I FIRST HEARD about Traeger grills in the Traeger-est of ways: on the Colorado–New Mexico border, in a pickup truck, on the way back from a lake where a master fly fisherman had just taken me out on his boat. This was a guy who took his elk steaks seriously. And he told me that grills made by Traeger cook them better than any he had ever tried, that the company has pioneered the use of special wood pellets for fuel that give meat just the right smoke. He was beaming with enough bright-eyed enthusiasm it almost wiped away the disappointment of us not catching a single trout that day.
Heating meat over a flame is primal, and I’m wary of any technology that promises to “disrupt” and do things better than how it has been done since time immemorial. But it turns out my friend the fisherman was right: Traeger is proof that progress still has the capacity to make improvements in our lives instead of just adding complications. Their Timberline model has every bell and whistle you could ever want, including a touch-screen control, an adjoining induction cooktop for sautéing and searing, and a smart combustion system that actually monitors your meat on its own to make sure it’s cooking consistently.
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If you’ve never used a Wi-Fi grill, it may sound a little complex, but it actually makes life way easier: Traeger grills feature their very own temperature probe, and, connected to your house’s Wi-Fi, you can actually gauge the meat’s progress through an app on your phone. Most importantly, you can use the app to set instructions to the machine to cook your food exactly right, and Traeger features a whole range of recipes to help you along your way.
Say, for instance, you want juicy baby back ribs — pull a recipe up on the app, put your meat on, and send the instructions right to the grill so that it can automatically cook it to a tee. You can check on and futz with temperatures on your phone anywhere you have Wi-Fi, so if you need to, say, run to the convenience store to get more ice, you can still monitor your meat. It basically makes grilling as easy as turning on your oven, if not easier. For grill fanatics like my fisherman friend, this is probably an added bonus as much as a necessity. But for me, who is a bit shakier with my spatula, it’s a godsend.
With a Traeger grill, the meat is also cooked by wood, not charcoal or gas. That means you can more readily control and maintain the temperature, but it also gives everything a signature ambrosial taste, a naturalness and woodsy flavor that could make even your suburban backyard feel like a firepit built by a cowboy. The pellets come in a range of flavors, including Apple BBQ and Brisket Blend, so you can make things a little sweeter or a little smokier, depending on your tastes.
Yes, we’ve done okay for millennia with a more rudimentary way of putting meat on the fire. But it turns out that little things can make all the difference — temperature control and consistency, wood over charcoal, and ease of use. The revolution that Traeger promises is a subtle one, sure, all about detailed improvements in texture and taste. But with a culinary art this essential, that’s all you really need.
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Alex Frank Writer
Alex Frank is a contributing editor at Departures. Based in Manhattan, Frank previously worked at Vogue.com as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.