As we wind down the year I wanted to comment on the one device that I really loved this year: the massively upgraded and massively useful Traeger Timberline, one of my favorite products of the year. Although I reviewed it over the summer, it’s become my favorite product of 2022.
There are only a few uniquely American consumer products that stick out to me when I think of high tech. Sonos comes to mind as well as Makerbot. Traeger, a manufacturer of grills and smokers for those with big yards and big appetites, is another one of those unique products. Their latest product, the Traeger Timberline, is also unique in hardware products. It is, put simply, an evolutionary product, one that moves the needle in a measurable way when it comes to incremental improvements on previous versions.
The Traeger Timberline is basically an auger-based grill that burns small wood pellets to get even heat. You can set the temperature to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit to create smoke for brisket and pulled pork and you can ramp it up to 500 degrees for searing fish and baking pizza. The company was founded in Oregon thirty years ago and the system hasn’t changed much in all those years. However, after changing hands in 2014, the new CEO, Jeremy Andrus, wanted to evolve the product from its down-and-dirty roots.
A few years later, Andrus created the first generation of Timberline grills, grills that came from what I would call the company’s Arduino days. By adding a wireless adapter and temperature sensor to the system, you had more control over the cooking process. This original Timberline series wasn’t very high-tech. It basically consisted of a little Wi-Fi-connected board attached to the company’s traditional smoker. It worked, but there were problems.
Their newest project, however, is a perfect example of evolutionary thinking. Instead of slightly improving on the previous version, Andrus and his team changed the entire product, adding features consumers didn’t know they wanted and streamlining systems that once made the grill harder to use.
I used the new grill for a month and I’ve been a longtime Traeger user so I thought it would be good to run down what I like about the new product and how these new design decisions improved an already impressive product.
First, the company updated the control board, adding a better Wi-Fi radio and an improved touchscreen interface. The original Traegers were built like tanks and had control panels to match. Now they are a luxury product, built for a more refined consumer experience. In addition to the controls, the company also redid the entire ash management system by getting rid of a system that they had used for many years. The entire system is now made of stainless steel and routes the ash – a byproduct of burning the wood pellets – into a little bucket under the grill. This has long been one of the biggest issues users have had with the grill and this is a great improvement.
Finally, they added a feature that I originally thought was useless – an induction cooktop next to the grill itself. While many grills have an extra gas cooktop, this electrically-controlled cooktop only works with certain pots and pans and uses electrical induction to heat food with great precision.
While I’m a fan of gas ranges for the home, the induction cooktop is definitely the future and the addition of one to this grill is another example of evolutionary thinking. In fact, this cooktop is actually making me want to switch to induction when I upgrade my kitchen next. It’s that good.
The Traeger Timberline Price
All of these features as well as a number of other little tweaks make this an impressive product and, more importantly, an impressive tech product. The Traeger Timberline isn’t just another product by a consumer products manufacturer. It’s a well-thought-out product that adds state of the art features to a product that has long been a cult favorite.
Evolution comes at a price. The $3,499 price tag is definitely in the higher range for a home product but the new features and materials aren’t cheap. Just as Sonos and Makerbot sold for far more than their competitors, Traeger knows its market and knows that its users wanted something different. They got it, and more.