Turning Up The Heat With a Traeger Grill

It's the steamiest week of the summer, but that's no reason to pass up prime BBQ season. 
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It's the steamiest week of the summer, but that's no reason to pass up prime BBQ season. 
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It’s been hot and rainy down in Tennessee this summer. Whole weeks of the little thundercloud forecast and temps in the high 90s with the attendant humidity and the newly hatched, seemingly weaponized swarms of mosquitos. Good weather for a post-deluge canoe trip or beers on a screened in porch — bad weather for planning a barbecue. Thankfully, the rain finally broke and that sweet, sticky, bugbitten paradise we shuffled toward through such a dark winter could be inaugurated with a cookout. Summer, ah summer!

I’d been meaning to try out this Traeger grill for a few weeks now. I have a cousin who’s a near apostle of the Oregon company’s line of wood pellet grills, but aside from taste testing a turkey that he’d smoked last Thanksgiving (in good natured competition with an oven roasted counterpart) I hadn’t had any hands on experience with their grills. The appeal of the Traeger is basically two-fold: it’s wood-fired and super easy to use. The wood pellets that fuel the grill give you options in terms of flavor – I went with cherry over oak and alder – and the machine’s temperature control mechanism means its virtually hands-off. 

So one evening last week, as the temperature teasingly dipped toward 90, a friend and I assembled the Traeger Lil’ Texas Pro  on his porch and put the thing through its paces. Operating the grill is pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it. You pour the wood pellets into a hopper attached to the side of the grill and they’re slowly fed into a fire-pot housed on the bottom of the roomy grilling chamber. A small induction fan feeds the fire in the firepot and then helps circulate heat in the chamber and you manage the temperature via a dial on the side of the pellet hopper.

So yeah, the thing basically works like a big, smoky, wood-fired convection oven. The kicker, though is that once it’s up and running it’s totally hands off. For its debut flight, we loaded the grill up with a whole chicken, a half-dozen dry rubbed legs, sweet corn, and potatoes, set the temperature at the Traeger cookbook recommended 400 degrees, and that was pretty much that.

A little over an hour later we opened the hood and had a feast on our hands. The chicken was tender and smoky with crisp skin (cherry pellets were a good choice), the potatoes  had cooked evenly, and the sweet corn (cooked briefly after we took the rest of the food off the grill) was to kill for. As advertised, it was pretty much a hands off affair once the grill got going, which is good because in Tennessee during the summer you need all of your hands to drink beer and swat mosquitos.   

In the end, the Traeger gets high marks. It’s well designed, low stress, and – most importantly – the food was excellent. I can’t wait to slow cook ribs or smoke a big brisket on this bad boy and continue to kick off summer over and over.