Hello there! I’m guessing if you landed on this page then you just may be interested in a Traeger, or other similar wood pellet grill! I absolutely love our Traeger, and so I wanted to talk about some of the different things you can do on one, and what our favorites are. If you don’t have one yet, maybe you’ll be inspired to take the plunge.
Traeger: Wood Pellet Grill
To start off with – what is a Traeger? Or maybe even one step back – what is a wood pellet grill? A wood pellet grill is, simply, a grill whose heat source comes from burning wood pellets. The pellets are compacted for a high-heat, high-efficiency burn. The rate at which you burn the pellets determines the amount of heat – faster burn = more heat. Pretty simple, right? Yep. No plot-turns here, it’s pretty much as simple as it sounds.
The grill actually plugs into an outlet – so at the back-end it is driven by electricity. The electricity does three main things for you: 1) It moves the auger that pushes the pellets into the fire pot; 2) It heats the hot rod so that the pellets burn. 3) It runs the variable speed fan so that the Traeger cooks similar to a convection oven. Traeger has a great video of how this works, if you want to learn the specifics. But really, this is all you need to know. And maybe even a little extra 🙂
There are multiple brands of wood pellet grills on the market these days. Traeger was the first to come out with a grill that runs on wood pellets (back in the early 1980’s), but it’s since become a very popular method. I’ll leave it to you to do your own research on brands and performance, but suffice to say we have a Traeger and we are very happy with it.
We bought ours from a Costco road show last year, and it is the Texas Elite 34. (As of 2020, this model is no longer sold – there are other, newer models available now!) For just 2 of us, we thought it might be too big. We decided to go for it anyways so as to not be limited, and we’ve actually taken advantage of the size multiple times. (Think: pizza’s, several chickens, multiple pork shoulders, whole turkeys…) We haven’t regretted the size for a minute! If you ever cook for friends and family, or cook in bulk and freeze, I’d recommend that bigger is better 🙂
Traeger as a Smoker
Perhaps the most obvious use for a Traeger is as a smoker. And it definitely lives up to this use. You can cook large pieces of meat low and slow for a fantastic, flavorful, juicy finished product. Think: 180F/220F for 12-18 hours!
Regarding the target internal temperatures when you are smoking – this will vary depending on the cut of meat, and what your goal is. I’ll post some experiences I’ve had with different cuts of meat as a reference, but you can also find this information pretty easily with a quick google search, in case I haven’t tried what you are looking for!
Traeger as a Grill
You can also use the Traeger as a standard grill, and do many of the same things you would do on a propane grill. For this type of cooking, I set the temperature to 375F or 425F (High). Timing is similar to what you would do on a propane grill.
Traeger as an Oven
Last but certainly not least, you can bake in the Traeger just as you would in your traditional kitchen oven. Set the temperature to the same as the recipe calls for. There are certain wood types that Traeger recommends for baked goods like breads or cookies, so keep that in mind if venturing into baking. I also am careful what type of dish I bake with in the Trager, as sometimes the brown smoke haze becomes a permanent fixture. One of my favorite things to bake in the Traeger are stuffed bell peppers!
Traeger sells a number of different types of wood so you can optimize the flavor profiles of what you are making. There are recommendations for specific woods that best compliment specific meats. Some people get very fancy and “layer” the flavors – starting with one wood, finishing with another. I am not so complex in my wood flavor profiles, and as yet I haven’t tried anything I don’t like. I will say, my favorite to date is mesquite smoked chicken. I’d definitely recommend giving that one a try!
Costco also sells a really nice Gourmet Blend that I have yet to find anywhere else – Maple, Hickory, and Cherry. We actually use this for nearly everything! It is a great go-to option.
Each type of pellet will recommend on the bag the best meats to use with that wood type. I have found Traeger pellets at my local Ace Hardware, Home Depot, Costco, and specialty BBQ stores. If you can’t find them at a local store, Amazon is always an option too :).
Our Favorites on the Traeger
We have certainly developed a few favorites during our time using the Traeger. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some regulars we find ourselves going to often. If I’ve written a deeper dive on any of these, I’ve included a link to that specific post, where you can find all the details.
- Whole Smoked Chicken or Turkey. With an herb-garlic butter rubbed under the skin, and maybe a few aromatics tucked in the cavity. Check out this instructional post detailing the specifics of smoking a whole turkey or chicken.
- Smoked Turkey Breast. Similar to a whole smoked turkey, but easier and faster! Read my simple and delicious method for a smoked turkey breast.
- Smoked Pork Shoulder. With a spicy rub on the outside, and then cooked as low and slow as possible. Read about our favorite method for making smoked pork shoulder – tender, juicy, and delicious every time!
- Brisket. With a rub, injection, and wrapping half-way through, we have found an excellent method for cooking up a tender, flavorful brisket. Read all about that method, complete with pictures, here.
- Ribs. Just the right tenderness to pull off the bone with ease, these ribs are coated with tasty BBQ sauce and are delicious every time! We use Traeger’s 3-2-1 method and have been very happy with it! It is a great choice for both Baby Back and St. Louis Style ribs.
- Hamburgers or steaks. Smoked for 30-45 minutes, then seared on high-heat for a couple minutes to finish them off.
- Baking. This is especially great in the summer when you don’t want to turn on your oven. You can bake anything in the traeger as you would in your oven. Just beware the pan will end up with a semi-permanent smoke haze. Certain pellets (like Apple) are recommended as ideal flavors for baking.
- Veggies. Tossed with a little EVOO, salt, and pepper, and then cooked directly on the grate, or in a basket while the meat is finishing. (Most of the veggies I’ve tried need about 20-30 minutes at one of the mid heat settings.)
The Biggest Pros & The One Con
I thought I’d end with my thoughts on the pros and cons of cooking with a Traeger. The pros are many, so I will just highlight what I consider to be the top couple.
- Flavor – Using the Traeger, even if just for a quick high-heat cook, you still get that added complexity of wood smoke flavor integrating in with your food that just can’t be beat.
- Diversity – I love that I can grill, bake, do a long smoke, all on one BBQ.
- Baking during the summer! Living in Phoenix, I try my best not to turn the oven on in the heat of summer. With the Traeger, I can now do my baking outside without heating up the house. This includes sweet treats as well as dinners – like stuffed bell peppers (another favorite).
- Simplicity – If anything, the only prep you need is a quick rub or marinade. The Traeger does the rest! Just decide on a quick or slow cook, set your temperature accordingly, insert a thermometer, and you’re set! We even have a Bluetooth thermometer we use, so we can keep an eye on the temperature from our phone!
- There are many more pros I could list, but I’ll stop at four 🙂
There are not many cons that I have encountered using the Traeger. The only one, really, is not a true con, just an inherent weakness – a high-heat sear is nearly impossible to get. Yes, you can turn up the heat, and get some nice sear marks on a steak etc. But this doesn’t quite cut it when you need a quick, direct heat sear. Then again, that is what the stove top or propane grill is good for… so in the end… a full-scale outdoor kitchen is a “simple” solution to this one con. Yep, that is on our road map for home improvement projects…
Happy grilling, whatever method or system you choose to use!