Sometimes my interests, hobbies, and work collide. That can often be a good thing. This spring, my love of grilling and my job of covering technology crashed together when Traeger reached out and offered a long-term review of a new grill in their lineup: the Timberline 850 wood pellet grill. That work/leisure mashup truly doesn’t get any better than this…
What’s high tech about a grill? In the case of the Traeger Timberline 850, it’s not just the design—an air convection system with a motorized auger that delivers wood pellets to a burn pot. This grill is also Wi-Fi connected and can be controlled using a mobile app on your smartphone. I have a little nook in the depths of the backyard with a Weber Performa charcoal grill, a Napoleon gas grill, and a comfy Muskoka chair. Always in the shade, it’s the perfect spot to plunk down a Bluetooth speaker, crack a cold beer, and do some serious grilling. I made room for the Timberline 850, adding wood pellet grilling and smoking to my repertoire for the season.
Built Like Fort Knox
Traeger says the Timberline 850 is “built with the structural integrity of Fort Knox.” That sounds like marketing speak, but the review unit arrived on a skid. It weighed 213 pounds. It didn’t take long to assemble (pieces were numbered and the instructions were clear), and I was impressed with just how solid this thing is.
The setup included connecting to my Wi-Fi network, a process I’m accustomed to with smart products, but this was a first for a grill.
Room to Feed a Large Family
The Timberline 850 isn’t just heavy, it’s physically large as well. Overall, it measures 52-inches wide, 48-inches high, and 27-inches deep. Much of that space is taken up by the pill-shaped barrel, which has double wall construction and a gasket that completely seals the interior when the lid is closed. Inside there are 850 square inches of cooking space, spread across three grates. Traeger says that’s enough space for nine chickens, eight rib racks, or six pork butts.
If you regularly feed an army, the Timberline 1300 ups that to 1300 square inches of cooking space.
Traeger grills use wood pellets for fuel. There’s a 24-pound hopper on this grill, and an electric auger delivers the pellets to a small fire pot where a “hot rod” ignites them. The wood pellets provide the heat for cooking, as well as the smoke that adds the flavor. The process of feeding the fire and maintaining the selected temperature is completely automated.
And speaking of flavor, Traeger sells its all-natural hardwood pellets in a variety of flavors (based on the source wood). This includes hickory, mesquite, oak, apple, and others. I was worried about whether the pellets would be stocked locally, but they were always in stock at Lowes and Costco. You can also buy the 20-pound bags of pellets on Amazon.
The burn rate on the pellets will depend on the cooking temperature, ranging from roughly one pound to three pounds per hour. My grilling sessions were typically several hours to half a day at low temperatures, followed by 30 minutes or so of searing, and I averaged about one bag every two to three sessions.
Even, Convection Cooking
One of the big advantages of Traeger’s design is its TRU convection heating system.
Once the lid is closed, the barrel is sealed. You can hear the blower going every few minutes (that kind of freaked the dogs out a bit), but it keeps the heat evenly distributed throughout. There’s an internal thermometer for a reading of the cooking temperature and a plug-in meat thermometer that passes through a rubber gasket on the side of the barrel. I checked both readings against my own wireless thermometer and found that the Traeger was always within one to two degrees. With the TRU convection system tied into the auger-driven pellet delivery, the grill does a good job of staying at the temperature you dial in. It would sometimes spike by five and very occasionally 10 degrees, but would quickly back down to hit the target.
Traeger calls its Wi-Fi connectivity feature WiFIRE. Is it a gimmick? How useful can this feature actually be?
For throwing a package of hot dogs on the grill, it brings nothing to the table. Other than the fact that you can check your smartphone from the house to confirm when the grill has heated up enough to start cooking.
But for actual barbecue, cooking meat low and slow with lots of smoke? The app is a game-changer. Previously, I used my charcoal grill for smoking. Pork back ribs would be on for half the day, at around 220-degrees. And that kept me hopping for the whole half a day. I would have to check the temperature, adjust the air vents, add charcoal, and add wood chips. It meant babysitting the grill to keep the temperature as constant as possible, being hands-on every 15 to 20 minutes.
Contrast that experience with the Traeger Timberline 850. I put the meat on, use the app to set the cooking temperature, then leave. With the app, I can set alerts if the grill or the meat hits a specific temperature. I can see both temperatures at a glance, and adjust the cooking temperature. There is even a button—my favorite app button of all time—called “super smoke” that does just what it says. And I can do this from anywhere I have Wi-Fi or a cellular connection. I went shopping, walked the dogs, played taxi for the kids, and never worried once about dinner not being perfect.
The closest thing to range anxiety is the 24 pound capacity of the pellet hopper, but that represents many hours of grilling, even if you crank it up to 500 degrees. (And yes, this pellet grill will go to 500 degrees when it’s time to sear.)
I cooked some of the best barbecue of my life this summer using the Timberline 850. Smoke rings to die for, plenty of flavor, and fall-apart tender meat. I used the grill for brisket, back ribs, baked beans, hamburgers, chicken thighs and breasts, beef tenderloin, roasted cauliflower, you name it… I didn’t have any misses. I even smoked our Thanksgiving turkey on the Traeger (I live in Canada), and it was a big hit.
Helping with the grilling is that Traeger mobile app, once again. It has over a thousand recipes covering not just meat, but also vegetables, pizza, and desserts. And the app also has programmed cooking sequences for a number of those recipes (press the “Cook Now” button), making it even tougher to mess up.
While my experience with the Traeger Timberline 850 was excellent, with a summer filled with perfectly smoked meat, there are a few downsides to keep in mind.
The first is the cost. It’s not outrageously priced, but at $1699.99, there is likely to be some sticker shock with the Timberline 850.
The second is cleanup and preparation. This is not a grill that you fire up and two minutes later throw on a pack of hot dogs. Cleanup and prep usually takes me at least 15 minutes, and it can be dirty work. Ashes have to be removed, and that means removing the grates, grease tray, and heat shield each time it’s used. It also takes a few minutes for the wood pellets to ignite, then to get the grill up to temperature.
Finally, it requires electrical power to operate. You need to be within range of an electrical outlet, or at least have access to an extension cord. That also means this grill can’t be used to cook or heat water in a blackout. (I’ve been through enough power outages that I do take that into consideration.)
But the Pluses More Than Make up for It
If you can get past the price, the other issues are minor. Allocate time for cleaning. And buy a cheap gas grill—that covers off any need to cook outdoors in a hurry, and also covers the grill as an emergency cooking station scenario.
The consistently mouth-watering results of the Traeger Timberline 850 make it all worthwhile. And the convenience of being able to walk away and control everything using an app on your smartphone is one of those features that will leave you wondering how you ever lived without it.