I love grilling. Grilling is an incredible way to keep healthy – Curtis Stone
As much as Curtis loves grilling, which we’re sure is a lot, we could happily point him in the direction of hundreds of thousands of dedicated, barbecuing fanatics who love it more than he does.
America’s weekends are spent grilling, smoking, and barbecuing, and when we’re not cooking ourselves, the chances are, we’re hanging out at someone else’s barbecue while they do all the gloriously enjoyable “hard work”.
How do we know this? We know it because it’s how we spend our weekends, tied to the grill, doing what we love to do best. Grilling.
We’ve spent a lifetime standing in front of one grill or another, and have over the course of decades, discovered what we are, and aren’t good at when we fire a grill or a smoker up. But we know our limitations, and we know what we need a grill to do in order to maximize the things that we’re good at and minimize the impact of our less than great culinary habits.
While we’ve cooked with a lot of grills, we’ve yet to find one that strikes the perfect balance between the two, one that can greatly accentuate everything that we do right and help us to ignore all of the grilling things that we do wrong.
Our quest to find that grill has finally brought us to the door of the brand that has, arguably, changed the face of home-based grilling more than any other, Traeger.
In order to find out if they deserve the accolades that have been continually heaped on their grilling shoulders, and to find out if their grills could be the answer to our own peculiar barbecuing problem, we thought we’d try cooking with two of their most popular grills, the Ironwood 650 and the Pro Series 575.
It was a weekend that we’ll never forget, and one that finally saw us join the Traeger Hood…
This is the Traeger grill that has won the hearts and minds of a legion of grilling devotees, and after spending an afternoon with it, we can see why. Unlike most grilling brands, Traeger has devoted everything that they do to grilling with wood pellets, as they swear that they’ll be the fuel source of choice for future generations and that nothing even comes close to matching their versatility. And they may well be right.
The Ironwood uses a twenty-pound hopper that you just pour your pellets of choice into, set the timer, and temperature on its incredibly straightforward digital panel, hit the ignition button, and then let the Ironwood do the rest. Taking the second part of its name, the 650 from the numerical amount of cooking space in square inches that it possesses, we found that there was more than enough room in the Ironwood to barbecue a couple of steaks and a brisket covered in our special rub.
As we were using Traeger’s signature blend wood pellets to cook with, we figured that we’d try our hand at smoking and with the timer and temperature set, we stood back and let the Ironwood take the smoking controls And we were happy we did, as the extra depth of taste that their pellets added to the brisket was extraordinary, and was enough to make pellet believers out of us.
It was the pellets that made us push the Ironwood to its limits and try out Traegers much mooted WiFire control that allows you to control everything bar the ignition process from your smartphone. After waiting until the grill had cooled down, we threw another couple of steaks (what can we say, we’re Longhorn people) into the Ironwood, and after connecting to the WiFire and downloading the Traeger app, we fired it up and set the controls using our phone.
It worked exactly like they said it would, and delivered an almost perfect cook – and the almost is due to human, and not Traeger, error on our part. Traeger also says that the Ironwood can also be controlled using Alexa, but as we haven’t embraced that particular technological marvel yet, we couldn’t test that claim out. But seeing as their WiFire is easy enough to use, we don’t foresee any reason why the Alexa control wouldn’t work.
The most staggering thing about this grill is the efficiency of the wood pellet system that it uses to grill with. Having filled the hopper to capacity, we honestly taught that we’d be refilling it every time we cooked as we’re used to doing things the charcoal way.
So it was kind of surprising to note that even after a solid afternoon filled with grilling, the hopper was still more than half full of pellets. By applying a little math, which isn’t our strongest suit by a long way, we estimated that we could probably get nearly a month’s worth of grilling out of twenty pounds of pellets, which pound for dollar, is the kind of budget cooking that we can really get behind.
While it ironed out all of the kinks in our cooking and helped us to grill like the die-hard professionals that we’ve always thought we are, the Ironwood does have one drawback and that is its weight. Technology and progress are wonderful, but they both pile the pounds on a grill and are probably the reason why the Ironwood tip the scales at around one hundred and fifty pounds.
We struggled to find somewhere to situate it in our yard where there was enough signal for it to easily connect to the internet and by the time we’d positioned it properly, we didn’t want to even think about moving it, ever again.
At the end of the day and from a dedicated grilling perspective, there really isn’t all that much to choose between the Ironwood and the Pro Series.
Sure the former looks prettier as, just like Johnny Cash, it’s all dressed in black while the latter looks more like an over-sized kettle, but apart from that, when it comes to grilling, there isn’t much that makes the Ironwood better and there certainly isn’t enough difference between the two grills to justify the eye-watering price difference between them.
The 575 was just as easy to cook with using the WiFire system as the Ironwood was and even if you don’t want to use the internet to do your grilling for you, you’ll be able to master the simple digital control panel in under five minutes.
If our twelve year old could learn to use it (and he did), anyone can, and even though the Pro Series isn’t Alexa enabled, it didn’t make any difference to us, as we don’t, as we’ve already said, subscribe to that service.
The cooking area that the Pro Series has is a little smaller than the Ironwood uses, but at five hundred and seventy-five square inches it was still more than enough room for us to grill our favorite steaks on and smoke a good-sized brisket.
We figured it was only fair that we used both grills to cook the same thing, using the same pellets, so that’s what we did and, truth be told, there wasn’t any difference between them. They had the same incredible, wood rich taste and more flavor than we’re used to getting from any of the food that we cook.
The only other noticeable distinction between the two grills was the hopper capacity of Pro-Series, which at eighteen pounds was slightly smaller than that of the Ironwood, but is still large enough to see most people through multiple cookouts and barbecues. We filled it up and barely made a dent in it. And by using our wonky math again, we estimated that we’d get nearly as much cooking time from the Pro Series’ hopper as we would from the Ironwood’s slightly larger capacity model.
And the thing that we disliked about the Ironwood? We had the same issue with the Pro Series, which like its more technologically advanced grilling sibling also has a weight problem.
Admittedly, it’s not quite as bad as the Pro Series weighs twenty pounds less than the Ironwood does, but it still makes it nearly impossible to move around without putting serious strain on both your knees and back.
Joining the Traeger Hood
Traeger put grilling with wood pellets on the barbecuing map and having spent time with both of their most popular grills, it’s easy to see why so many of our fellow grillers swear by Traeger grills.
They’re easy to use, they’re griller friendly and endlessly versatile, and adaptable, and the WiFire control system they use just adds another level of sophistication to smoking and barbecuing. Most importantly of all though, they were the first grills that we’ve ever used that helped us to conquer our grilling problem with confidence and ease.
Are we Traeger converts? We most certainly are, and from now on we’ll be grilling the Traeger way every single weekend because there really is nothing like cooking with wood pellets. But we’ll be doing all of our grilling with the Pro Series 575 rather than the Ironwood because even though it looks like an oversized kettle, can’t be controlled by Alexa and its hopper is slightly smaller than its siblings is, it’s an infinitely more affordable way to join the Traeger Hood.