Traeger pellet cookers are soaring in popularity due to their ease of use combined with great marketing. As the majority of Americans are used to cooking outdoors on gas and charcoal grills they have quite a few questions about pellet grills in general.
One common question about these cookers is, “Is a Traeger a Grill or a Smoker?“
Let’s see if we can get that question answered for you!
A Traeger is an excellent smoker that has limited grilling capability. A Traeger is more like a highly functional oven that provides smoke flavor than it is a grill.
Let’s dive into the details of these backyard cookers.
The Difference Between a Grill and Smoker
There are no absolute, concrete definitions of what makes something either a grill or a smoker. That being said, there are some features that appear to be fundamental to the categories.
What is a Smoker?
A smoker is a device that maintains a cooking temperature in the 185-300F range while providing smoke flavor from burning or smoldering wood.
This is an ideal cooking environment for Low and Slow barbecue such as baby back ribs, briskets, pork butts and smoked chicken.
Some style of smokers let you cook over open flames or a hot bed of coals but this is not a requirement. Indeed, one of the most popular style of smokers in the US are electric smokers where no flame is ever present.
What is a Grill?
A grill is a device that allows you to cook food at high heat over open flames or hot coals.
Grills can be extremely versatile and you do not always have to use a grill to cook your food at high heat over open flames or coals. One of the best ways of using a grill is to set up a two zone system where the heat and fire is on one side of the grill while the meats cook on the cooler side.
But, in my opinion, a fundamental requirement to calling something a grill is that it has the ABILITY to cook at high heat over open flames.
If you can you can potentially see and smell the dripping grease from your burger hitting the flames then you are cooking on a grill.
How Hot is “High Heat”?
This is an arbitrary definition on my behalf but when it comes to grilling I consider High Heat to be in the 500-700F range.
Limitation of My Definition of a Grill
My definition of a grill comes with immediate consequences.
For example, I wouldn’t call devices marketed as “electric grills” or “infrared grills” as true grills as even though they can get scorching hot, direct flames are not involved in the cooking process.
How does Traeger Stack Up?
The maximum cooking temperature of a Traeger differs between models but is usually in the 450-500F range. I consider these temperatures to be at the lower end of what I expect from a grill.
From an upper temperature standpoint a Traeger just qualifies as being a grill. However, Traeger’s fall short on my second requirement for being a grill, the ability to cook directly over open flames or coals.
While Traeger’s do use a live fire from burning wood pellets in their cookers, the food is shielded from the fire by a large grease tray and the heavy duty heat deflector that sits over the fire pot.
I Am Not Bashing on Traeger
The reasons I am not calling a Traeger a grill is not a fault or defect with the Traeger brand but is reflective of the limitations and challenges with the design of pellet cookers in general.
Some manufacturers of pellet cookers have tried to implement the option for direct flame grilling. Pit Boss and Camp Chef both offer direct flame grilling but, in my opinion, neither grill system works well.
The best direct flame grilling system I have seen on a pellet grill so far has been on the Yoder products.
Almost all pellet grills work great as smokers but fall short in the grilling department.
A Traeger is More Like an Oven Than a Grill
Traeger says that you can use their cookers to “Grill, Smoke, Bake, Roast, Braise & BBQ“. I will slightly disagree 🙂
Using a Traeger is almost identical to using a great oven where you get precise control over a wide range of temperatures. The benefit of a Traeger over an oven is that you get the smoke and flavor that comes with burning wood pellets.
If you cooked a ribeye steak in your oven would you say that you grilled it?
Don’t get me wrong, you can cook an AMAZING steak in an oven or on a Traeger, I just wouldn’t call it grilled.