Which Trager grill is the best choice?
Traeger is amongst the first pioneers of wood pellet grills and smokers back in the 80s. It’s a reputable brand that has been on the market for a long time. They have several models under their name and they have been doing well compared to their competitors. They include the Traeger portables, Traeger Pro, Traeger Ironwood series, and the Traeger Timberline series.
We have actually directly tested and used some of these grills for a couple of months. After assessing them and sharing our in-depth reviews, we’ve shortlisted two of them herein which we consider as the best buys. They stand apart for their performance and great cooking results as well as for their signature smoky flavor, solid build quality, and lots of technology in them.
The Traeger Timberline series is a more improved version of all the other Traeger’s grills when it comes to the size of the cooking area, the number of racks, build quality, and the additional features included. There are two sizes available in the series just like the rest: Timberline 1300 and Timberline 850.
They are similar in terms of design, quality, performance, and cooking results. The only difference is the cooking area; the Timberline 1300 offers up to 1300 square inches of space to grill on while the Timberline 850 offers 850 square inches. Their performance and cooking results are slightly better than the other previous Traeger models due to their robust construction and better insulation.
The most notable improvement, however, is the Wi-FIRE connectivity, which was an issue in the previous models – it’s much more stable and simple to set up. The other one is the concealed grease management system.
The Traeger Ironwood series is much similar to the Timberline series in terms of design but it’s a newer line than Traeger’s Pro line. The series comes in two versions that only differ in the size of the cooking area: the Ironwood 885 (offers 885 sq. in.) and Ironwood 650 (offers 650 sq. in.).
They both offer more features than the Pro series which include Timer, Keep Warm, and Super Smoke functions. They also have all the tech that the Timberline offers including TRU convection, DownDraft Exhaust, Low Pellet Sensor, and the Turbo Temp.
Other notable upgrades from the Traeger Pro are high top temperatures (260°C/500°F) and the build quality (double-wall insulation and gasket-line lid). It generally offers all the best features of Traeger’s Pro line and more.
The Traeger Pro is perhaps the most popular series of Traeger’s wood pellet grills. With their mid-range price points, they are what most people start their Traeger journey with including us.
The Pro 575 was the first Traeger model we tested. As with the other Traeger series, the Pro is available in two versions and again the only difference between them is the grilling space: the Pro 780 (offers 780 sq. in. cooking space) and the Pro 575 (offers 575 sq. in.). These two are updated versions of Traeger’s portable models (Ranger and Tailgator).
The major improvement is the WiFIRE technology which is present in both the TImberline and the Ironwood series – you can control the grill with the Traeger app on your mobile device. Other improvements are an updated D2 DIrect drive controller and an auto-ignition function. All these are present in the Timberline and Ironwood series. The previous models have only basic functions and features.
Best Traeger Grill
1. Best Overall: Traeger Timberline 850
The Traeger Timberline 850 was our best overall choice mainly because it’s a more improved version of all the other Traeger’s grills. It comes with 3 vertical racks against the two of the Ironwood and other series. It also offers a more robust overall construction and better insulation. The hopper is larger too than the rest and it has some useful extra features like side tables and a cutting board.
The key improvements to us as we mentioned earlier are Wi-Fi connection which is much more stable and easier to set up, and the concealed grease management system. The Timberline grills also offer a large cooking area and even a lot more with the Timberline 1300 version. All the other technology and functions are similar to Traeger’s Ironwood series.
- Uniform heating: heat distribution across the whole cooking chamber is nearly uniform (much better than the Ironwood grills) due to the downdraft exhaust system and built-in fan which helps to evenly circulate the hot air and smoke. We only found a variance of 10°F or less between different parts like the sides and the back.
- Keeps a fairly constant temperature: temperature rarely fluctuates more than 5 to 10°F above or below the target temperature.
- Withstands different weather conditions: the thick double-wall construction plus the thick thermal gasket all around the lid provides a tighter seal that keeps the heat and smoke inside the grill. They provide more interior insulation compared to the Ironwood or previous models.
- Great cooking results: we got consistent impressive results, especially when doing long, slow cooking at low heat because the temperature remains fairly constant. Almost everything we tried (brisket, ribs, pork, and poultry) came out tender and juicy, properly cooked on all sides
- Fantastic wood smoke flavor – it leaves the food with a fairly heavy smokey flavor that gets stronger when you use the Super Smoke mode. The smoke ring is sharply defined too.
- Large cooking area: The grill grates are three rather than two like in the Ironwood and the other models. They offer a total cooking space of 850 sq. in. which is sufficient to cook 6 chicken or 9 rib racks at once. The Timberline 1300 offers a lot more space at 1300 sq. in. – the largest of Traeger’s models and enough for larger families.
- Larger pellet hopper: the pellet hopper (24 pounds) is larger than that of the Ironwood (which has 20 pounds capacity). It’s able to keep the fire burning for about 8 hours.
- Stable Wi-Fi connection: this is the most notable upgrade. The Wi-Fi connection was rock-solid nearly in all our tests. Setting up the Wi-FIRE (connecting the grill to the home network and the app) was easy too. It was much better than the Ironwood or Pro as they were challenging to set up and the connection was always unstable.
- Better build quality: the overall build is sturdier and durable than the rest. It’s more robust, featuring a thick double-wall chamber that’s made of heavy-gauge steel. The grill grates as well as the tubular steel legs are also thick and stable.
- Concealed grease management system: there’s no grease bucket, only a drip tray which is hidden right inside the smoker. No chance of bumping into the grease and pouring it all over.
- Several extra useful features: comes with two metal shelves, a narrow one along the front and a large one on the left side. Tprovidevide extra space for holding/resting food and grill tools. There’s a bamboo cutting board too which is provided with the unit.
- Simple to operate and to move: the onboard D2 controller is intuitive and easy to use just like that of the Ironwood, plus you can control the unit on your phone via the Traeger app. The legs are four featuring two big wheels and two casters, so moving the unit on a level surface is easy.
- Low pellet sensor: alerts you when the pellets are almost depleted.
- Slow at starting up: it takes a bit longer to start up/ get up to temperature compared to the Ironwood as well as the Pro grills. The ignition process, in particular, can drag on for several minutes at first.
- Takes a bit longer to recover: it takes a while to recover once you open the lid – it can take around 60°C per minute which can lead to longer cooking times than anticipated if the lid is opened frequently.
- Can’t properly sear foods: performs relatively well in reverse searing but poorly in direct searing/direct high-temperature cooking. This is due to the indirect heating and the limited maximum temp cap of 500°F – it’s not hot enough to properly sear a steak
- Not really a set-and-forget grill: neither the app nor the D2 controller on the grill alerts you when there’s a sudden drop in temperature below the target level. The two controllers also can’t automatically shut the grill off or put it to the Keep Warm function once the timer expires, or the food gets cooked.
- Offers only one temp probe connection: unlike the Pro series, there’s only one temperature probe connection on the controller of the TImberline models. It’s hard to monitor the temperature of the foods in case you’re cooking multiple things at once.
- Pellets sometimes stall: the pellets sometimes tend to fail to fall/enter into the small hole where the auger is placed. Almost ¼ of the pellets can sit on the sidelines, especially when the hopper gets more than half exhausted.
- Limited Super Smoke capability: the Super Smoke mode is only effective at low temperatures ranging from 160 to 225°F. There’s hardly any smoke produced when at hot fast-burning temperatures.
2. Best Alternative: Traeger Ironwood 885
As with the Timberline, the Traeger Ironwood comes in two versions; the Ironwood 885 and the Ironwood 650. Again, the difference between them is the size but they share everything else.
We picked the Ironwood 885 as the best alternative model because it has the advantage of a bigger cooking area (885 sq. in.) than its counterpart (Ironwood 650) as well as the Timberline 850 model. It’s basically an upgrade from the Pro 780, but it’s almost similar to the Timberline series in terms of design and most of the features.
It does offer better value for the money compared to the Pro line due to its larger cooking area, double side-walled insulation, a slightly larger hopper, and the other additional advanced. The performance and cooking results are also better than that of the Pro line.
- Heats up fast: it starts fairly quickly and heats up to temperature faster than the rest, including the Timberline models. It takes about less than 10 minutes to preheat when at low-temperature settings and up to 25 minutes when set to the highest temperature (500°F/260°C).
- Decent heat distribution: utilizes the same downdraft exhaust systems and build-in fan, so heat distribution is also uniform for the most part. There was a variance of 10°F between the back and the front sides of the grill.
- Temperatures remain fairly consistent: the double side-wall insulation coupled with the gasket-lined lid does a good job at retaining the heat. There’s not much fluctuation – rarely varies more than 10°F from the set temperature.
- Quick response to temperature changes: it’s notably faster than the Timberline models – takes about less than 5 minutes to reach the new lowered or increased temperature. The unit recovers relatively quickly too when the temperature drops, especially when you open the lid.
- Delivers great cooking results: like the Timberline models, the cooking performance is pretty impressive, particularly when it’s slow and low-heat cooking. Almost all of the meat came out properly cooked – tender and juicy. We generally got great results most of the time.
- Leaves deep smoky flavor onto the food: there’s optimal smoke production inside the grill chamber when you use the Super Smoke function. Nearly all the meats we cooked, especially for long hours at low heat, had a strong smoky flavor, plus the smoke ring is always clearly defined.
- Offers a fairly large cooking space: it has two grates which offer 885 sq. in. cooking area, the second-largest in Traeger’s pellet grills. It has sufficient space to cook enough food for a medium-sized family of 5 to 8 people.
- Decent pellet hopper capacity: the pellet hopper has a 20-pound capacity which is relatively larger compared to the 18 pounds of the Pro 575.
- Sturdy and durable overall build: the entire unit is pretty solid and durable featuring a double side-wall chamber and gasket-lined line, against the single-walled chamber of the Pro 575.
- Simple to use and to move: it has an intuitive D2 control panel and supports Traeger WiFIRE technology and Amazon Alexa, hence you can control it via your smartphone or using voice control. All four legs have wheels, unlike its predecessors which only have two wheels on the rear legs.
- Comes with several useful features: you get a stainless steel shelf with this unit as well as several other advanced features found in the Timberline series including a built-in pellet sensor, the Keep Warm function, and two timers.
- Not ideal for searing: it maxes out at 500°F like the Timberline 850, hence it’s not able to make properly seared steaks that are well charred on the outside and rare inside.
- Challenging to keep clean: it requires a bit more maintenance than the Timberline. You need to empty the drip tray regularly, plus it comes with an unsightly grease bucket that you can easily bump into. It also produces more ash than other Traeger grills.
- The WiFIRE connection isn’t reliable: setting up the WiFIRE was a bit of pain – it took several tries to get it connected to our home network. Keeping it connected was equally challenging. It kept on losing connection in almost every cooking session.
- Sometimes you don’t get app notifications: we didn’t get important cooking alerts at times during some cooking sessions for instance when the probe reaches the target temperature or once the timer goes off.
- Not quite fuel-efficient: the Ironwood grills didn’t really perform well with regards to fuel efficiency, especially compared to the Pro 575 model. A 20-pound pellet bag lasts only 14 hours at low temperatures and just about 5 hours at maximum temperature (500°F) – Traeger claims it can last 20 hours and 6 hours respectively.
Other Alternative Brands
Pit Boss Grills
Pit Boss is also amongst the earliest companies to venture into the pellet smoker market. Their models are almost quite similar to Traeger’s grills in terms of build quality, performance, and cooking space. They are, however, more affordable.
Most of them range between $500 to $700 mark – smaller, portable models come at lower prices than that, maxing out at $700 +. The more basic Traeger models cost about $600 + while the more advanced options go for up to $2000.
The Pit Boss grills do a good job at keeping the heat stable and they have a design that also doesn’t leak smoke at all. However, only fewer of their models feature double-wall insulation. Most have a single-layered cooking chamber like Traeger’s Pro line and other previous models.
The temperature range (180 to 500°F) is almost similar to that of the Traeger (150 – 500°F) – you can smoke, bake, grill, roast and braise with their grills. Cooking performance is equally as good as that of Traeger’s Timberline and Ironwood grills.
They do have a slight edge over Traeger though as they come with a slide open sear plate that allows you to grill over an open wood-fired flame, not just indirect heat. You get better results when cooking food that requires high heat – crusts are crisper and there’s more moisture retention. The units also pump out steady, good-quality smoke, so they leave behind a strong smoky flavor.
When it comes to cooking space, the PIt Boss grills again take the edge, the cooking area of most of them is larger than that of similar Traeger models. For instance, the basic model like the Pit Boss classic 700 offers 700 sq. in. cooking area while its counterpart the Traeger Pro 575 offers 575 sq. in. The mid-range model like Pit Boss Austin XL offers 930 sq. in. against Traeger’s Ironwood 885 which offers 885 sq. in.
Another advantage of Pit Boss grills is that they have larger pellet hoppers hence provide a longer cook duration before refueling again. They generally range from 21 pounds (Pit Boss Classic 700) to 32 pounds (Pit Boss Navigator 1150) while Traegre’s hoppers range from 18 pounds (Traeger Pro 575) to 24 pounds (Traeger Timberline 850).
One of the downsides of the Pit Boss grills is that they don’t offer more precise temperature control. Most of their digital controllers only allow 25°F increments while in Traeger’s models you can adjust the temperature in 15°F increments.
Pit Boss grills are also not as robust as Traeger grills when it comes to the build quality. Most of them are made using powder-coated steel. Traeger uses the same material on their grills although it’s thicker and most of the models are double-side walled and insulated except the Pro line. The only area Pit Boss has the upper hand is the warranty period – they offer a 5-year warranty on all their models while Traeger offers only a 3-year warranty.
The other disadvantage is that Pit Boss grills, even the top-line models, are equipped with less advanced features. For instance, the only advanced features that higher-end models like the Pit Boss Navigator 1150 comes with are 2 stainless meat probes, a pellet purge system, reinforced legs, a folding front shelf, and a slide-out sear plate.
Traeger’s high-end models, like the Timberline and Ironwood, come with more advanced features like WiFIRE technology, Super Smoke function, Keep Warm function, Downdraft Exhaust system, pellet sensor, timers, and an integrated grease management system.
Camp Chef is yet another reputable brand and major player in the wood pellet grill market. Their models are meant for at-home barbecue and range from portable to larger grills.
Like the Pit Boss, they are good quality grills yet more affordable than Traeger’s models. A majority (both inexpensive and high-end models) range around $700 to $1000, with the most expensive options topping just a little over $1000 – Traeger models cost up to $2000 with the cheapest starting at around $600.
The grills are easy to use. They utilize a PID digital controller instead of the D2 Drive controller we saw in Traeger’s grills. The temperature selection system is equally simple and you get two stainless steel meat probes: an internet meat temperature probe and an internal temperature sensor, so you can determine the actual temperature of your food and the temperature inside the grill.
Maintaining a steady temperature is an area where Camp Chef also performs very well, in fact, better than the Traeger. The grills have thick-well-insulated cook chambers and the Camp Chef’s PID controller is slightly more precise compared to Traeger’s D2 Drivetrain – keeps the heat within around +/- 5°F of your set temperature compared to Traeger’s 5 to 10°F variance range.
The temperature range (180 to 500°F) of most of the Camp Chef units is similar to that of the Pit Boss and close to that of the Traeger (150 to 500°F). However, Camp Chef’s more advanced models like the Woodwind 24 and Woodwind 36 have a slight edge over those of Traeger because they can hit maximum high temperatures of about 650°F when using the Slide n’ Grill option which enables you to do open/direct wood-fire flame grilling.
The cooking results are amazing and the meats come out with a deep smoky flavor. The grills are equipped with Smart Smoke technology which ensures optimum smoke production much like in the Traeger models.
The difference is that Camp Chef has included 1 to 10 smoke levels in their technology which gives you an extra level of control as you can set the smoke level you want based on what you’re cooking. Temperature control is also fairly precise since you can set it in 15° increments.
The cooking space range and pellet hopper capacity are much similar to that of the Traeger. You can choose a model with 570 (SmokerPro DLX 24), 800 (Woodwind 24), or 1,236 (Woodwind 36) square inches cooking area.
Camp Chef basically has a bit more size choices for each of their models, but the range is nearly the same as what Traeger offers. Their grills also have taller cooking chambers making them ideal for cooking whole turkeys or larger cuts of meat.
As for the hopper capacity, the basic models offer 18 pounds while the advanced options offer 22 pounds against the 24 pounds capacity of Traeger’s high-end models.
Unlike Pit Boss, Camp Chef’s grills come with some extra useful features. The most notable ones are the two add-ons: the sear box and sidekick. The sear box, in particular, is a very handy addition – it’s a propane burner that allows the Camp Chef grills to reach up to 900°F which is hot enough for searing foods like steaks and creating sharp grill marks.
The other useful feature you get is the ash and hopper cleanout system. For the ash cleanout system, you just pull a lever to drop the ash down into a cup – no need of opening the firebox and using a shop vac like in Traeger grills. The hopper cleanout works the same way – you just pull a lever to clear out the pellets in the hopper.
Additional features include grease management, a side shelf, built-in electric ignition, shutdown mode, and 2-4 meat probes. Camp Chef’s advanced models also support Wi-Fi connectivity which allows you to control them remotely from your smartphones like Traeger Pro, Ironwood, and Timberline models. The only features they lack in comparison to Traeger are Alexa compatibility, low pellet sensor, Keep Warm function, and Downdraft exhaust system.
Camp Chef is definitely slightly better than Traeger when it comes to performance, ease of use, and additional useful features included. The area that it falls a little short though is the build quality.
All of their grills are made of solid powder-coated steel with enamel-coated grates. They are not robust and very well insulated like Traeger grills, especially the Trager Ironwood and Timberline series – they have thicker powder-coated steel body with porcelain-coated grates and double-side-wall insulation. However, both brands offer a 3-year warranty for all their models.
The Z Grills
Z Grills is quite a new brand in the wood pellet market. It burst onto the scene in 2017 and since then, they have produced a couple of grills that seem to fare well in the market.
Their models are much more basic than Traeger or the other brands but they are very affordable. The prices of their smaller models start at around $400 while the larger models can cost up to $900 which is almost half the price of Traegers top-line models which is just below the $2000 mark.
Despite being basic grills, the Z Grills do a really good job of maintaining consistent heat during cook sessions. The cooking chamber and overall body are a solid stainless steel material. They do well to retain the heat inside the grill – there were no complaints about heat retention. Actual temperatures are usually within the range of the set temperature – typically +/- 5°F.
The brand also offers a decent grill size selection with regards to standard-sized grills. The smallest model offers about 452 sq. in. cooking space (split over 2 grates) while the largest one (Z Grills 1000E) maxes out at 1,060 sq. in. (split over 3 grates). Each of their grills also comes with a warming rack that provides extra cooking space to work with.
The build quality is not badly off either despite their affordable prices. Most are made of single-layered powder-coated steel with porcelain-coated steel grates. It’s a pretty standard build but one that is solid and durable, although not as robust or as durable as the double side-walled models of the Traeger. The grills are, however, covered for 3 years like Traeger models.
Traeger has a clear advantage over the Z Grills when it comes to temperature precision. You can only set temperatures at 25°F increments while in Traeger you can set at 15°F increments which gives you more precise control over the temperature.
The temperature range of the Z Grills models is slightly limited too – they have a range of 180 – 450°F against Traeger’s 150 – 500°F. The pellet hopper capacity is also on the small end compared to corresponding grill sizes from Traeger. The capacity ranges from 10 pounds (Z Grills 550B) to 20 pounds (Z Grills 1000E and 700D4E).
Z Grills also doesn’t offer much in terms of advanced features. Their grills are much more basic than those of Traeger and the other two brands above. They don’t have Wi-Fi technology, a pellet sensor, timers, Super Smoke function, or the Downdraft exhaust system. They as well don’t have an automatic pellet feed system, the only thing available is manual feed.
Nonetheless, they are equipped with a PID temperature controller that’s easy to use and they feature a hopper window and hopper cleanout system.