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The great quarantine of 2020 may have been designed to keep people (safely) apart, but nothing made me feel like part of a community more than finally picking up a Traeger Smoker. It sounds absurd to think that a heavy-duty pellet grill was the thing that brought me community during a pandemic, but while I wasn’t hosting dinner parties at the time, the camaraderie I felt with other Traeger owners was something that made me feel less alone, totally cool, and very excited for the quarantine to end so that I could finally host that long-awaited smoke-out in person.
While Traeger offers its pellet grills among three ranges — the premium Timberline series, the Ironwood Series and the Pro Series — I found the Ironwood 885 Pellet Grill to be the perfect size for me, as a single guy with only a hungry roommate (and occasional curious neighbors) to feed.
How Does the Traeger Ironwood Grill Work?
The Ironwood 885 is one of the best smoker grills on the market – and for good reason. It delivers even, consistent cooking and plenty of flavor, and it’s almost impossible to mess up, whether you’re smoking meats, fish or even vegetables. That’s thanks to what Traeger calls its “TRU Convection System,” which directs smoke in a circular motion — rather than as direct blasts — under the hood. That creates what Traeger describes as a “vortex” of heat and smoke, to cook your food faster and more evenly without fear of flare-ups.
Unlike some grills and barbecues, where placement on the rack is everything, we were able to utilize all 885 square inches of the smoker surface (hence the Ironwood 885 name) with everything cooking at the same speed, consistency and temperature. You don’t have to constantly open the hood to rotate your meat either — the Ironwood 885 features a “Downdraft Exhaust System,” which helps to keep smoke flowing over your food to ensure even distribution of that coveted “wood-fired” flavor. Select “Super Smoke Mode” to instantly increase the amount of smoke, for maximum flavor.
There are a ton of other useful features on the Traeger Ironwood Smoker too, including an easy-to-read digital display (though we controlled everything from our phone; more on that below); Traeger’s signature D2 Direct Drive system, which uses variable speed motors to heat up the grill faster (and heat it back up after you open and close the lid); and a pellet sensor that lets you know when to refill the pellet hopper at the side. The pellet hopper can hold up to 20 pounds of pellets, and in our experience that is good enough for 3-4 smoke-outs, though it depends on what you’re making. Also worth noting: we often swapped pellets for different meats, depending on the flavors that we were going for (say, hickory vs. mesquite).
What Can You Make on a Traeger Grill?
I love barbecue and have traveled the country trying the best barbecue joints in places like Nashville and Austin, and Lexington, North Carolina (note: trying Kansas City barbecue is next on my list). When I got my Traeger Ironwood, I was excited to smoke some of my favorite meats, like pulled pork and brisket, in hopes of making something semi-comparable to my favorite spots like La Barbecue in Austin, and Puckett’s in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Thanks to Traeger’s incredible app, we were able to find more than 1600 recipes for both barbecue go-tos and new favorites alike. Aside from pulled pork and beef brisket, we also made ribs, smoked chicken breasts, chicken wings and even smoked salmon.
When we had our vegetarian friends over, we smoked potatoes, eggplant, cauliflower and a ton of other vegetables too. The best part was meeting other Traeger owners in-person and online, as everyone would be so excited to a) Hear that I owned a Traeger grill and b) Share their favorite things to make on the grill. It was one of those “if you know, you know” moments from other happy Traeger owners who immediately felt like fast friends as soon as we brought up our smokers.
Spec-wise, Traeger says the Ironwood 885 which I tested, has enough grill space to smoke up to ten whole chickens, nine pork butts (for pulled pork) and seven full rib racks. And it’s not just for smoking or smokey flavors either – you can grill, roast, braise and barbecue meats and vegetables on your Traeger. We liked using it to sear our steaks too, for that perfect char, and the Traeger app even has recipes for baked goods, like a classic apple pie.
Not everything has to taste “smokey;” simply turn off the smoker setting and use the unit as a grill or makeshift oven, and it’s instantly a versatile cooking machine on your back porch or in your backyard.
Depending on what you’re making, the included porcelain-coated grilling grates are adjustable, so you can move things closer or further away from the fire (as a general rule, the higher the temperature, the less smoke will be produced).
Is the Traeger App Good?
While almost every device or cooking gadget seems to have an accompanying app these days, I loved using the Traeger App, which continues to help enhance the overall experience of using my Traeger Grill.
In addition to the aforementioned list of recipes and cooking tips (note: you can read the step-by-step recipes as a list or watch instructional videos that break down everything from prep to serving suggestions), the app also lets you monitor your cooking status, adjust grill temperature, set a timer and more. All Traeger smokers, including our Ironwood 885, come with a meat probe, which lets you measure food temperature and “doneness.” Pair the meat probe to your app, and you don’t even have to lift the lid to get a reading — everything can be conveniently monitored from your phone.
The app also tells you how many pellets you have remaining, and there are buttons for the “Super Smoke” feature, as well as easy heating and shut down controls.
How Much Space Do You Need for a Traeger?
Unlike some other smokers out there, the Traeger Ironwood 885 Pellet Grill is actually pretty reasonably-sized. The grill measures 54 inches in width and 47 inches in height, which is comparable to some larger barbecues on the market. At 27 inches deep, it doesn’t take up a ton of room at the back either. Note: you’ll need to connect the smoker to AC power, so be aware of that when planning placement.
When you order a Traeger grill, everything comes tightly-packed inside one or two boxes. After a little bit of setup time — give yourself an hour or so — the grill was good to go. At 170 pounds in weight, this isn’t exactly a portable grill. But thanks to the inclusion of grippy wheels, it’s easy to move, say, from the garage to the backyard, or from one end of the patio to the other. Once you’ve found your spot, you can lock the wheels in, so the smoker doesn’t shift around.
Our Ironwood 885 came with a cover, to protect the grill from inclement weather, but the construction of the smoker itself is heavy-duty enough to let you grill in all seasons. The double-walled insulation blocks out the cold and keeps the heat locked in, while at the same time being safe to the touch if you accidentally touch the smoker while it’s on.
Is the Traeger Grill Worth It?
Even though we’ve been socially distancing for more than a year, there’s a unique bond that forms between owners of a Traeger Grill, that makes us all feel like some part of an exclusive community. Whether you’re sharing tips and tricks on Reddit, reading reviews online, or snapping pics of your smoked meats to post to social media, Traeger fans love creating new recipes, and yes, new memories too, whether you’re making a meal for your family, or — finally — throwing that dinner party for friends you haven’t seen in months.
While some see the Traeger as “just a smoker,” it’s so much more versatile than that. You can grill, sear and barbecue on it too; and by swapping out the pellets you use (or not using the pellets at all), you can easily switch up your flavors to match when you’re making.
And it’s not only about making huge racks of ribs for a large gathering either — we’ve turned on our pellet grill to make smoked fish for two, and even to smoke just a couple dozen wings for game night. You’ll be surprised at how much use you get out of your Traeger.
At $1499, the price of a Traeger Ironwood is in line with other smoking grills out there, like the Big Green Egg (and Green Egg alternatives). Of course, a regular barbecue will be a lot cheaper, but you’re often getting less grilling space and you won’t be able to make the same variety of things on a traditional BBQ.
For something that will take your grilling game to the next level, while offering up new recipes and cooking challenges to try, we highly recommend the Traeger Ironwood 885. It’s an easy-to-use and fun-to-use smoking and grilling machine that easily tops other competitors on the market, while upping the ante on what an at-home smoker can do. Find out more about the Traeger Ironwood 885 Pellet Grill and all Traeger offerings here.