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Traeger Ironwood (2023) review: Upgraded smart grilling comes at a cost

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In 2022, Traeger began a major overhaul of its Wi-Fi-connected smart grill lineup. Only the most affordable Pro Series models have been left untouched as the redesign process that began with the Timberline made its way to the Ironwood this year. The company has debuted a host of changes along the way, all aimed at more efficient cooking, easier cleanup, customization and expanded smart features. A lot of what Traeger added to the Timberline trickled down to the Ironwood ($1,800), but this model is now significantly more expensive as a result and the best additions are still reserved for the most premium model.

A major redesign

When Traeger revealed its overhauled Timberline grills last year, one of the biggest updates was a new touchscreen display. The company has brought that to the new Ironwood grills too, replacing the single-knob navigation with a larger dial and a touchscreen. There are dedicated buttons for the full menu, timers, Keep Warm and Super Smoke to the left of the touchscreen, above the two wired food probe ports. While how you use the display to control the grill has changed, and the larger full-color panel is easier to see, I’m not convinced these grills needed a touchscreen. It doesn’t add a ton to the overall experience and a simpler update of just a larger, color display would’ve been more than enough and might kept prices down.

Another item Traeger borrowed from the Timberline is its so-called Pop-And-Lock (PAL) accessory rail. This is one new addition that I can get behind. It allows you to customize the grill based on your needs or what you’re cooking. PAL add-ons include a folding front shelf, storage bin, butcher paper/paper towel roll, tool hooks and a cup holder. These all snap onto a rail that goes almost the entire way around the grill and can be easily moved or removed as needed.

Inside, Traeger replaced the solid steel drip plate that directed grease to the catch can and the smaller fire pot shield. Now there are two larger pieces of metal that span the width of the grill. First, a diffuser spreads heat over the cooking surface and directs ash to the catch keg. A second piece above it still serves as a drip tray to channel grease to the same bin as the ash debris, but it now has holes around the outside to guide smoke and heat around the cooking surface. A dual-wall construction of the chamber itself provides better insulation, so temps remain consistent even in the colder months. Lastly, the auger was raised above the fire pot, so pellets drop down to burn. This should help with jams and lower the risk of auger and hopper fires. Once again, these changes debuted on the Timberline, but it’s nice to see them carry over to the mid-range Ironwood.

The key differences between the Ironwood and its pricier Timberline sibling are the vertical space inside the grill, the cart/leg design and the lack of an induction burner on the left side. Where the Timberline has two adjustable racks above the main cooking surface, the Ironwood only has one, and its maximum height is lower than that of the Timberline. Cooking grates on the Ironwood are also porcelain where they’re stainless steel on the more expensive model.

Traeger Ironwood (2023) review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Traeger nixed the four-legged design on the new Timberline in favor of a storage cart look that’s similar to Weber’s gas grills. The enclosed space is a nice addition that didn’t make it to the Ironwood, but the company did add an open shelf underneath that bolts to the legs. You can easily put a pellet bin and unused grates here when you’re not using them.

Lastly, the Ironwood doesn’t have the induction burner that the Timberline offers. It does have a larger side shelf than the previous iteration of the Ironwood, with a removable panel and an additional outlet on the back that suggests support for a burner add-on, but Traeger doesn’t currently sell one. I asked the company if it plans to do so in the future, but it declined to comment on unreleased products.

Upgraded smart grilling

Following its acquisition of Meater in 2021, Traeger made the company’s wireless meat probes standard equipment on the 2022 Timberline grills. Those devices get cumbersome cables out of the way, while sending internal food temperatures to the Traeger app for remote monitoring. The new Ironwood grill also supports the specially-designed Meater probes, but they don’t come in the box. Instead, you’ll have to make an additional $230 purchase to get a two-pack — which is more than if you bought two Meater Plus probes.

The problem is this two-pack only works with Traeger’s touchscreen grills and doesn’t sync with Meater’s app. This means you don’t get ambient temperature readings or estimated completion times — two valuable pieces of information. The Ironwood does come with two wired probes and the info from those is viewable inside of the Traeger app just like it has been on previous WiFIRE-equipped grills.

Traeger Ironwood (2023) review
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

The company debuted a smart pellet sensor in 2019 and, while it would later ship grills with it included, it was a separate bolt-on component that needed to be installed. With the Timberline and Ironwood, this is now a fully-integrated piece of tech. Like before, the sensor monitors your pellet level and the app will alert you so you don’t have to keep watch. It’s not perfect — it can be tricked by tunneling when pellets are pulled in by the auger — but it’s good enough to keep tabs on the hopper while you’re relaxing.

Traeger has made the initial seasoning process almost entirely automatic. On previous grills, you had to manually set the temperature and a timer to burn off any residue from the manufacturing process, but now the WiFIRE controller handles all of that for you. You simply press a button and the grill keeps you posted on how much time is left. When you shut it down after cooking, either on the display or via the app, you get another countdown so you know the status of this 15-to-25-minute process that burns off excess pellets in the fire pot (time varies depending on your cooking temperature).

Cooking with the Ironwood

Changes aside, cooking with the Ironwood is as simple and straightforward as ever. Once you select your cooking temperature with the dial or send a recipe to the grill from the Traeger app, all you have to do is press the touchscreen to ignite it. The Ironwood reaches temperature in about 12 minutes, whether you’re smoking at 225 degrees Fahrenheit or searing at 500. You’ll get a notification when the grill is preheated so you know it’s time to start cooking.

The Traeger app continues to be a wealth of information for cooks of all skill levels. The software houses over 1,000 recipes with adjustable ingredient lists based on how many people you plan to cook for. Step-by-step guidance is there, along with the ability to monitor grill and food temperatures remotely, and activate Super Smoke or Keep Warm modes as needed. The app still allows you to adjust grill temp, although there were a few times during my test I had to make that request twice. 99 percent of the time it works on the first attempt, but every once in a while the app needs a second prodding before sending the info to the Ironwood.

Over the course of a few months with the Ironwood, I cooked a range of foods at a variety of temperatures. Those include low-and-slow barbecue pork shoulders and turkey breasts, with hotter baking, roasting and searing thrown in too. I also cooked a few recipes where the temperature had to be adjusted during the cook, like the Over The Top Chili method that’s popular online these days. The Ironwood consistently produced great results, with Traeger’s trademark wood-fired flavors.

Traeger touts easier cleanup on the Ironwood thanks to the combination grease and ash keg underneath the grill. Part of that is also the heat diffuser that the company says directs ash to that bin. While it is an improvement that most of the waste goes into one container, you have to help some of the ash get there, and a significant amount of it makes its way on top of the diffuser. Some even ventures up onto the drip tray. You still need a shop vac to do a thorough cleaning every few cooking cycles and you’ll need an all-natural grill cleaner to get the grime off the drip pan, grates, sides and lid.

The competition

The pellet grill industry is increasingly crowded. Most hardware stores now carry a variety of them, most of which at least cover the basics and are available at a range of prices. Recteq’s Patio Legend 410 is under $600, for example. While it’s equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity, it’s more compact with only 410 square inches of grilling space. Pit Boss’ most premium models, the Navigator Series, are available for $999. The smaller Navigator 850 comes with wireless features but the larger Navigator 1150 requires an $150 upgrade for Wi-Fi. I’ve never tested a Pit Boss grill, so I can’t vouch for them, but they’re extremely popular and readily available at a host of big box stores in the US.

For more direct alternatives to the new Timberline, I’d consider the Recteq Backyard Beast 1000 or the Weber SmokeFire grills. The Backyard Beast ($1,099) is the largest “traditional” pellet grill in Recteq’s redesigned 2023 lineup introduced in late October. It offers slightly more cooking space at 1,014 square inches and includes new legs, improved wheels and a revamped controller. Weber’s SmokeFire smart grill debuted in 2020, and while the company has made some tweaks since, the same basic design remains. The main benefit is Weber Connect, the company’s grilling app that provides step-by-step guidance, including videos, and estimated completion times. The larger EX6 model has just over 1,000 square inches of grilling capacity and it’s currently available for $999.

When shopping for a pellet grill, remember that they all offer the same basic functionality. You’ll pay more for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to monitor things from your phone, but every model is capable of both low-and-slow smoking, high-heat searing and everything in between. There’s some variation in the max temperature, but the low end of that range is typically 500 degrees Farenheit. That’s plenty of heat for finishing off a steak. Where companies vary most is design and how common features are presented, so you’ll want to pay attention to things like how the metal components on the inside are arranged, how the grates fit in the cooking chamber and the grill controller.

Wrap-up

The 2023 Ironwood starts at $1,800 and the XL model that I tested is $2,000. That’s $500 more than the previous versions, the Ironwood 650 and Ironwood 885. In fact, it’s also more expensive than both of the first-generation Timberline grills, which were top-of-the-line options at the time. I appreciate a lot of the changes that Traeger made, and many of them are improvements, but they’re now significantly more expensive than the most high-end models from the competition. The 2019 Ironwood is a workhorse that still works well and I’d argue it’s a better grill for most people. Ironwood used to be a solid mid-range option in the company’s lineup, but now it’s just another pricey alternative.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/traeger-ironwood-2023-review-upgraded-smart-grilling-comes-at-a-cost-140100642.html?src=rss

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