My Traeger Trial
Anyone who has been even a casual Macheesmo reader will know that I’m a grilling fanatic. Especially in the summer, I love sitting out and grilling with friends on a casual Saturday, but I also use the grill for weekday meals with the family. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite the list of grills including:
- Two gas grills
- One charcoal grill
- One Electric smoker
And so I’m fairly careful on what new gear I add to my grilling arsenal just because I’m running out of room! But, when I got the offer to test out a Traeger Grill, something I had heard about but never personally tried, I had to accept.
What is This Traeger Thing?
The Traeger team has really created something interesting with their grills. The grill is a wood fired grill (uses wood pellets and electric heat) so you get a nice mix of gas grilling functionality (ease of use) with great flavor from the wood fired pellets.
The first thing I noticed when using the Traeger is A) how sturdy it is but B) how thoughtful the design is. It seems like they thought of everything. Example? They not only have TWO probe thermometers so you can keep an eye on two different cuts of meat, but they have an insulated port to easily get the probes into the grilling area. Cool stuff.
So the grill is basically half grill, half smoker, half oven. I realize that that is 1 1/2 things, but that kind of fits this grill.
The Setup and Prep
I had to set this sucker up myself and it took me about three hours. I would not rush it. Get a friend to help you. The instructions for the setup even have guides on when you should open your next beer.
To be honest, I’ve set up gas grills that were harder to configure (due to all the gas connections), but this grill is heavy and there are enough parts that it’ll take you an afternoon.
More importantly, in my opinion, is that you set aside some time to really learn how the grill works and how you need to prepare it for cooking. The grill has a heating element that is electric which guarantees very specific temperature control. A slow-moving auger delivers wood pellets onto this heating element and that fires the grill. Pretty cool stuff but you need to make sure everything is working correctly and seasoned correctly before you cook on it.
Take the time to learn how this unique grill works. It’ll pay dividends later, but don’t skip the tutorials they provide with the grill.
Pros and Cons
I think there are some pretty excellent pros and a few smaller cons to this grill and you should know about them before diving into the Traeger world.
- Consistent Temperature: There is a temperature guide on the Traeger that looks a lot like your oven and you can dial the temperature in very specifically. You could probably bake a cake on this guy if you wanted! This type of control is so rare in a grilling tool.
- Awesome Flavor: We will get to this when we get cooking, but the flavor that the wood pellets imparts is really nice. It’s not a full smoke flavor like a full-on smoker, but just enough to make your tastebuds perk up. Also, Traeger offers a wide range of pellets so you can change it up depending on what you are grilling.
- Set It and Forget It: The archetype of the grill master is the dude who is constantly checking on his grill, poking and adjusting. But to be honest, that’s a pain in the butt. Because of the temperature controls and probe thermometers, you can put food on this grill and come back to it perfect with very little worry or fuss. It’s awesome.
- Wood Pellets: You have to have these to run the grill. You can’t run it on air or anything else. Also, there are tales of bad things happening if you don’t use the official Traeger pellets. They run about $19 for a huge bag of them. Think of it like buying propane for your gas grill.
- High Heat Cooking: If you really want to sear something over very high heat, the Traeger isn’t going to get there. It tops out at probably around 500 degrees on the grates. To be honest, this is plenty hot for most people and you can get a good sear on a steak at that temperature. But, if you are interested in blazing hot grills, you’ll want a more direct heat source.
- Electric: To be honest, I didn’t really think about this until after I had already set up the grill, but it’s electric which means you have to plug it in! It has to be near an outlet or you’ll have to run an extension cord. Not a huge con, but involves planning!
- Recipe Adaptation: It might be that you have to adjust some recipes for the Traeger. This isn’t hard exactly, but it’s worth noting that if you Google a Grilled Something recipe, there might be some translation involved to get it done on a Traeger.
Okay Let’s Cook!
Enough of this in-the-weeds… LET’S COOK. The first thing I like to make to test out a grill is a whole chicken. I think it’s a good gauge because it’s an easy-to-make thing, but it can show the weaknesses of a grill as well.
For this version, I did a spatchcock chicken so I cut the backbone out of a whole roaster chicken and seasoned it well with the Chicken Rub that Traeger sent me. I also rubbed it well with olive oil.
The Traeger cookbook, which is included with the grill, actually has pretty thorough instructions for roasting a chicken so I pretty much followed that for this chicken. I started off by preheating the grill and then added my chicken. Easy enough!
One bonus I’ll note is how much ROOM is in the grill. I think I could’ve fit three or four chickens on just the main grill level and I got the medium sized model.
The problem with cooking a whole chicken on the grill, and why I like to use it to test grills, is that it’s pretty easy to burn the outer parts of the chicken while leaving the thicker parts uncooked.
Honestly, I was blown away at how the Traeger handled this. Once I got some decent color on both sides of the chicken (I cooked it for about 15 minutes per side on high heat), then I could turn the temperature down slightly and had zero worry about burning the chicken.
I was feeling pretty confident and so I tossed on a few Brussels Sprouts skewers as well just to test how the grill did with some sturdy veggies.
After about fifty minutes I thought my chicken looked done, but it was worth checking using their nifty probes. I’m obsessed with these because they plug right into the grill and you can toggle between probe temperature and grill temperature with one button.
My chicken registered 135 degrees. NOT DONE! Glad I checked!
After about 20 more minutes on the grill, I hit the number I was going for and pulled my chicken off.
Just look at this beauty of a bird. Crispy skin, not at all burned, and the skin didn’t even stick to the grill.
To be honest, I was a bit giddy with how my bird turned out so I tossed some chicken wings on as well.
And here’s the part where I have to eat some crow.
I fancy myself a good griller and I would’ve loved to tell you that I made better chicken on a finicky charcoal grill or a gas grill, but it’s just not true. This chicken was easy to cook and it was the best grilled chicken I’ve ever made. I say that honestly and truly. I loved it and my family loved it.
Plus, look at those sprouts. They turned out pretty solid after 25 minutes or so on the grill as well!
I couldn’t get over how juicy and delicious this was.
Sometimes technology and engineering is just amazing and the Traeger grill is truly great.
As with anything new, there will be some learning curves for a new Traeger user, but I was impressed with this grill. It made one of the best grilled chickens I’ve made and I, semi-embarrassingly, just followed the instructions in the book that came with the damn grill.