If you know me, you know I love barbecue.
I’m a member of the Texas BBQ Posse, which is a social group started by some Dallas Morning News writers, editors and photographers to find and eat good barbecue.
Some of us in the Texas BBQ Posse also have our own smokers. Some are more serious than others, but we really enjoy cooking (and sharing photos of) our barbecuing successes at home.
I’ve been smoking on a Weber Smokey Mountain, a barrel-shaped charcoal smoker. I’m to the point where I can turn out pretty good barbecue with it, but a few weeks ago I was asked whether I’d like to review a new pellet smoker from Traeger.
To say I jumped at the chance would be an understatement.
I’ve heard good things about Traeger grills and smokers for years, but I had never tried one.
Last week, Traeger introduced a new line of smokers with upgraded technology. I was sent the Traeger Pro 575, which is the smallest of the new smokers.
What’s a pellet smoker?
Traeger’s grills and smokers don’t burn charcoal or wood logs. They burn pressed wood pellets made from hardwoods and sawdust.
The pellets are fed from a bin into a burn chamber by an auger. A computer controls the temperature, turning the auger to add more pellets to the smoker to keep the temperature steady.
Basically, you load the hopper with pellets, turn on the power, set the cooking temperature, and the Traeger takes care of the rest.
As long as the you don’t run out of pellets (more on this later), your cook should go completely smoothly.
Traeger Grills began production in 1988, and the pellet cooking concept is the same, but today’s grills have a lot more technology.
New with the 2019 Traeger Grills is the D2 direct drive drive-train, which includes a variable speed fan and a one-piece auger with a brushless motor. The grills have a new feature called TurboTemp that can quickly deliver cooking temperatures from 165 to 450 degrees (other new models can produce higher temperatures).
The Pro 575 has a wired temperature probe that lets you know when your meat hits its target temperature.
The new Traeger grills also have a technology called WiFire, which uses Wi-Fi to allow the user to monitor the grill and control the cook from a smartphone.
You download the free Traeger app and follow the steps to connect your grill to your home’s Wi-Fi network. The grill has to be in range of your home’s Wi-Fi signal if you want to use WiFire, but you don’t need the app or Wi-Fi to cook.
From my phone, I could see the current temperature inside the grill, change the grill temperature, monitor the meat temperature and set a timer.
The Pro 575 has 575 square inches of cooking space. There is a 19-by-22-inch main grill and a 7-by-22-inch second-tier grill.
The grill measures 41 by 27 by 53 inches and weighs 128 pounds.
Traeger says the Pro 575 can hold 24 burgers, five racks of ribs or four chickens.
It’s electric, so you’ll need an outlet or extension cord that’s convenient to your cooking location.
The Pro 575 costs $799. The larger Pro 780 costs $999.
You’ll need to spend 30 to 45 minutes putting it together.
How does it cook?
If I had to pick one word to describe using the Traeger Pro 575, it would be easy.
I’m used to my Weber, which takes half a bag of charcoal and 30 minutes to get up to temperature.
With the Traeger, you flip the power switch, dial the temperature you want for the grill, set the desired temperature for the meat probe and press the ignite button.
You’ll start seeing smoke in less than five minutes. Put the meat on the grill, insert the probe and close the lid.
Now you wait.
My first cook was three racks of St. Louis cut pork ribs.
I did a test fire on Friday night, starting the grill and running it at a medium temperature and a high temperature for about an hour.
For the test fire, I filled the hopper a little less than halfway. It can hold a whole bag of pellets, which is 20 pounds.
I woke up early on Saturday and put the ribs on at 7:30 a.m.
After about two hours, I received a notification on my phone that the Traeger had “flamed out.”
I’d run out of pellets. I had forgotten to add any pellets for the rib cook.
It was a rookie mistake but not a fatal one. The fire had only been out for about 10 minutes before I refilled the hopper and got it going again.
FYI: You have to turn the grill on and off to reset after a flame-out error.
The ribs turned out fine after 4.5 hours at 275 degrees.
They weren’t my best effort. I didn’t cook them quite long enough.
There isn’t really enough meat on pork ribs to insert a probe, so I was inserting a meat thermometer to probe for doneness. The probe should go through the meat without resistance. Next time I’ll go a bit longer.
Getting the hang of it
A week later, I bought a nine-pound pork shoulder roast to smoke. I put it on at about 7:30 p.m. at 275 degrees.
This time I filled the hopper all the way up. I set the probe alarm to go off when the meat hit an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which took about six hours.
I wrapped the shoulder in foil and put it back on the fire until it hit 205 degrees, which took another two hours.
I took it off at about 3:30 a.m. and put it in a cooler for two hours to rest, and then I pulled it.
It was delicious. I took it to work for lunch every day this week.
The pork shoulder cook was flawless. I walked out and started the Traeger in a snap. I used the app to monitor the progress and set timers to go out and check the meat every hour.
The temperature of the Traeger stayed constant. It does fluctuate by about 5 to 10 degrees under and over your target temperature, but that’s just fine. We’re cooking big hunks of meat, not a souffle.
If you want to learn how to smoke meat, the Traeger is a great way to start.
And if you have a smoker but struggle to get good results, the Traeger will make your life a lot easier.
Controlling the fire temperature is key to producing good barbecue, and the Traeger makes that process dead simple.
It feels like cheating – almost.
I’m glad I started with my Weber. It gave me a healthy respect for the art of controlling fire temperature. But being a tech guy, I’m ready to move on and let a computer take care of it.
I can tell you the Traeger makes me think differently about smoking. Starting it is so fast and easy that I’m more likely to just fire it up and start cooking.
Pros: Quick starts, good temperature control, wireless control.
Cons: A bit expensive.
Bottom line: The Pro 575 is a luxury grilling/smoking experience.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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