For smoking and grilling enthusiasts, the market has a lot of excellent brands and products that can take the pleasure of BBQ to the next level. What can be the perfect choice for your needs? The established industry behemoth Traeger or the relative newcomer and market disruptor Camp Chef?
We hope to provide some concrete answers with a careful comparison of the two brands and their top models across different price points. This can give you a clear picture of what your choices are and help you decide one way or the other.
Camp Chef vs Traeger – The Pellet Grill Showdown
If you love the wafting, inviting aroma of grilled food and the deep, rich flavors that smoking and grilling can impart as we do, both brands can bring excellent features and great value to the table. If you consider the varied culinary directions you can explore with a pellet grill, the possibilities are endless!
Traeger has always been something of a pioneer in the world of BBQ with plenty of name recognition. However, with the expiry of their patent in 2006, a race was set in motion for other companies to try and make a dent in the market. Camp Chef belongs to that ilk, with products that have relied on new, innovative features and solid performance to win BBQ enthusiasts over.
Both brands have models replete with features across different price points. Let us take a close look at the basic functionality of pellet grills and what these brands have to offer.
What are Pellet Grills?
Instead of using gas, wood sticks, or charcoal, a pellet grill uses hardwood pellets as fuel. You load a hopper with small, cylindrical wood pellets that feed into a firepot situated beneath the cooking chamber. A ceramic rod then ignites these pellets. Electrical controls dictate the rate of burning to maintain a certain temperature, which you can just set and forget.
An icon in the world of pellet grills, Traeger enjoyed a monopoly in the product segment since patenting the pellet grill in 1986. Competition after the patent expiry led to Traeger expanding its product line and outsourcing its production to China. This led to quality issues and soured their brand perception a little.
However, they have recently clawed their way back to their old glory with a range of modern products with great quality, innovative features, and cutting-edge technology. Currently, they have three pellet grill product lines that target the entry-level, mid-range, and premium segments.
Pro Series – This beginner-friendly line of pellet grills come with basic features, solid reliability and quite a bang for the buck. For BBQ enthusiasts just starting with pellet grills, this introductory line can be a great place to start on a budget.
Ironwood Series – The mid-range product line integrates advanced features and a patented Wi-Fi control technology that can be a major boost for usability and convenience. Pitmasters who love wood-fired food can choose between different size options.
Timberline Series – The top-of-the-line range is meant for professional use and hardcore BBQ enthusiasts. These are meant to cook large amounts of food and feature a solid, fully insulated construction for maximum heat and flavor retention possibilities. Using the mobile app, pitmasters can not only monitor temperature but also pellet levels leading to easy, convenient cooking.
The Camp Chef brand followed a different trajectory since its inception, making its name by producing simple, hardy, and value-for-money outdoor cooking equipment. They have already put out several popular charcoal and gas grills and are a relatively new entrant to the pellet grill scene.
While Camp Chef does not boast of a large range of pellet grill products, they already have products that have a distinct following. This company does all its manufacturing in China and has managed to keep quality levels high while competitively pricing their products. The Woodwind and SmokePro product lines, especially, have seen high levels of adoption due to great value.
While both companies can have a lot to offer for BBQ enthusiasts, we want to compare products that are in similar price brackets to create an apples to apples comparison that can give you information about all the important pros and cons about the models and a clear direction regarding which way you might sway at specific price points.
Let us go directly to the head-to-head and compare popular, representative models from both companies in the introductory, mid-range, and premium price points.
Right at the outset, it can be interesting to notice that the most popular Traeger models at the introductory price point are portable or tabletop grills while Camp Chef already offers a couple of interesting full-size options.
The Traeger models in this price range are the portable Scout and Ranger options which sport the same physical dimensions. However, the Ranger is positioned as the more premium options with some added features that might be vital to your decision.
While both models come with a cooking area of 176 sq. inches, the Ranger is a little heavier owing to the use of a more robust quality of materials and sturdier construction. A major difference in these models lies in the sizes of the pellet hoppers. While both pellet hoppers are on the small size and would need to be topped off to get anything more than a couple of hours of cook time, the Ranger can hold double the amount of pellets at 8lbs than the Scout. While you would have to top them off frequently, the added cook time can be significant.
Another important difference lies in the control panels used in each model. While both grills have an external meat probe and can reach a maximum 450 degrees of cooking temperature, the Scout uses the old, first-generation Traeger Pro Series controller while the Ranger ramps it up with the more modern Digital Arc Controller.
This means that you would only be able to control the temperature on the Scout in increments of 25 degrees while the Ranger provides more granular control over the temperature in increments of 5 degrees. If you want your food cooked to a very specific degree of doneness, achieving that might be a lot easier with the Ranger.
On the other side, the Camp Chef SmokePro models are full-size backyard grills that boast a large 429 sq. inches of cooking area. The SE is the cheaper of the two models and is built with a large hopper size of 18lbs. While it definitely is a capable outdoor grill, it misses out on some key features. There is no sliding heat baffle and therefore no broiling or flaming options. An analog temperature gauge is the only way you can monitor temperatures as there is no digital readout. External meat probe connection points are also missing.
Most of these missing features can be found on the XT model which also features an extended 570 sq. inches of cooking area thanks to the upper and lower cooking rack design. The support legs are also thicker and more reliable.
Again, the most important difference is in the controllers. While the SE model uses the standard controller, the XT model uses a PID-based controller that has the same features as the Gen 2 Camp Chef PID controllers. While there is no Wi-Fi functionality, this means that the SE model can provide temperature control in 25-degree increments while the XT model offers more precision with 5-degree increments.
The portable nature of the Traeger grills can make them perfect candidates if you are looking for something you can load up in your car and take out on fishing and camping trips. For the perfect backyard performance, however, the Camp Chef models seem to have a lot reasons for any owner to smile about. The larger cooking area and the significantly more hopper capacity can allow for a lot more food to be cooked without hassle.
This is the price point where things become a lot more interesting with full-size models from both brands. With popular second-generation models from the Traeger Pro Series and Camp Chef Woodwind ranges, a lot of quality and features are on the ticket.
The main USP of the second generation Pro Series grills is the D2 Direct Drive technology used by Traeger. In place of the alternating current motor setup that previous generation grills used, this new generation uses a direct current motor setup that opens many doors in terms of features and functionality. The motors now support variable speed and the new D2 control panel can be used to configure and monitor the speed of the motor.
The D2 control panel also incorporates PID algorithms that allow for a higher degree of precision in temperature control. Therefore, you would be able to enjoy a 5-degree resolution in temperature control in both the 575 and 780 models. As their names suggest, total cooking areas of 575 sq. inches and 780 sq. inches are available.
One of the most important features in this iteration of products is the Wi-Fi control. Using the WiFire app developed by Traeger, you can use a smartphone or tablet to monitor the cooking process from afar.
On the Camp Chef side of things, you have the option of choosing a smaller grill with added features and attachment or a larger grill allowing with more cooking area. The Wi-Fi 24 is the smaller of the two, offering 811 sq. inches of cooking area. An interesting add-on with this model at this price point can be the propane sidekick or sear box delivered by Camp Chef. This can allow for quick and easy searing of the food using the attachment while the main cooking happens inside the smoker.
The Wi-Fi 36 features a massive 1236 sq. inches of cooking area and, like the Wi-Fi 24, can hold 22lbs of pellets. Both of these models also feature a PID controller that allows for the same granular control of temperature along with Wi-Fi integration using the Camp Chef Connect app.
In this price point as well, the Camp Chef options can provide a significant increase in pellet capacity and cooking area while the addition of a sear box can further enhance the appeal of their products. On the plus side for Traeger, the quality and reliability of the components and construction have been improved to a great extent and the WiFire app solution is more feature-rich and intuitive to use than the solution provided by Camp Chef.
The premium segment is where Traeger really comes into its own with multiple offerings in its Ironwood and Timberline rangers that have installed into them top-of-the-line features and excellent construction. On the Camp Chef side, the only premium model is the Woodwind Wi-Fi 36 with its sear box or sidekick attachments.
The Traeger Ironwood models contain an excellent value for money and can be perfect for home BBQ enthusiasts while the Timberline models are commercial grade with high cooking capacities and modern features. The main feature across both product lines is the Traeger Tru Convection cooking system that incorporates a downdraught exhaust design in the rear. This can promote better and more even distribution of heat and smoke throughout the cooking chamber.
Along with the Wi-Fi monitoring feature, these models also include an additional feature, the Traeger pellet sensor. This can tell users about the amount of pellets left in the hopper in real-time and sends this data directly to the WiFire app. This can be a make-or-break feature if you plan to use your pellet smoker for long and slow cooks.
The Traeger models also feature stainless steel construction with both the cooking racks and the interior walls designed from stainless steel. The construction also features twin-wall insulation. This can be an excellent feature to have if you cook in cold weather frequently and do not want the outdoor temperatures to affect the cooking area of the grill.
The Camp Chef item at this price point is the same Woodwind Wi-Fi 36 model with either a sear box or a sidekick attachment. While the grill is solid in features and performance and the attachments bring practical features to the table, there is a lack of a truly premium selection in the Camp Chef brand that makes this comparison somewhat lackluster.
The single chimney stack design can definitely produce some stunning results and the large cooking area can be comparable to the top Traeger model. However, things lean heavily towards Traeger at this price point.
WiFire vs Camp Chef Connect
Both Traeger and Camp Chef maintain Wi-Fi integration in their mid-range and premium models through the WiFire and Camp Chef connect mobile apps. The sole aim of this feature is for users to be able to monitor and adjust the cooking process without having to walk over to the grills every single time.
The Traeger WiFire app is rich with features and easy functionality as it comes with a number of guides and recipes that come with images and video instructions. You can just select a recipe and press a button to start cooking it. The cooking instructions are then downloaded to the grill and the process starts immediately.
However, there is no need to remain confined to the recipes alone. You can also manually adjust every parameter. Temperature and timers can be manually set and monitored using the app. The internal temperature of the food can also be seen from the app if you have an external probe fitted to the grill.
On the higher end of Traeger grills, the D2 Direct Drive opens up further possibilities in the WiFire app. These models feature helpful “Keep Warm” and “Super Smoke” modes that can be triggered and monitored from the app. Another salient feature is the pellet sensor that displays the amount of pellets left in the hopper in the app so that you know exactly when to top things off.
The Camp Chef connect app features a much simpler interface where you can change and monitor the grill temperature. The temperature can be changed in 5-degree increments. If you have multiple probes attached, you can assign a friendly name to each probe and also set a temperature goal unique to each probe. The app can then provide you with notifications as each temperature goal is fulfilled.
Along with setting a cooking temperature, you can also independently set a smoke level.
With both Traeger and Camp Chef providing excellent products across multiple price points, the Camp Chef products do seem to be better options for most use cases in the introductory and mid-range price points. The use cases can also be more varied with the added pellet capacity and cooking areas that these purchases come with.
In the premium segment, Traeger automatically emerges the winner with better all-round products, more features, and more options. In the budget segment, Traeger can also be a salient option if you are looking for something truly portable.
With that said, it is clear that both brands bring great things to the table and you cannot go wrong with any of these models. No matter what you choose, some extremely satisfying grilling is on the menu.