When Traeger first established the first mass market pellet smoker over 30 years ago, they held a rank which lay unmatched for a number of years. Riding on the success of providing the BBQ smoker market, with a concept which relied on the controlled burning of hardwood pellets to achieve an authentic smoked flavour without losing control of the cooking process, Traeger have long been at the top of the pellet smoker industry.
However as more and more new players enter the game with their own unique features and enhanced benefits, understanding the key differences between similar models and looking at what sets them apart is the only way of comparing overall value and user experience. And most of all, are Traeger still at the top of the market that they created, or have some of the newer brands come in with more appealing propositions and concepts?
Exploring the Louisiana Grills 800 series
Louisiana Grills 800 series is one which takes all the benefits of a modern and intuitive design and combines it with the flawless finish of an authentic pellet smoker.
Made up of a Premier model and a Legacy model, the 800 series is one which is named after the cooking capacity the grills have available, instantly allowing the user to determine the size of the grill and how much space it will provide. In the case of the 800 series, we are looking at an overall cooking area of just under 850 square inches, separated across 2 trays.
One of the interesting things to note about the Louisiana Grills design is that the cooking body itself it heavily rounded – in fact, from a side view it appears more like a barrel than a standard BBQ, which often boasts a curved lid but a straight base. This not only allows for the fire pit and funnel of hardwood pellets that all pellet smokers have in their underside, but also opens up the space available for meet to cook at the very back of the grill farthest from where the user would stand. Despite pellet smokers being renowned for their consistent cook across the entire grill, placing a piece of meat in this concealed back area is sure to provide it with enhanced access to the smoky atmosphere – without the interruption of air from the lid when it is opened. This, when used intuitively by the user, can create some really deep and intense smoking towards the back of the smoker.
And then we come to the versatility of the pellet smoker, and particularly those offered in the 800 series. The whole concept of a pellet smoker, as designed by Traeger, is to subject the meat to a cooking process which relies on hardwood pellets, fed into the fire pit through a tube connected to a pellet box. Over time, this evolved to create more control and widen the possibilities when it came to cooking, with brands exploring the use of an adaptable flame broiler and cooking tray which could be pulled across the fire pit to cook the meat slowly through smoke and transferred heat, or else opened to expose the direct flame and give the meat a chargrilled or flame grilled quality. The Louisiana Grills 800 series offer not 1, but 8 complete cooking methods, depending on how the user chooses to expose and cook their meat. This means the Louisiana Grills pellet smokers are all ideal for all-year-round use, creating the ultimate roast dinner or providing that perfect BBQ grill finish.
Exploring the Traeger Timberline 850
Much like with the 800 series, the Timberline does half the work for us by announcing its capacity in the title. Sitting at a total capacity of 850 square inches, the Timberline offers a minimal increase on capacity compared with the 800 series, though without the barrel design which optimises on the concealed space we explored with the Louisiana Grills series.
In short, Traeger’s Timberline range is user friendly and clever, featuring the same kind of WiFi connection as the 800 series – giving it the kind of complete control that users look for in the modern market.
The design itself is very easy to use and understanding, and most of all it feels and appears stable with the grill itself built in with a surrounding border which gives the user a little extra buffer space between themselves and the heat of the grill. The tray across the front is also a useful rest for BBQ tools and implements – a simple but highly useful addition that Traeger have incorporated to elevate the overall experience from a user perspective. The digital display, likewise, is easy to use and control, giving you control over what is happening inside the cooking cavity without having to open the lid and release the hot air and smoke.
However, when it comes to value itself, the problems start to arise. Despite only having a couple of extra square inches on the 800 series, Traeger’s price point sits high above the competition – begging the question are the features really good enough to warrant the steep hike in price? With Louisiana Grills offering the same WiFi connectivity, as well as the industry leading 8-in-1 cooking methods compared with just 6 methods across the Traeger range, it seems that the affordable price and user friendly experience offered by Louisiana Grills is just enough to push it over to the edge to the top of the market.