I admit I was skeptical about a grill with wifi. Grilling is about the basics – wood, fire, meat – and adding WiFi seems almost sacrilegious. The grill manufacturer Traeger, however, was intrepid. The company has offered WiFi to its top-of-the-line pellet smokers for several years and has slowly added it to cheaper models like the Ironwood 650.
It turns out that Wi-Fi is incredibly useful on your grill. This is especially true for very long cooks like ribs or brisket. Instead of hovering over the grill on a hot Sunday and constantly checking the temperature, you can sit in air-conditioned comfort and control the Ironwood 650 from your phone.
You get what you pay for
This is an electric pellet smoker with digital control and Wi-Fi (Traeger cleverly calls it WiFire) to connect to an app on your phone. The nickname “650” refers to the barbecue area. in this case 650 square inches. There’s plenty of room to smoke three to four ribs or about six chickens at a time. It’s big enough for most people, but the Ironwood 885 is the roomier model if you need it. I recommend using Traeger’s well-made grill cover to protect your investment.
The first thing I noticed about the Ironwood 650 is the packaging and assembly process, which is well thought out. I had it ready to go and was up and running in just over 20 minutes – considerably less time than what I spent putting together much smaller portable grills. The box it came in also became a children’s playhouse, a nice touch that my children appreciated.
The same degree of care and attention to detail can be found both in the grill and in the associated Android and iOS app. That’s nice because although the Ironwood in Traeger’s range strikes a good balance between features and price, this is still not a cheap grill.
As a friend of mine likes to point out, you can either throw money on a problem or throw time on it. If you want to grill like a real Pitmaster without planning in the long, sweaty hours, you have to spend some money. With ironwood it is actually possible to buy your way to a successful barbecue. And I don’t mean “The chicken was good Dad” grilling. I mean “these are the best ribs I’ve ever had” grilling.
I started with brisket. Ordeal by fire. Or at least smoke. The Traeger app has a full brisket recipe from start to finish with lots of handcrafting to get you through what is probably the most intimidating piece of meat to be cooked. The app also includes grill controls, recipes, cooking tips, and more.
The setup is pretty simple. After you’ve primed and run the grill once to get it ready, all you need to do is choose the brisket recipe and follow the preheat instructions. When the grill is hot, insert the temperature probe into the brisket, place it on the grill and relax – done. The chestpiece will take 10 hours, but don’t worry, the Ironwood 650 will take care of all of that.
Let the app go
You can follow the cooking progress of your meat on your phone, but the grill itself controls the temperature, the amount of smoke and all other details. You can adjust some of these settings yourself, but I recommend leaving the default settings the first time.
The app is very nice and is similar to the Weber app that we recommend in our barbecue accessories guide. You will find a library of recipes and barbecue tips. The difference, however, is that the Traeger app can control the grill, precisely raise and lower the temperature, feed and control pellets because the other end is built into the grill itself, monitoring the meat temperature creates a lot of smoke. Once you find the recipe you want, you can send all of the cooking instructions to the grill without turning the dials. Just lift the lid and insert the meat.
As beautiful and easy as it sounds, the proof is in the chest piece. I’m happy to report that while my first attempt, while it didn’t make anyone the best brisket ever, wasn’t half bad. And if you know anything about brisket cooking, kudos for the first try.
My only real gripe is that I am not entirely sold on pellets. I realize that being able to do everything from your phone only works because cooking with pellets gives that control, but the pellets themselves are a pain. I have not tested any third-party pellets, and Traeger does not recommend them. You can get Traeger online from Amazon or Home Depot. On the positive side, the pellet container on the ironwood is large and I only had to refill it while the brisket was cooking (around 12 hours total).
There’s still a learning curve for the ironwood, but it’s way easier to master than any other grill I’ve tested. When I smoked my second piece of rib, I got results better than what I did the old-fashioned way over charcoal and was sweating through a heat wave from early August. I can’t say it objectively defeated me, but when all was said and done there was leftover ribs as I smoked over charcoal. There was nothing left of the ribs that came from the ironwood. That is the highest praise a grill can get.