I confess I was skeptical of a grill with Wi-Fi. Grills are about elemental things—wood, fire, meat—adding Wi-Fi to that seems almost sacrilegious. Grill-maker Traeger was undaunted though. The company has been offering Wi-Fi in its top-end pellet smokers for several years and has slowly added it to cheaper models, like the Ironwood 650.
Turns out having Wi-Fi on your grill is incredibly useful. This is especially true for very long cooks, like smoking ribs or brisket. Instead of hovering over the grill on a hot Sunday, 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 controls and Wi-Fi (Traeger cleverly calls it WiFire) to connect to an app on your phone. The “650” moniker refers to grill space; in this case, 650 square inches. It’s plenty of room to smoke three to four racks of ribs, or about six chickens at a time. It’s large enough for most people, but the Ironwood 885 is the roomier model if you need it. I recommend picking up Traeger’s well-made grill cover to protect your investment.
The first thing that struck me about the Ironwood 650 is the packaging and assembly process, which are well thought out. I had it out of the box and ready to go in a little more than 20 minutes—considerably less time than I’ve spent putting together much smaller portable grills. The cardboard box it came in also turns inside out to become a children’s playhouse, a nice touch my kids appreciated.
This same level of care and attention to detail can be found in both the grill and the Android and iOS app that accompanies it. That’s nice, because although the Ironwood strikes a good balance between features and price in Traeger’s lineup, this is still not a cheap grill.
As a friend of mine is fond of pointing out, you can either throw money at a problem or throw time at it. If you want to grill like a true pitmaster without putting in the long sweaty hours, you’re going to have to spend some money. With the Ironwood, it is indeed possible to buy your way to successful grilling. And I don’t mean “That chicken was good, Dad” kind of grilling. I mean “Those are the best ribs I’ve ever had” grilling.
I started with brisket. Trial by fire. Or smoke at least. The Traeger app has a complete beginning-to-end brisket recipe with plenty of hand-holding to get you through what’s probably the most intimidating cut of meat to cook. The app also includes grill controls, recipes, cooking tips, and more.
Setup is pretty easy. After you prime and run the grill once to get it ready, all you do is select the brisket recipe and follow the preheating instructions. When the grill is hot, insert the temperature probe in the brisket, lay it on the grill, and relax—you’re done. The brisket will take 10 hours, but don’t worry, the Ironwood 650 will take care of all that.
Let the App Drive
You can keep tabs on the cooking progress of your meat through your phone, but the grill itself controls the temperature, the amount of smoke, and all the other details. You can tune some of these settings yourself, but I recommend sticking with the defaults your first time.
The app is very nice and similar to the Weber app we recommend in our grilling accessories guide. You’ll find a library of recipes and grilling tips, but the difference is that, since the other end is built into the grill itself, Traeger’s app can control the grill, precisely raising and lowering the temperature, feeding in pellets, and managing how much smoke is generated, while monitoring the temperature of the meat. Once you’ve found the recipe you want, you can send all the cooking instructions to the grill without even needing to go out and turn the dials. Just lift the lid and insert the meat.
As nice and as foolproof as it sounds, the proof is in the brisket. I am happy to report that my first attempt, while it made no one’s best brisket ever list, was not half bad. And if you know anything about cooking brisket, that’s high praise for the first try.
My only real gripe is that I’m not totally sold on pellets. I realize the ability to do everything from your phone only works because cooking with pellets allows for that level of control, but the pellets themselves are a pain. I did not test any third-party pellets, and Traeger does not recommend them. You can get Traeger’s online at Amazon or Home Depot. On the plus side, the pellet hopper on the Ironwood is large, and the only time I had to refill it was during the brisket cook (which was about 12 hours in total).
There is still a learning curve to the Ironwood, but it is significantly easier to master than any other grill I have tested. By the time I smoked my second rack of ribs, I was getting results that bested what I’ve done the old-fashioned way over charcoal, sweating through an early-August heat wave. I suppose I can’t say it objectively bested me, but when all was said and done, there were leftover ribs when I smoked over charcoal. There was nothing left of the ribs that came off the Ironwood. That’s the highest praise a grill can get.