering great flavour with convenience. So in the Traeger vs Weber debate how do the offerings from the two companies compare?
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Unlike my previous posts, such as Traeger vs Pit Boss and Traeger vs Camp Chef where multiple comparable products were discussed, this article will be a little different. After all, as Weber has only just recently entered the pellet grill market they only currently offer two models in their SmokeFire range. Therefore, I’ve picked the two closest comparable Traeger grills on price and features to compare against the Weber SmokerFire pellet grills.
Introduction To Traeger vs Weber Pellet Grills/Smokers
Traeger was the first company to bring a pellet grill to the market in the 1980s and they are still the pellet grill market leader to this day. Traeger did hold a patent on the basic principles of how a pellet grill works for 20 years which definitely helped them establish and maintain brand awareness. Its a bit like how many people call a vacuum cleaner a ‘Hoover’, many people just automatically refer to a pellet grill as a ‘Traeger’.
With regards to Weber, based in Chicago, they have been producing BBQs since 1952 and are acknowledged as the inventors of the kettle barbeque. Weber today has offices in over 40 countries and they produce in many instances market-leading charcoal and gas BBQs. As Weber is known for producing premium charcoal and gas grills, they have chosen not to compete in the pellet grill market with products under $500, or under $1,000. Their two models in the Weber SmokeFire range are premium products in the under $2,000 category. Therefore, in terms of price the Traeger Ironwood 650 matches up well with the Weber SmokeFire EX4 and the Traeger Ironwood 885 matches up with the Weber SmokeFire EX6.
Traeger Ironwood vs Weber SmokeFire Pellet Grill Ranges
Below I’ll just be briefly describing the key features of each pellet grill range to compare them. I have detailed articles on the Traeger Ironwood and Weber SmokeFire pellet grill ranges if you want to learn everything about them. First, let’s discuss the Traeger Ironwood range, which sits in between the lower specification Traeger Pro Series and the higher specification Traeger Timberline range. Using the latest D2 Direct Drive system and with optional extras from the Pro Series included as standard (Traeger pellet sensor) the Ironwood 650 and 885 are some of the best pellet grills Traeger currently has to offer. The Ironwood grills lack the full stainless steel interior of the Timberline range. However, they do feature twin-wall insulated construction on the sides of the grill to help to avoid issues of cold ambient temperatures affecting the performance of the grills.
In terms of cooking area, the smaller Ironwood 665 provides a total of 665 square inches and the Ironwood 885 provides, you guessed it, 885 square inches of cooking area. Just like the lower specification Pro Series and the higher specification Timberline range, both Ironwood models benefit from WiFire which is Traeger’s branding for the WiFi/App integration into their pellet grills. In terms of features/capabilities, the Traeger WiFire app is currently one of if not the best on the market currently. In terms of the D2 control panel its the same as the Timberline and features additional features such as ‘Super Smoke’ and ‘Keep Warm’ modes not found on the lower specification Pro Series.
Probably my favourite feature of the Ironwood (also found on the higher-spec Timberline) is the horizontal downdraft exhaust. Now, both the Weber SmokeFire pellet grills have rear exhaust vents along the back of the grill. However, it simply doesn’t function the same the downdraft exhaust fitted on the back of the Traeger. With the Weber, the smoke/heat rises from the firepot below and then reasonably quickly vents out of the back. On the Traeger Ironwood, the design of the downdraft chimney forces the smoke/heat to come up and over the food and down under the racks before its able to leave the grill. Hence, this creates more even cooking temperature across the whole cooking surface and exposes the food to more of that great smokey flavour from the BBQ wood pellets.
So now let’s look at the highlights of the Weber SmokFire pellet grill range. In terms of cooking area, the EX4 provides a total of 672 square inches, whereas the EX6 provides 1,008 square inches. Hence, very similar cooking areas to the Traeger Ironwood pellet grills discussed above, well actually a little larger. If you compare the images above of the Traeger Ironwood and Weber SmokeFire pellet grills you should notice a significant difference. On the Weber SmokeFire grills, there is no side-mounted pellet hopper. On the SmokeFire grills, the hopper is mounted on the rear of the unit. Where both Traeger grills provide a 20lbs hopper, both the Weber grills provide a slightly larger 22lb pellet hopper. The advantage of a rear-mounted hopper is a shorter pellet feed auger, which means less chance of auger blockages.
Weber has gone for a different approach to Traeger when it comes to the firepot design. In the Traeger, the pellet auger feeds pellets into the bottom of the burn pot. As you can see from the image above, on the Weber SmokeFire pellet grills the pellets are dropped from above into the firepot. The advantage of a drop-down burn pot is there is less risk of burn back into the pellet hopper. Now, I’ve been running a pellet boiler with a bottom fed feed auger to heat my home since 2008, and burn back into the hopper has never been an issue. The reasons being, I properly service and clean my pellet-burning appliance. However, I do accept the basic concept that a drop-down pellet feed system into a burn pot would reduce the risk of burn back into the pellet hopper.
With regards to the temperature control and temperature ranges, there are some notable differences between Traeger and Weber. While the Traeger Ironwood pellet grills have a maximum temperature of 500 degrees, the Weber grills have a maximum temperature setting of 600 degrees. Weber also promotes the fact the Weber SmokeFire range of pellet grills can flame sear which will provide an even higher cooking surface temperature.
As Stated above, where the Traeger grills have WiFi integration through their ‘WiFire’ app, Weber has also made sure their grills are WiFi enabled. Now, there are reports of users with all makes and models of pellet grills struggling to set up and use WiFi functionally. However, it does appear a higher percentage of Weber SmokerFire owners are struggling with WiFi setup and limited functionality. However, Weber is updating the Firmware on the grills as you can see from this article. Though, in its current state, the Traeger WiFire app in terms of its functionality and features I feel is just much better.
Room For Improvement With Weber SmokeFire Pellet Grills
So before we get into this topic, I just want to clarify that, as I stated in my article on the Weber SmokerFire pellet grills I do believe Weber produce high-quality products and the Weber SmokeFire range has a lot of design ideas I like in principle. However, after reviewing many owners videos of the first generation Weber SmokeFire pellet grills I do believe there are some problems with the design that Weber needs to address. There are some workarounds to these potential issues as I discuss below. But the facts are, if you are paying this much for a grill, the owner should not be expected to have to spend their time and money on workarounds. Especially as there are other pellet grills out there without these issues. The two main issues are the way the SmokeFire pellet grills deal with grease/the potential for grease fires and the second is the pellet hopper design.
So I’ve been working (and playing) with pellets since 2007, and one of their advantages is they flow ‘like’ water. However, pellets are not water, and you have to be careful when designing hoppers so the angles are not too shallow to create an issue which is often referred to as pellet ‘bridging’. The issue is pretty much as its sounds. You would look in the hopper to see a level of pellets, but underneath there is a void, the pellets have formed a bridge. If the sides of the pellet hopper are steep enough a pellet bridge cannot form. However, when designing certain hoppers, especially wide and thin hoppers like that found on the Weber SmokeFire steep angles and a reasonable capacity would increase the height of the hopper, ruining the look of the grill. Therefore, the hopper angles on the SmokeFire are quite shallow, so the pellets don’t always flow that well, as discussed in the video below.
What the above video doesn’t mention as a means to address the issue of pellets bridging/hulling in the hopper is sieving the pellets of dust before you load them into the hopper. I discuss the importance of pellet sieving to remove dust in my Traeger accessories post, and I really wish it was something that pellet grill manufactures discussed more. A build-up of dust can make a significant difference to how well pellets flow through a hopper. Therefore, if you want your wood pellets to flow as well as possible through a hopper, sieve them of dust first. Another good tip, is to clean out the pellet hopper with a vacuum and then rub a silicone lubricant with a cloth on the sides of the hopper. This will further reduce friction and stop the pellets hulling/bridging.
Potential Problems With Grease and Ash Build-Up
While the pellet hopper issues discussed above could be annoying, its not potentially dangerous. Well, there is a second potential issue that some Weber SmokeFire owners are experiencing as the video above alludes to, a build-up of grease/ash in the base of the pellet grill. In the video above, with the Weber SmokerFire, its advised to clean the pellet grill after every cook. Now, this is not commonly recommended practice, its normally recommended to clean a pellet grill after 2-3 long/slow cooks or 5-6 short cooks (steaks/burgers etc). The issue appears to be that the grease from doing low and slow cooks is not sufficiently working its way down into the grease channels. I believe part of the problem is that the grease channels are located next to the pellet burn pot. Hence, hot grease is mixing with ash and this is blocking the grease channels. If a build-up of grease occurs in the base of the pellet grill, this can potentially lead to a grease fire.
To help address grease build-up issues on the Weber SmokerFire pellet grills a set of GrillGrates should be considered: Image – Amazon
The video above talks about using a water pan to collect some of that grease and to stop it falling into the base of the pellet grill. However, another alternative is to use a set of GrillGrates. I would very much encourage you to read my article on GrillGrates, as many pellet grill owners now swear by them. They can help to improve the searing performance of every pellet grill. However, importantly they also catch a lot of the grease/fat coming off the food. Hence, anyone I speak to who is considering a Weber SmokeFire I encourage them to seriously consider a set of GrillGrates.
Conclusions On Traeger vs Weber Pellet Grills
So in conclusion then, what are my final thoughts on the Traeger vs Weber debate? Well, there is no doubt that Weber has been analysing the feature set/capabilities of Traeger grills and they wanted to offer more. Hence, the slightly larger cooking area, the slightly larger pellet hopper, and the higher maxium cooking temperatures the Weber grills are capable of. However, I think the design of the Weber SmokeFire grills also shows that Weber wasn’t fully prepared for how different the combustion process is for wood pellets compared to gas.
For instance, the SmokeFire range features the same flavourizer bars which are fitted over the gas burners on Webers other grills. However, as discussed above with pellets you get ash, which is not found with gas grills. And the ash mixing with the grease is a problem that Weber needs to look at again. Therefore, as things currently stand in the Traeger vs Weber debate, I think that Traeger is still offering the more superior products. Though competition is a good thing, it helps us as consumers get better products. So I really do hope Weber looks again at their SmokeFire pellet grills and comes back strong with their second generation. The video I came across below from Embers Fireplaces & Outdoor Living mirrors my own thoughts.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope you found this article comparing the current offerings in the Traeger vs Weber debate interesting/useful. I also have an article comparing Pit Boss vs Weber. However, its important to remember there are lots more options than just Traeger or Weber when it comes to choosing a pellet grill. Therefore, please check out my wood pellet grill/smoker guide. 🙂