Traeger Ranger arguably pulls off an even cleverer trick than the much-hyped (including by us) Weber SmokeFire range. The Traeger Ranger is a pellet grill that can fit in a picnic hamper. Although you will need strong arms.
Little wonder; Traeger started the whole pellet grill thing in 1985 when its founder, one Joe Traeger produced his first pellet grill using a new type of cheap fuel that was created as a result of the 1973 oil crisis. Thirty five years on and his company is now arguably the world’s biggest manufacturer of pellet-based grills and the only one to our knowledge to produce a compact model.
And here it is, the new suitcase-shaped Traeger Ranger, a portable pellet grill for balcony, patio and verandah use and a shoo in for campers, caravaners, RV fans and tailgaters. But, is it one of the best small BBQs you can buy?
Let’s strip the Ranger down, slap on some grub and find out.
Traeger Ranger review: design & function
If you fancy the idea of grilling and smoking using hardwood pellets but space is an issue, step right this way because this little suitcase is the bee’s knees of portable pellet grilling and smoking. Like all pellet grills, the Ranger burns small worm-shaped hardwood pellets that are delivered to a fire pot via a slow turning electrically powered auger (basically a large corkscrew). Granted, the Ranger isn’t the prettiest griller on the grid but, by jove, it doesn’t half whip up a good al fresco nosh-up.
An electronic controller powered by Traeger’s Digital Arc processor monitors the grill’s internal temperature using a built-in probe and instructs the auger to adjust its pellet-dropping speed accordingly. In a nutshell, the higher or lower you set the temperature, the faster or slower the auger delivers the pellets. Traeger’s nailed its algorithm so well that a temperature of, say, 180˚C stays like that for as long as there are pellets in the hopper, or until the meat probe it comes with signals the correct level of doneness. The controller is equipped with a bright LCD screen and soft rubberised buttons to fire it up, change temperature and engage the shut-down sequence. It also initiates the utterly excellent warming function which keeps the heat ticking over without overcooking anything.
In this particular model, the 3.6kg (8lb) pellet hopper is sited just to the left of the grill with a heat partition in between. As with pretty much all pellet grills, the new Weber SmokeFire notwithstanding, a wide, gently inclined sheet of metal below the cooking grate protects the burning fire pot below and serves as a heat radiator, sizzling the fats and porting any excess juices out of the back into a quaint little silver bucket.
This metal sheet also prevents flare-ups and helps keep the heat uniform across the Ranger’s ample 184 square inch grate. The downside is that you can’t really sear a steak to restaurant standards because there is no naked flame visible. Yes, at full whack the Ranger reaches an impressive temperature of up to 241˚C and the edges of the inferno are clearly visible towards the front of the reflective sheet, but even this isn’t quite hot enough for a genuinely caramelised steak. But that’s no problem in our eyes because there are still plenty of other fish to fry, or rather grill.
Traeger Ranger review: cooking results
We tried a number of different ingredients and the Ranger passed with flying colours. The chicken legs had the crispiest skin we’ve ever crunched (admittedly, some of it was to do with Traeger’s amazing Fin & Feather spice rub) and the burgers were exquisite. We then chucked a whole medium sized chicken on the grate thinking it would never fit – wrong, you can get two on this grill. The result was a better roast chicken than the kitchen oven has ever produced. Indeed we wondered how it could have been so juicy given that the fats were either burnt away on the metal reflector plate or ported out the back.
The slow-cooked honeyed ham was another eureka moment, beautifully smoked at low heat for two hours and then hard grilled for a nicely browned outer. We reckon a whole hopper’s worth of pellets will last just over an hour at constant temperatures between 200 and 210˚C and for a good few hours when smoking at much lower temperatures.
In a stroke of minor genius, the Ranger also ships with a heavyweight cast iron griddle for whipping up camp side breakfasts. Still full from the banquet the night before, we tried a near full english (fried eggs, streaky bacon and mushrooms) and a few Aunt Jemima pancakes, and once again the little Ranger delivered in spades. Talk about versatile.
Traeger Ranger review: feel the weight
Although it looks easily portable, in reality the Ranger weighs a ton (27kgs to be precise or 60lbs in US units). This makes it totally impractical for carrying to a picnic spot or indeed any further than about 10 metres at a time unless you fancy a hernia. Granted, there’s a lovely strong aluminium handle on it, but because the unit is quite large (21 x 20 x 13 inches), it tends to bang against your leg as you walk. We should point out that this weight issue isn’t unusual for a portable barbecue – indeed most of the portable BBQs we’ve reviewed are too heavy to carry long distances. If you fancy using this model outside your caravan or RV, then you will probably need a suitable power inverter which converts standard 12V DC power to 110v or 240v, depending on which country you live in.
In case you’re interested, Traeger also produces the Scout, a marginally lighter model with the same size body and grill but a smaller pellet hopper and less functionality. It’s currently only available from US stores.
Traeger Ranger review: Extras
When you buy a Traeger, you’re also buying into its whole ethos of classic US-style barbecuing. As a consequence, there are 14 different types of Traeger-branded wood pellets available, from hickory, cherry, alder and oak to apple, pecan, mesquite and maple, each one infusing food with a subtlety different aroma. Traeger pellets are available in 9kg bags and retail at around £18 each.
Although the Ranger isn’t app-connected like its larger stablemates, Traeger’s astoundingly comprehensive and very well designed iOS and Android app is still well worth downloading, if only to provide access to its multitude of exotic barbecue recipes and smorgasbord of hints and tips.
Traeger also produces a range of truly outstanding rubs and sauces that are well worth hunting down no matter what barbecue you’re using. Our favourite rubs so far are the classic Traeger Rub (garlic and chilli pepper) and the exquisite Fin & Feather (garlic and paprika). However, there are another 12 flavours in the arsenal, including Coffee Rub, Chicken Rub, Veggie Rub and Jerky Rub. Its BBQ sauces, too, are well worth hunting down.
Traeger Ranger review: verdict
This portable pellet griller and smoker impressed us from the word go. Yes, it’s heavy and yes it isn’t the most attractive looking barbie in the yard, but it excels at grilling, smoking and roasting and its cooking grate is of decent enough size for a family of four to possibly six.
This writer hasn’t burned anything to date on the Ranger – I just tap the ‘ignite’ button, slap on the meat, leave the lid shut and chat to the guests, returning once or twice to turn the food over. It really is that foolproof and the subtle, wood smoke-suffused food it produces is as succulent and tender as you could wish for. Traeger does provide a cover for it and we highly recommend adding it to the shopping basket, especially if you’re considering storing it outside.