If you’re in the market for one of the best smokers on the market and have the financial wherewithal, then head immediately over to our Weber Smokefire vs Traeger Ironwood 650 comparison piece to see which one of these big hitters is best for you.
On the other hand, if price is a major consideration and you really want to start getting into the joys of smoking meats, then you might want to see what the differences are between a bona fide pellet smoker like the Traeger Ironwood 650 (opens in new tab) and a cheap gas-powered version like the Char-Broil The Big Easy (opens in new tab).
So, without further ado, let’s delve a little deeper into the whys and wherefores of each model and see how a cheap and cheerful gas smoker fares against a market leading, high-pedigree pellet smoker.
Traeger Ironwood 650 vs Char-Broil The Big Easy: Design and features
Cost wise, there’s a massive gap between the Traeger Ironwood 650 and Char-Broil Big Easy but the Char-Broil doesn’t embarrass itself when it comes to build quality. Given the price hike, it’s obvious that the Traeger is better constructed given that is uses really high-end materials with double insulation, a much bigger grill area and even wi-fi connectivity. It’s also a much more complex beast because it runs on pellets and requires an expensive onboard computer to run an expensive auger that in turn delivers compressed wood pellets from a giant hopper to an electrically powered fire pot. It also has a fan that switches on and off to help the pellet combustion process. So lots of expensive 21st Century tech on board, then.
By stark contrast, the circular Big Easy simply runs off a standard refillable 5kg Patio gas bottle. However, for the price, its build quality is excellent. The outer skin is thick and sturdy and the lid has some serious heft. At 59cm in width, it’s also small enough in stature to fit on a balcony.
Where the Traeger’s ample 650 square inches of meal estate is good for at least two large briskets or six rib racks, the Char-Broil has just 38.5cm of cooking space though it can be divided into two levels. In all, it’ll accept a single small brisket or about four rib racks if hung on the supplied hooks. It also comes with a removable basket that’s cavernous enough for an 11kg bird. Indeed, one of this smoker’s key selling points is that it can roast a turkey superbly well without the need to drop the bird into a cauldron of boiling oil – a dangerous technique beloved of many Americans come Thanksgiving.
The Traeger’s cooking surface is rectangular and comprised of a main grilling-cum- smoking grate and a removable warmer rack above it. Conversely, the Big Easy comprises a circular 38.5cm grill grate that uses Char-Broil’s renowned TRU-infrared technology for even grilling, and below it a circular chamber into which you drop the smoking basket. Mounted to the side is a separate smoker box that you simply fill with dry wood chips of your choice. So, in a nutshell, the Big Easy is ostensibly a three-in-one grill, smoker and roaster.
Traeger Ironwood 650 vs Char-Broil The Big Easy: Smoking
When it comes to the smoking process, the Traeger Ironwood 650 is in a class of its own. Wood pellet grills were designed for smoking (as well as grilling) so it’s hardly surprising that it makes a much better fist of this discipline than the Char-Broil. That’s not dissing the Big Easy in any way because this garden Dalek can genuinely smoke food well. Just don’t invite a pitmaster round for a smoked brisket or you might get into an argument.
This writer has tried both beef ribs and brisket in the Big Easy and the results were much better than expected. After filling the smoke box with hickory chips, I hung three prepared racks of rib to the outer runs of the centre cage using the supplied hooks, closed the lid and let it smoke for three hours before coating them in glaze and returning them to the grill for a high-heat finish. The results were bloody marvellous. Granted, the meat didn’t fall off the bone but they had a damn good smokey flavour. The brisket wasn’t as successful, mind, but still a fairly decent effort despite the lack of any pink smoke rings.
The Traeger by comparison was brilliant in every way. The temperature remained static throughout the brisket’s six-hour slow-cook phase and after resting for an hour, the meat literally tore apart. It also displayed a perfect, pink smoke ring that was about centimetre in depth. The three rib racks were from another planet – after rubbing them in a good dose of Traeger rub, the final result was sensational. Admittedly, most of its success was down to the excellent Traeger phone app which comes with a shed-load of amazing recipes and a brilliant wi-fi enabled automatic cooking system.
Traeger Ironwood 650 vs Char-Broil The Big Easy: Performance
As I’ve mentioned above, both the Traeger Ironwood 650 and Char-Broil Big Easy can perform a number of al fresco tasks – grill, smoke, roast and bake – but the Traeger Ironwood 650 is the model to go for if you really want your food infused with an authentic barbecue flavour. It also sears steaks a lot better. The Char-Broil, on the other hand, performed surprisingly well in most disciplines and it’s a top chicken and turkey roaster, too.
Traeger Ironwood 650 vs Char-Broil The Big Easy: Verdict
It is a bit unfair pitching a £1,500 ($1,200) champion smoker against a smaller £300 ($175) upstart, but the Big Easy proved that you can get very decent results out of a gas smoker-cum-grill-cum roaster that costs less than most standard gas barbecues. The upshot is that if you really, really want a high-end do-it-all smoker then naturally the Traeger Ironwood 650 wins hands down. But it you’re cash strapped and fancy the idea of a gas barbecue that can perform most tasks, including occasional smoking, the Char-Broil Big Easy is the griller for you.