BBQ by phone: Traeger's smart grill raises the heat of your summer party game
With Traeger Grills' latest models, you can grill, smoke, roast, braise, bake and barbeque your food. After a couple of months with the Ironwood 650, my family can't stop praising my grill skills. Hint, my success has nothing to do with me and all to do with the grill.
Editor's note: This review was first published in March 2019.
In March, Traeger introduced updates to the Pro and Timberline series while also rolling out the new Ironwood series. All six new grills, two options for each of the three series, include WiFIRE technology and the new D2 drivetrain system. Prices range from $799 to $1,799 and all can be controlled with your smartphone.
As a young US Coast Guard officer moving around the country, we stuck with inexpensive charcoal or propane grills that usually lasted two to three years before falling apart. When I left the service and settled down in a new house five years ago we decided to look for a better quality grill and bought a Weber model that connects to the natural gas in my house. My grilling game improved and with the help of the Meater wireless thermometer my results have been solid for the last several months.
In February, Clay Blackham, senior VP of Method Communications, reached out to gauge my interest in testing out a new smart grill. I asked about the connection to mobile technology and learned that these new grills incorporated Traeger's WiFIRE technology that provides smartphone connectivity and control with iOS and Android smartphones. Clay told me that my life would change with a Traeger and after more than a week with three different grilling sessions and different meats I think he may just be right.
With the Pro 575 and 780, the model number specifies the square inches of grilling space. The Pro series has an 18-pound hopper for pellets, a meat probe, and an extra grill rack. The Pro 575 is $799 and the Pro 780 is $999.
These two grills have the new WiFIRE technology and D2 Direct Drive system. A new Pro D2 controller is also present with an increased temperature range of 165 degrees to 450 degrees, set in five-degree increments.
The Timberline 850 and 1300 were also revealed, again with 850 and 1300 square inches of grilling space, at prices of $1,799 and $1,999. The current Timberline series had WiFIRE technology so that continues here as well. In addition, the D2 Direct Drive system is included with a new Timberline D2 controller.
A new pellet sensing technology is present in these two new Timberline grills that allows users to monitor the amount of pellets currently in the hopper. You will still need someone to manually fill the hopper, but that's usually an easy task for another family member or neighbor.
As specified by Traeger:
The new D2 Direct Drive drivetrain uses an all-new variable speed fan and auger, providing optimal blue smoke production across a much wider temperature range for the finest hardwood flavor. It also features Turbotemp technology, allowing the grills to get hotter faster so users can get grilling quicker and enjoy more precise cooking temps. The D2 drivetrain is all powered by an industry-first brushless motor, delivering years of reliable performance.
Ironwood 650 specifications
The Ironwood series comes as the Ironwood 650 and 885, again with these numbers specifying the square inches of grilling space. The 650 is priced at $1,199 and the 855 at $1,399.
WiFIRE technology, the D2 Direct Drive system, Traeger's DownDraft Exhaust and TRU Convection systems, and new Ironwood D2 Controller are all found on the new Ironwood series. The temperature range of the grill is 165 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, set in five-degree increments, with a new Super Smoke Mode that lets you quickly increase smoke and boost the flavor with a single button press on the D2 Controller or in the smartphone app.
Traeger Ironwood 650 review: in pictures
The Ironwood 650 has assembled dimensions of 46 inches wide by 27 inches deep by 48 inches in height. The assembled weight, with an empty hopper, is 146 pounds. The pellet hopper has a capacity of 20 pounds.
A grease bucket is provided with a couple of extra bucket liners. The bucket hooks to a bracket on the lower left side of the barrel that is fed by the grease drip pan. You can purchase grease drip tray liners, a folding front shelf, and a grill cover. Traeger included a grill cover with this evaluation unit and it is made of very thick material with a rubber lining to keep the grill fully protected if you do not have it under a cover outside.
A smaller upper grate is provided with a lower one that can be used in two positions. You can fully remove the upper or lower grate too in order to have the most flexibility for cooking or to maintenance the grease tray or firepot.
A stainless steel shelf is provided for the left side of the Ironwood 650 with three hooks on the front to hang your grilling utensils. There are a couple of other screws in the left side for other accessories.
Unboxing experience and initial use
The Ironwood 650 evaluation unit was delivered via FedEx Freight with a grill cover and bags of hickory and apple pellets. It arrived on a pallet in a large box that stated two people were recommended for setup of the grill. Unfortunately, no one else was around the day it arrived so I set it up myself. Keep in mind, I played football and rugby in college so was confident in my ability to maneuver around 150 pounds of grill.
The box that the Traeger was packed in is quite large and when my three girls were young we always made forts out of these boxes. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Traeger provided directions to reverse the outer box and printed the inside of the box to be one of the coolest cabins for kids I have ever seen. I offered the box up in our neighborhood Facebook group and it was quickly scooped up by a family with young kids who have enjoyed playing in it every day since I passed it along.
Traeger includes easy-to-read assembly instructions, an owner's manual, the tools you need for assembly (screwdriver and wrench), and all of the hardware necessary to assemble the grill. The major components, including the barrel, hopper, and controller, are all assembled in the box. Setup primarily consists of attaching the four legs, supporting brackets between the legs, handle for the lid, and stainless steel side shelf. Internal grill racks, grease drain pan, and other parts are removed from inside the grill first and then reinstalled into their proper location after you get the legs on and stand up the grill. One set of legs has large wheels while the other set has casters with locking mechanisms so the grill will not move around in windy conditions or on a surface that is not level.
The Ironwood 650 has a new pill-shaped barrel design, along with Traeger's DownDraft exhaust and TRU Convection systems in order to help food cook in the shortest amount of time. Unlike many Traeger grills, there is no smoke stack for exhaust as the exhaust is instead forced out the upper back of the barrel and then downward towards the ground.
After assembling everything, I followed the instructions in the owner's manual to season the grill. This is a process that takes about an hour and only has to be completed the first time you fire up the grill. It took longer for the first ignition than I anticipated, even after priming the auger, so I actually emptied out the fire pot and started up the ignition sequence a second time with more patience for ignition. The second time everything went as planned for seasoning.
The grill ignited in a timely fashion every single time after the seasoning process and I've been very pleased with how fast it heated up. While the app lets you easily send recipes and cooking instructions to the grill via WiFi, you can also manually enter custom cook cycles using the D2 Controller. Custom cook cycles can also be setup in the smartphone app and sent via WiFi to the Traeger. The grill is on my back patio and has held the WiFi connection with no issues.
The Ironwood 650 also comes with an internal probe. The probe connects via a 3.5mm jack on the front left of the D2 Controller and then through a rubber grommet into the inside of the grill. I've used the probe for a couple recipes and it has proven to be accurate and essential for properly cooking the meat to perfection.
There is a timer button on the D2 Controller that you can use for timing other things, such as vegetable cooking, basting, or toasting buns. It does not impact grill operation or recipes. There is also a Super Smoke button that you can use when the grill is between 165 and 225 degrees Fahrenheit in order to add more smoke flavor to your meat.
I also switched out hardwood pellets over the last 10 days. This was easy to do with a spatula and the rear clean-out door on the back of the hopper. I simply held a large bowl under the access door and removed the pellets in the hopper in this manner.
The Traeger app and WiFIRE technology was previously only provided on the Timberline series, but with today's releases this smartphone connectivity is now also available on a couple Pro and Ironwood grills. In order to fully test out the capability of the Traeger app I tested it using an iPhone XS, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, Google Pixel 3 XL, and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.
The app appears to have the same capabilities whether your are using an iPhone or an Android phone with slightly different ways to access the various sections of the app. The Android app uses an three-bar menu icon to slide in options from the left side of the display while the iOS app has bottom icons to switch between the main pages for home, recipes, WiFIRE, shop, dealer locator, and other helpful Traeger references.
On the home panel you will see a featured recipe, the status of your connected grill, a troubleshooting section, and quick access icons to top 10 recipes, favorites, tips & tricks, and filters to quickly view recipes for beef, pork, poultry, lamb, vegetables, seafood, wild game, baked goods, and cocktails. The recipes have a thumbnail photo, name of the recipe, description, cooking time, and number of ingredients. Tapping on a specific recipe gives you the ability to quickly add it to your favorites, share the recipe, view the difficulty level, see the estimated prep time, view the cooking time, and see which hardwood pellet is recommended for that recipe.
Once you find a recipe you wish to cook, scroll down for the ingredients and then further down for the preparation details. After getting everything together and then before you go outside to grill, tap the button to cook now and the recipe will be sent via WiFi to your connected grill.
The app will control the full grilling experience, including informing you when time or internal probe temps are reached and then proceeding to the next step in the grilling process (as applicable). The app controls the grill temps, as well as sending alerts to baste and perform other manual tasks that the app cannot perform. Since many smoke and grill times continue for many hours, you are no longer tied to the house when preparing meals. I was controlling the grilling experience from the office one day and from a date night another day. It was awesome to have a full and complete understanding of the status of the meal on the grill through the smartphone app.
In the WiFIRE section of the app you can view the grill temperature, probe temperature, and timer status. Tapping on any one of these three dials puts that metric in the center of the display in larger size. Buttons on the bottom of the WiFIRE display let you set a sauce timer, super smoke mode, and enable the keep warm option.
The shop option in the app lets you order grills, hardwood, accessories, grill covers, sauces, rubs & spices, recipe books, Traeger apparel, and parts to repair your grill.
My brother is an avid outdoorsman who hunts and fishes regularly, including butchering his own game and then grilling it on Traeger grills. He has always been held up as the family grillmaster, but was also excited to hear about my experiences with this new Ironwood 650 smart grill. I took him a sample of the Traeger BBQ brisket I cooked up and he loved it. My youngest daughter loves her uncle's brisket, but said the one I cooked beat even his standard of excellence.
Since I tested the Ironwood 650 out with multiple phones, it was clear to me that the iPhone app had just a bit better functionality. This isn't surprising since I continue to find iOS apps to be better than Android apps in major and minor ways. The clear difference in the Traeger app is that the Android app does not show the current step in the process on either the home page or the WiFIRE status page. This is a bit annoying since I tried a few different recipes in the past week and like to know how many steps are left and where I was at in the whole grilling process.
In the past 10 days, I used the Ironwood 650 to cook a roasted beer can chicken, smoked pork loin, and BBQ brisket. I used hickory wood pellets for the chicken and brisket with apple pellets for the pork loin. I went to the store to buy some Traeger Signature pellets and mesquite to try out some other flavors. I have salmon to smoke next, but didn't get a chance to grill it up before the review embargo lifted. The chicken was very moist, but next time I plan to smoke it for a few hours and then turn up the temperature at the end to get the skin crispy. The pork loin was excellent and extremely easy to grill. The BBQ brisket was fabulous and again so easy to do that it's almost embarrassing to say all I did was rub on the spices, wrap it up for 24 hours, and then throw it on the Ironwood 650 as the Traeger did all the work.
I have thoroughly enjoyed grilling with the Traeger Ironwood 650 and absolutely love the smell of the smoke that is embedded in my clothes and in my nose. It's amazing how much you can do with a Traeger grill and I have only begun to test out its capabilities. I understand you can bake pizza or cookies, grill vegetables, and so much more. We use our grills here in Washington State all year long because of the mild temperatures and I can't wait to taste more great meals cooked with the help of my smartphone.
Thanks to the Ironwood 650 I was able to smoke up a 21 pound Costco brisket that turned out perfectly. The only problem with it was that I did not smoke enough as it went before all 65 attendees had a chance to enjoy it. I was worried about cooking up an $86 piece of meat, but I trusted the Traeger and it helped ease my worry. I now plan to cook up another brisket for the 4th of July holiday.
Another recent experience relates to the ability to use the Traeger as an outdoor oven. Papa Murphy's pizza is not allowed inside my house since dripping cheese led to an oven failure when we first moved in to our new house. I have now cooked pizza three times on the Traeger and it has turned out better than ever with no mess or fuss. Next on the baking list is chocolate chip cookies.