You wake up early to light the coals, dawn breaking over your cooler where inside a brisket , rubbed lovingly with seasoning, still rests. You tinker with the temperature, opening vents and adding coals, until, and maybe even after an hour of struggle, you hit the 225F sweet spot.
Over the next eight hours (give or take two hours) you arise only to assess the temperature of cooker, to refresh your drink of choice , and perhaps, if so motivated, to pull a few weeds. Mainly you sit, watching the faint blue smoke waft up and into the air, and wait for time and temperature to work its magic on the meat.
Or at least this is how barbecuing used to transpire for me before the Traeger Ironwood 650 Black Wood Pellet Grill plunked down all 146 pounds of itself onto my driveway.
The Ironwood, you see, is Wifi-enabled. That means you no longer have to babysit your brisket. That means you can set a specific temperature and as long as there are pellets in the hopper, the augur will maintain that temperature. That means that an app, downloaded onto your smartphone, can alert you, via a temperature probe, when your brisket is ready.
All you have to do is set the thing up.
Which, to be honest, is a bit of a chore. Before your first cook, you have to assemble the Ironwood (complexity and duration of construction is on par with a medium-sized IKEA product), fill the pellet hopper, find a place close enough to a grounded outlet to plug it in, and plug it in.
Should you want to use the Wifi option (dubbed WIFIRE) youll have to download the Traeger app, connect to Wifi, and name your smoker, which is fun. I chose Bubba.
Now Bubba wasnt like any smoker Ive ever used to barbecue. For me, and for most backyard BBQ enthusiasts, its the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and only the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, otherwise referred to as the Bullet for its size, shape, and ability to send you to heaven.
But I was willing to give Bubba a shot. Over the course of several months, I smoked racks of ribs, split chickens, potatoes, asparagus, and even a big bowl of nuts just to see what would happen.
The ribs came out just fine; the chicken even better, with skin as crisp as a potato chip. I undercooked the potatoes (my fault, not Bubbas), but the asparagus turned out perfect al dente tender. The nuts, infused with aroma of cherry wood, were glorious.
But it wasnt until I followed the advice of Traegers Chad Ward, Director of Marketing BBQ, and did rib eye steaks on the Traeger that I began to understand the power and appeal of the Ironwood.
Ward told me to do a reverse sear on the steaks, which meant to set the Ironwood to 225F and coax them to an internal temperature of 125F. Once the probe alerted my smartphone app that had happened, Id crank the temp and allow the exterior of the steaks to broil.
I could have done all this on my Weber, sure, but not without the precision accuracy and careful monitoring conducted by the Ironwood.
You can attribute this precision, in a large part, to pellets as fuel. Because pellets are small compared to, say, a hunk of hardwood charcoal, they help the Ironwood finely tune its temperature.
The other, smaller part you can attribute to alleviating user error. With smartphone app alarms, its hard not to miss when your BBQ has reached a critical stage of doneness.
Those steaks I pulled off Bubba where the best Ive had all summer. The texture was nearly brisket-like in tenderness, requiring barely a touch of a tooth to melt in my mouth. Though they had been on Bubba less than an hour, the rib eye possessed a deeply smoky quality that added a layer of flavor, yes, but also heightened all the others.
At $1,200, the Ironwood 650 is on the upper end of backyard smokers (a 18 Bullet costs $330 nowadays), but that seems like a small price to pay for a potential lifetime of those steaks.
All this said, through my multiple cooks with the Ironwood, I cant say Bubba and I ever bonded like me and my Bullet.
The Ironwood 650, Ward admits, is for the barbecue eating enthusiast who maybe doesnt have the expertise or time of the barbecue cooking enthusiast.
You dont even need a secret recipe to make phenomenal BBQ on the Ironwood. All you have to do is follow one of the recipes within the database on the Traeger app. Its plug-in, dial-up, heat, and eat.
I missed the ceremony of barbecue.
For me, those early mornings spent hovering over the temp gauge of my Weber, listening to the birds and feeling the dew slowly soak my shoes, is an escape from the connected world. Or, rather, the Internet-connected world.
Instead of staring at screens, I tend to a fire-a primal activity that tires and exhausts and oftentimes frustrates, yes, but one that also leaves me feeling more centered and accomplished when that brisket hits the table.