I've wanted to buy a decent BBQ for longer than my fellow editor Alyssa has been alive. That's not a euphemism—that's a statistical fact. When I was young I didn't have the money and after that I just sort of got used to having BBQs so crappy that they had more hotspots than the mid-90's Balkans. I rationalized it that if I could grill something on one of my old beaters, then I was truly gifted, like winning Le Mans in a Hyundai Sonata. And the added bonus that BBQs get really dirty and if you have a nice one you have to be constantly cleaning it or covering it with a cover or both.
But, the thing is, I wasn't winning Le Mans. Truthfully, I was often finishing in the middle of the grilling pack churning out ribs and tenderloins that were entirely serviceable but no better, occasionally coming dead last (anything over rare in my family) and once in a while suffering a horrible flaming crash. So I made the commitment to get finally make my long awaited upgrade...and then spent a calendar year fretting over which grill to buy. For me it came down to two options—the iconic Big Green Egg, the distinctively-shaped kamodo style grill or the upstart Traeger, who in the past few years have gone from launch to market domination in impressive time.
Ultimately I had to be honest with myself. While I was serious about weaning myself off propane, if I could do it in the easiest manner possible that was a huge bonus. The Big Green Egg, with it's old-school charcoal and heat control via airflow was just a hassle bridge too far for me. And the cooking area was too small to boot—if I'm going to the trouble of slow cooking something over an entire day, you can bet I'm inviting a crowd over (when that's allowed) to witness it. Big talk aside, ultimately it was my wife who made the leap for me in the form of an early Father's Day present in the form or a Traeger Ironwood 650. I've had 6 weeks with it so far, so in advance of Father's Day I figured I'd give a complete run down.
1. The set up was a snap
With most gas grills not only are there a million parts, but given that you're dealing with a pressure vessel that lights gas on fire, the consequences of not doing it properly are...high. The Traeger was easy and the instructions are the most logical I've ever seen. And even though it said it requires two people I was able to do it solo no prob.
2. Ease of use
The first day I roasted a chicken and achieved that pink smoke ring that it usually takes people years to earn. It was literally foolproof given that you set the Traeger like an oven and that's it. In the same way it's tough to burn something in the oven, it's next to impossible to burn anything on this grill. You can overcook it, sure, but not burn. A very different story than my old gas grill. Since that time I've smoked salmon—easy—and cooked a brisket—pretty easy—which are two tasks I never dared try heretofore.
This is something I usually don't care that much about but here it's seamless, and very useful. You can control the Traeger with an app, and while that's not necessary when you're just cooking a burger, if you're slow-cooking a brisket, it's great to be able to change to the temperature required while at your desk. I've also gotten into using the meat probe, which is likewise controlled by the app. You can set the desired internal temperature you want and the app will alert you when it hits that. Perfection.
The porcelain grates can be wiped clean, and given the Traeger's design you either use a drip tray or just some aluminum foil that your replace every few times. That's it. Once every 10 times or so you can shop vac up the fine ash that collects, but I'm a legendary grill slob and my Traeger still looks brand new.
This one might be a mixed blessing for some, but Traeger owners are a team and if you want a question for anything they're more than happy to wax on about it for as long as you can stand. I don't mean retailers, I mean fellow owners. You know those Yeti people who want to talk to you about how much they love their cooler? Double that and you have Traeger people. I am now one of those people who might corner you and go on and on about my BBQ... sorta what I'm doing now, I guess.
I've not run into this yet, but you can get a canister of propane pretty much anywhere, anytime. The Traeger relies on pellets that generally need to be purchased at places that sell grills. You don't have to use Traeger pellets—although given that they're the same price as most other brands I don't know why you wouldn't— but it's conceivable you could find yourself high and dry some night if you don't plan ahead.
While you can get an entry level model for $600, for the most part you're looking at $1000+ for a full size rig with all the bells and whistles. So yes, it's a bit more than a Weber, but not much (and that Weber is going to look like crap in 2 years unless you rub it with a diaper).
There's one area that my old propane grill was better at: quickly cooking a frozen burger for lunch. If you want quick and (super) dirty you can get in and out much more quickly with a gas grill—if you're willing to sacrifice flavour and texture.
All in all, it's a no brainer for me. I've upped my game by a factor of three, with frankly less effort be expended. How's that for a Father's Day gift?