The Ultimate Guide to Smoking with A Traeger Grill
Many people start out their smoker journey learning on upright, charcoal smokers. These are inexpensive and effective tools that force you to learn the skills for properly smoking different cuts of meat. It takes lots of practice to master the venting and temperature control.
But when you buy a Traeger Grill, you'll suddenly get an entirely different experience. Traeger Grills take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation and simplify smoking using high-tech features. You'll never look at smoking the same once you start using a Traeger.
Consider this your ultimate guide for everything you need to know about how a Traeger Grill works, what makes different models more expensive, and how you can use a Traeger Grill to get the best smoked meat of your life. When you're ready for the most frustration-free way of smoking meat, cheese, or vegetables, a Traeger is a great investment.
What is a Traeger Grill?
Traeger manufactures a line of grills and smokers that are among the most popular in the U.S. They are the longest pellet grill company in existence.
How Hot Does a Traeger Get?
All of their pellet-fired grills can be used for smoking, grilling, roasting, braising, baking, and barbecuing using hardwood pellets rather than charcoal or gas. Traeger produces their own line of pellets and blends to make it easy for you to find the perfect flavor.
You'll find models from the portable Ranger model up to the premiere Timberline range. They operate from 150 degrees or so up to 500 degrees. The temperature for smoking meat is usually kept around 225 degrees.
What are Pellets Made From?
Instead of charcoal or gas, Traeger Grills burn wood pellets. The pellets are made from compressed hardwood, fruit wood, and nut wood. Pellets produce an excellent amount of smoke and deep flavor that is different from the flavors you'll experience with charcoal.
How Does a Traeger Grill Work?
Traeger pellet grills use a hopper that stores pellets and an auger to draw pellets into a burn box where the fuel is ignited. This provides the means to control how much fuel is fed in at a time and easily control temperatures. One key to using a Traeger is that you must have a power source.
Even the smallest smoker from Traeger requires electricity to ignite and control the flame. A fan forces smoke and heated air to circulate through the cooking area. Traeger uses several advanced high-tech features on many of their grill models to make smoking even easier.
Traeger Pellet Grill Models
There are four models of pellet grills on the market today. Each model has different sub-models that allow you to get the smoker that has the features you want and is the appropriate size for your cooking.
- Timberline Series: The Timberline is the top-of-the-line model. This line features three-tier cooking surfaces, a fully-insulated cooking area, and a built-in bamboo cutting board shelf. This range includes WiFire app technology, the D2 controller, a pellet sensor in the hopper, the exclusive Traeger downdraft exhaust, and super smoke mode to get the optimal flavor.
- Ironwood Series: The Ironwood is a two-tier smoker and pellet grill that is ideal the ideal size for most people. It has all of the same features as the Timberline grills.
- Pro Series: The Pro series hits the sweet spot between a high-tech smoker and a classic cooking tool. These grills feature precision temperature control, WiFire app control, and a built-in probe to check the internal temperature of your meat. This series uses an exhaust stack rather than the downdraft exhaust.
- Town & Travel Series: These are the smallest grills Traeger makes. The series includes a model designed for tailgating and another that rests on a tabletop. While still requiring electricity, these smokers make off-grid smoking possible.
How to Use a Traeger Wood Pellet Grill
Traeger Grills are easy to use. You'll want to pick the type of hardwood pellets that will give you a great flavor for the type of meat you are smoking. When in doubt, keep in mind that oak and hickory blends go with almost anything and provide a delicate smoke flavor.
Make Your First Smoke on a Traeger a Success
Pellets must be kept dry at all times. You can't use pellets that get wet, even after they dry. Keep your pellet hopper dry at all times or you'll run the risk of creating a big mess. Fill your hopper with pellets.
How Much Pellets to Use at Once
Higher temperatures burn pellets faster and you can anticipate between one and three pounds of pellets per hour. A 20-lb bag of pellets will last anywhere from six to 20 hours. Smoking smaller items like pork chops or chicken quarters will take between two and five hours.
Larger pieces of meat like pork butt roast or brisket can take nine hours or more. Always have extra pellets on hand. There is nothing worse than your hopper running out of fuel using your Traeger an hour before you're done.
The First Time Smoking with a Traeger Pellet Grill
The Traeger Grill will need to be plugged in. You can use the thermometer control on the pellet hopper to set the desired temperature. Let the grill preheat completely. If this is the first time you are lighting a brand-new Traeger, you'll want to burn-in the grill grates.
How to Burn-in Your Grill
Burning-in is a simple process that cleans the porcelain grates of manufacturing oils and other contaminants. All you will do is bring the smoker up to 350 degrees and hold for one hour, then increase to 450 degrees for 30 minutes to ensure a clean, seasoned grill grate.
At this point, you can sear a steak and get a great smoke flavor, or just shut the grill down to cool. If you are planning to smoke for the first time, let your Traeger cool to around 150 degrees before bringing the temperature up again.
Choosing the Right Temperature
Before you cook on your Traeger, you'll want to know what style you'll cook with. Traeger grills are versatile because you can smoke, grill, and barbecue. Obviously, the best thing about a Traeger is smoking, so that's what we'll discuss.
The Traeger makes smoking simple because it eliminates the tendency to overshoot the target temperature. You will want to avoid searing then switching to smoking because it can take a long time for the grill to cool enough.
How to Smoke on a Traeger Grill
Smoking is done at low and slow temperatures. If you are thinking about a smoker with pillowy white smoke billowing from the vent, your first Traeger experience will be eye-opening. You'll be looking for a nearly colorless, bluish smoke.
The design of Traeger grills maximizes the amount of smoke your meat gets flavored with. Lower temperatures will increase the amount of smoke flavor but take longer to finish.
What Temperature Does a Traeger Smoke at?
A good starting temperature is anywhere from 175 degrees to 225 degrees. Larger, thicker pieces of meat will do better starting at higher temperatures, but don't let the grill go over 275 or you'll be barbecuing in no time.
Learning New Tricks
All those tricks you learned with your vertical smoker suddenly seem antiquated when you realize that you can set the temperature and walk away. The grill gets itself there and keeps the temp steady. It's an amazing experience when you've spent years struggling to keep consistent temps in a manual-feed charcoal smoker.
When the grill is at temperature, place your meat on the rack. There isn't a big difference in temperature between the racks in the smoker. The top rack will have slightly higher temperatures.
Why You Still Need a Meat Thermometer
Don't forget to use a meat thermometer probe. Some of the Traeger models include built-in meat probes that work rather well, but should always be checked against a known, accurate thermometer like our Instant Read digital thermometer. Always insert the probe into the thickest part of the meat, making sure to keep the first one inch away from bones.
Close the Lid and Let it Smoke
Next, close the lid and go see what your family is doing. You won't open the lid or have any interaction with the smoker to speak of for several hours. It might be difficult to resist the urge to just peek a little, but you'll get better results if you leave the lid closed.
Traeger uses an app called WiFire that allows you to remotely access details from the built-in probe. This is a wonderful way to allow you to relax and keep an eye on the temperature of your grill while hanging out with friends.
Resting after Smoking
One critical step you don't want to skip is the rest period after the meat comes out of the smoker. We know this is the hardest part of the process. With all that delicious smell and sizzling goodness, it can be very tempting to cut into your meat.
You want to let the meat rest for between 15 and 45 minutes or longer for large pieces of meat. The rest period allows moisture to pull back into the meat and away from the surface. A well-rested meat is juicier and more flavorful, so don't skip the rest.
Deciding Which Traeger Model to Buy
Sometimes, it can be tempting to buy the biggest, fastest, most gnarly thing you can find. Trust us, we feel it too. But when it comes to picking the perfect smoker for your household, you don't want to go too big.
The reason is that larger spaces take more fuel to heat. If you're smoking one or two chickens, they're going to get lost on the largest Timberline smoker.
We've found that the larger smokers are better for large-scale smoking, while the Ironwood series is more appropriate for the average family. It's what we use at home, specifically the Ironwood 885.
The Pro series will be perfect for the grill master that wants a low tech smoker that does an excellent job. This is a great smoker if you aren't planning on using the app to control your grill but want a hassle-free experience.
We love the portable models, but they are more of a novelty than a serious cooking tool. They are great for camping trips and tailgating parties, but you'll get more enjoyment out of one of the larger designs for everyday smoking.
What Can You Smoke on a Smoker?
Now that you are ready to get started, you'll have to choose what to smoke. The good news is that there aren't very many things out there that don't come out great on a Traeger. You'll find that the best meats to smoke on Traeger grills are the ones you enjoy eating the most.
- Pork: Pork butt roast is one of our all-time favorite meats to smoke. It makes perfect pulled pork and the most juicy carnitas you'll ever eat. Cook pork products to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Pulled pork should be around 200 degrees. You can smoke pork chops, tenderloin, ham, belly meat, and roasts. Traeger Hickory pellets are a favorite for classic barbecue smoke flavor.
- Beef: Like pork, there isn't a part of a cow that you can't smoke. Ribeye steaks, roasts, neck bones, and of course, ribs are all excellent smoked. Rare beef is around 120 degrees, medium-rare is 160, and well done is 170 degrees. Flavorful cuts like brisket can handle strong smoke flavors like hickory and mesquite while ribs and steaks do well using fruit and nut woods including apple, cherry, and pecan.
- Poultry: Skin-on and bone-in chicken smokes easier than skinless and boneless, but both are possible. Poultry needs to hit an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees to be safe for consumption. Maple wood is particularly delicious for smoking turkey legs.
- Fish: Smoking fish is a delicate operation that requires low temperatures, but Traeger makes it easier. You'll be looking for an internal temp of 145 degrees for perfectly smoked fish. Lighter woods are best. Alder is the classic go-to for salmon.
Non-Meat Items to Smoke
Got a vegetarian in your family? They'll love fresh smoked veggies and other treats that aren't made of meat. Or maybe you are just bored of smoking piles of meat and want to try something different. You can use a Traeger grill to smoke some fun things.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits like zucchini and pineapple are wonderful smoked. Cauliflower and broccoli take on a whole new flavor, and don't get us started on smoked Brussels sprouts – they are too good to miss out on. You can even smoke potatoes. Keep your temperature between 175 and 225 for delicious veggies.
- Cheese: Cheese is a bit of a challenge because you have to keep temperatures very low. You'll use an ice bath to prevent the cheese from melting when smoking in your Traeger. Ideal temperature will be around 90 degrees where the cheese is setting.
- Nuts and Seeds: Don't forget that smoked nuts are a classic snack that is delicious and easy to make. Try smoking with a nut wood at around 185 to 200 degrees.
- Condiments: Okay, we aren't suggesting that you sit down and eat a plate of ketchup, but after you smoke it, you might want to. Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and salt are all delicious when smoked. You will want to keep temperatures really low by using an ice bath to prevent scorching.
If You're Looking for a New Smoker, Pick up a Traeger
Smoking on a Traeger grill is a revelation. The entire process from adding fuel to the finished flavor is simply excellent. If you're thinking about buying a new smoker you should check out the range of models from Traeger. A new smoker from Traeger will give you the best results you've ever had without the frustration and hassle.
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