Few grills have the cult following Traeger’s do. The company’s wood-pellet models are capable of smoking, baking, roasting, and grilling in an approachable way, with digital displays that make it easy to keep a steady temperature for hours.
That functionality comes at a price: Traeger grills are big, heavy, and expensive, running anywhere from $500 and 76 pounds to $2,000 and 266 pounds. They’re not the sort of thing you wheel around the patio or easily pack away for the winter—they become a fixture in your yard.
So when we heard that Traeger was rolling out a pair of grills—the Ranger ($400) and Scout ($300)—intended for camping and tailgating, we were intrigued. Over two weeks and several delicious meals, I found that the Ranger packs many of Traeger’s best features into a miniaturized frame, though it isn’t really a grill I’d bring camping.
The Ranger weighs 60 pounds, measures 13 inches high, 21 inches wide, and 20 inches deep, and has no legs. To achieve its compact dimensions, Traeger moved the eight-pound pellet hopper inside the body, rather than have it protrude from the side, as in Traeger’s other designs. At 184 square inches, the grilling area is enough to fit five large chicken breasts, with room left over on either side. Feature-wise, the Ranger comes with Traeger’s higher-end digital temperature controls, which allow you to adjust in increments of five degrees rather than 25; a built-in meat thermometer; and a warming mode that reduces the grill temperature to 165 degrees, to keep food toasty after it’s done cooking. (The Scout is the same size as the Ranger, but has a four-pound hopper and 25-degree temperature controls. It’s also lighter, at 45 pounds.)
Out of the box, the Ranger was pretty easy to set up: it comes preassembled, save for the metal handle and feet. Before first use, I primed the auger with pellets (something you should do any time it runs out of pellets), then left the grill on high for 45 minutes to clean it (you have to do this only once).
The digital interface, which changes the grill temperature by adjusting how quickly the pellets are fed into the fire pit, makes cooking virtually foolproof. I used the display to set the temperature, and the grill beeped when it was ready to go. Once my meat was on the grill, I adjusted the timer to alert me when I needed to flip the food, and set the thermometer to check the meat’s internal temperature, which flashes on the display. The Ranger cooked my chicken in about the same time as my propane grill, but the temperature control meant I spent less time worrying about over- or undercooking. In all, the Ranger delivered the superior taste of grilling with the ease of oven cooking.
On the other hand, setup and cleaning took more time than I’m accustomed to. Lacking legs, the grill is designed to sit atop something, like a picnic table or tailgate. This meant hoisting it onto my patio table (remember, it weighs 60 pounds) and setting up an extension cord every time I wanted to use it. You could get a little table for it or position it permanently on the ground, but grilling in a squat is awkward.
The 15 to 30 minutes of prep time to get the pellets burning and the grill preheated wasn’t all that different from an oven or charcoal grill, but when I finished cooking I had to leave the Ranger plugged in—in shutdown mode—for ten minutes. (The cycle burns through the remaining pellets in the fire pit, so no smoldering embers remain.) We have only a single exterior outlet in our yard, and when we had friends over for a barbecue, we had to wait until the grill finished cooling before plugging in our string lights.
Ultimately, the Ranger and the Scout help round out the size range of Traeger’s grills, offering the company’s techy user-friendliness in a smaller package. But I’d hesitate to call them portable. Would I bring the Ranger on a car-camping trip or a day trip to the lake? Probably not. It’s the size of a large home printer and far too heavy to drag around in the woods; it also requires electricity. Plus, the grill area is too small to cook a full meal for a large group of people. That said, the compact footprint makes it ideal for space-constrained patio grillers who want something more than a simple hibachi.