Traeger Ironwood pellet grill review: King of the smoke ring
The Traeger Ironwood and Ironwood XL pellet grills set a standard for simplified smoking and grilling.
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Traeger has been refining its pellet cookers since the company launched in 1987. These auger-fed, wood-burning grills have come a long way since their relatively simplistic start. Adding an auger to a pellet grill was a big deal, but with more precise machinery and connectivity, they have become some of the easiest and most effective ways to make delicious barbecue. The Ironwood and the Ironwood XL represent the sweet spot in Traeger’s lineup. They rely on the company’s most advanced controller, ignition, and pellet-feeding systems without a ton of extra frills and features to drive the price even higher. The result is a grill that allows for precise control without constant tweaking or reaching into scalding hot fireboxes.
- Extremely simple setup
- Robust companion app
- Extremely consistent temperature
- Roomy insulated cooking chamber
- Built-in wheels for moving around
- Storage is limited to a single shelf
- Requires more regular maintenance than gas or charcoal
- Premium price
I’ve been cooking on the Traeger Ironwood XL for about a week. Luckily, that week included the Super Bowl, which allowed me to smoke everything from classic pulled pork to a viral queso recipe on YouTube. Ultimately, the Traeger Ironwood promises a dead simple and extremely versatile grilling experience, and it definitely delivers.
What is the Traeger Ironwood pellet grill?
The Traeger Ironwood and Ironwood XL work like most other pellet grills on the market. Fill the hopper with small cylindrical pellets that are essentially compressed sawdust. A screw-shaped auger slowly pushes the pellets into a metal pot, where a flame sets them ablaze. The grill forces air into the pot to assist the burn and literally get things cooking.
The new Ironwood and Ironwood XL models replace Traeger’s previous Ironwood series cookers, which I have reviewed and used extensively. The new models include some very notable upgrades, the most important of which comes in the form of the upgraded, touchscreen-equipped electronic controller—a feature that has trickled down from the flagship Timberline that I’ve used to intoxicate my neighborhood with apple-crisp aromatherapy.
Other upgrades for the new Ironwood models include improved insulation throughout the grill, a simplified cleanup process, a chute for easily removing older pellets, a rail for adding Traeger’s modular accessories, and compatibility with Traeger’s wireless connected grilling accessories.
Setting up the Traeger Ironwood XL
Putting together a grill is never a particularly enjoyable experience. Still, Traeger’s clever packaging and excellent video instructions (accessed via QR codes on the printed versions) help to minimize the pain.
The company recommends at least two people for the job, primarily because you’ll need to tip the grill on its back for a portion of the process. The parts come neatly packed, and the package includes all the tools required for assembly. I do recommend keeping a blade handy for getting into the boxes.
I tackled the assembly process with my 13-year-old son, and it took us just under two hours from cutting the first piece of tape to plugging in the grill to get started. You could probably speed-run it in about an hour if you feel particularly motivated. The process is a lot like assembling IKEA furniture in that it’s mostly logical, sometimes a little annoying, and likely to make your hand sore the next day from turning bolts.
Accessories outside the cooking chamber
You won’t find much in the way of bells and whistles outside the cooking hardware. There’s no side burner, just a simple, sturdy side table for food prep and to hold a beverage while you cook. Under the cooking chamber, a single shelf near the bottom of the legs provides the only semblance of storage.
Traeger has equipped the new Ironwood with its modular accessory rail system, which debuted last year with the Timberline series. It accepts a variety of accessories, from paper rolls to tool hooks and bins to hold condiments and rubs. It’s handy if you’re willing to buy more accessories to go with your already premium-priced grill.
Firing up the Traeger Ironwood pellet grill
This is where Traeger’s refinement process really starts to show its benefits. Instructions on the full-color touchscreen guide users through a streamlined process of getting the grill connected to the internet and synced with the companion app.
I’ve gone through this process with several Traeger grills, and the new Ironwood XL is the simplest and easiest. Tip: If the app keeps telling you you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network, ensure you’re using the 2.4GHz version of your network and not the 5GHz version. Besides that slight Wi-Fi mixup (and my inability to type my home network password correctly on the first try), the connection process was seamless. It took less than 10 minutes, including the time the grill took to download a software update before I could fire it up.
Once you’re all connected, the grill suggests a roughly one-hour-long seasoning process. This involves heating the grill up to 500 degrees to burn off any oil (which Traeger assures is non-toxic) that may be left over from the manufacturing process. The automated seasoning process never quite made it up to 500 degrees for some reason, so I did it manually after the fact and had no issue.
Cooking on the Traeger Ironwood pellet grill
I have been cooking on the Ironwood XL, the larger of the two models. The XL offers two cooking surfaces, including the main grate that provides 396 square inches of grilling real estate, plus a smaller upper rack with an extra 220 square inches of room.
It’s a massive cooking surface that can accommodate dozens of burgers. If you’re ever feeling compelled to go low and slow on a bunch of hams, you could squeeze five of them on there with room left to spare. Unless you’re regularly cooking tons of food at once, though, the standard Ironwood model will likely suit you much better and consume less fuel because it doesn’t have to heat a massive cooking chamber. Plus, it might make your picnic shoulder look particularly puny when it’s on there all by itself.
I typically smoke my pulled pork at 250 degrees. Even in 45-degree Upstate New York temperatures, the Ironwood XL surprised me by reaching that temperature in less than 15 minutes. The companion app makes it easy to track the heating process from afar without having to leave some warm interior and check the display or thermometer.
Traeger has drastically improved the insulation around the cooking chamber, including the door that now offers double-wall construction. It makes the lid heavier to open and close, but it also bottles in the heat with impressive efficiency. Even when the smoker is at temperature, the outside of the door feels cool thanks to the insulation. My forearms appreciate any feature that reduces their chance of adding the smell of singed hair to the smoking experience.
I try not to open my smoker too much when it’s working, but on the rare occasion I did, the Traeger would hurry back up to the set temperature in just a few minutes and stay there. In fact, it was rare that the cooker varied more than five degrees hotter or cooler than the set temperature during the cooking process. Consistency is king with low-and-slow cooking, and this grill absolutely nails it.
Traeger offers a Super Smoke mode, which pumps even more smoke into the meat as it cooks, but I only find myself using it sparingly. The typical smoker mode creates a very pleasant and flavorful pink ring around the inside of the mean without constant fussing.
Other kinds of cooking
With temperature settings up to 500 degrees, the Ironwood can do much more than smoke meat. Cranked to its max temperature, it put a solid sear on my burgers (which include a mix of brisket and short rib). I even seared off a few veggie dogs for my kids, and it worked out just fine.
If you’re primarily going to cook burgers, dogs, some grilled chicken, or meat alternatives, a propane grill may still be your best option. It will require less maintenance and work without needing a power outlet. But, if you plan on doing any smoking at all, the Ironwood clearly excels.
Probes and fuel consumption
The D2 controller offers two ports for connecting temperature probes. I thought mine may have malfunctioned during my first cook because they continually read 32 degrees, but I simply hadn’t pushed them all the way into the ports. This grill is compatible with Traeger’s wireless Meater thermometer, but it’s not included like it is with the flagship Timberline.
As stated before, this grill burns hardwood pellets. I started with a bag of Traeger’s own Apple wood pellets. After the initial seasoning process and a roughly 10-hour pulled pork cook at 250 degrees (in the cold weather), I had a little less than a quarter of the bag left. That number would likely decrease with the standard Ironwood model because of the smaller cooking chamber.
Cleaning up after the cook
Ash and grease drip down through the pan and into a removable bucket that snaps into place under the cooking chamber. This makes cleaning up a lot easier and less gross than it was with the previous Ironwood models, but it’s not a perfect process. Rails guide the bucket into place, where it simply clicks into its spot, but you can’t actually see that it’s clicked in unless you duck all the way under the grill. The bucket also requires metal liners that are easy to dispose of but require an occasional purchase.
I haven’t gone through a full hard clean of the entire grill yet because it has only been a short time, but I expect the process will be similar to that of the Timberline. It’s worth noting that pellet cookers like this one do require more regular cleaning and maintenance than a simple gas grill or even a charcoal model. The grill’s menu system will let you know if something isn’t working correctly and needs attention, but you’ll be much better off in the long run if you take the time to clear ash from the burn pot and remove dust from the pellet hopper.
So, who should buy the Traeger Ironwood pellet grill?
The Traeger Ironwood and Ironwood XL will spoil you. These pellet grills are easy to set up, keep meticulous temperature, and can get as hot as 500 degrees, which makes them useful for everything from low-and-slow smoking to high-heat searing.
At $1,799 for the standard Ironwood and $1,999 for the Ironwood XL, you’re paying for that performance. While this definitely isn’t a cheap grill line, it does feel premium. Even the packaging feels well thought out and intuitive.
Ultimately, a Traeger Ironwood pellet grill strikes the right balance of simplicity and automation for outdoor cooks like me. It gives a genuine smoke flavor without the need for babysitting. I can neurotically check the temperature every 10 minutes, but I don’t have to. Even if it does require some extra investment upfront, I expect heavy users will definitely cover the difference in pellet consumption and overall durability. Some barbecue purists will tell you that pellet cookers are cheating. Part of me thinks they’re right, but a much larger part of me enjoys playing fetch with my dog instead of babysitting a fire over a long cook. If that describes you, this is the grill you’ve been looking for.