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Traeger vs. Weber: 2 premium pellet grills do backyard battle

We compare the Weber SmokeFire EX6 and Traeger Timberline 850 pellet grills to see which is the better buy.

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Wood-burning pellet smokers enjoy a loyal following, just ask any Traeger grill owner. Fully automated, they make cooking low-and-slow barbecue a breeze, and they imbue the food they prepare with delicious wood-smoked flavor. 

Other companies are hoping to cash in on pellet smoking's popularity, too. The most notable new competitor is longtime grill-maker Weber, with a new lineup of SmokeFire wood-fired cookers that promise to match many of the features of Traeger's grills. In fact, in some cases Weber claims the SmokeFire can outcook its rival. 

To find out which is better, at least on paper, I decided to compare Weber's most advanced SmokeFire with Traeger's top-of-the-line cooker. With full-blown grill season just around the corner, here's what you need to know about these two pellet smokers' promised capabilities. And check back soon, as I plan to update this with real hands-on experience as soon as I can.

The combatants

I chose two pellet grills that each represent the top of their respective manufacturer's game. In one corner of the ring is the Traeger Timberline 850. In the other is the Weber SmokeFire EX6. Both are worthy competitors, with unique selling points and weaknesses. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

I've spent countless hours over the years cooking with the Traeger Timberline 850. It doesn't come cheap, but I can say from experience that it makes exceptionally delicious food. That's the case whether you're smoking low and slow or firing off rounds of burgers. It has smart features like app monitoring and control, too, plus it's easy to use. 

You have the option of punching in a target temperature, dropping in your food when you're ready, and letting the smoker go for hours unattended. Doing the same with a charcoal or gas grill takes much more experience and skill. The grill will send alerts to your phone as well. Scenarios include if the pit temp drops or runs too hot or if it's nearly done.

Weber

Weber has had a long and successful history as a staple of backyard cooking. However, the SmokeFire line represents the company's first foray into the world of pellet smokers. And the SmokeFire EX6 (EX4 model shown here) comes out of its corner swinging haymakers. This grill offers tons of space to cook, plus advanced app controls and remote monitoring. It can even sear food at high temperatures, a task not many pellet grills can match.

And the SmokeFire is designed to offer the set-and-forget operation many have come to appreciate in wood pellet smokers. Add to that its very competitive price, and you can see why the Weber should be on your short list.

Cooking area

Often the food you cook on pellet grills tends to require lots of space. We're talking multiple racks of ribs, whole cuts of beef brisket, pork butts and whole chickens. That's why a large amount of cooking area is critical. 

With 850 square inches spread out across three grill grates, the Traeger Timberline offers a good amount of elbow room. That said, the SmokeFire ups the ante. It comes with a massive cooking area of 1,008 square inches spread out over two long grates.

Winner: Weber SmokeFire EX6

The Traeger Timberline 850 has 850 square inches of cooking space and three grill grates.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Max temperature

Achieving an impressive sear on items like steak, chops and even vegetables calls for intense direct heat. Unfortunately most pellet smokers are designed for indirect cooking. As a result, they usually can't match the intense sear you get from a gas or charcoal grill. For instance, the Timberline has a maximum heat level of 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 Celsius). 

Weber's workaround is to use metal "flavorizer bar" heat deflectors in the SmokeFire. Instead of the single-piece deflector in the Timberline 850, Weber's solution is split into multiple parts. The setup provides gaps to the firebox below, which allows some direct radiant heat to reach food inside the cooking chamber. Weber says the SmokeFire can run hotter, too, to a maximum of 600 F (315.6 C).   

Winner: Weber SmokeFire EX6

You only get one meat probe with the Traeger Timberline.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Meat probes

The Timberline 850 comes with just one meat probe thermometer, and only one port. It's definitely an important feature to have, but it's a bit of a letdown that you only get one, especially for a pellet grill this pricey. There are definitely times when you'll need to track the internal temperature of multiple cuts of protein at once. With two probes included, plus space for up to four, the SmokeFire is better equipped in this regard.

Winner: Weber Smokefire EX6

Smart capabilities

Both grills connect to your home's Wi-Fi network and allow you to monitor and control the heat remotely. They also let you send guided cooking programs to each grill. That said, the sheer depth of these recipes seems strongly in Traeger's favor. 

For instance, a quick search in the Traeger app for beef programs turned up 270 separate recipes. For pork, the number was 240. Meanwhile, the Weber Connect app offers just five recipes for beef, and another five for pork. Weber clearly has some catching up to do.

Winner: Traeger Timberline 850

Insulation and weather

One big upside to the Timberline is that it's resistant against wet weather. Its cooking chamber is also insulated against cold. That means it'll handle cooking when it's frosty outside better than ordinary grills. 

The Weber SmokeFire EX6 does have water-resistant electronics, along with a porcelain-enameled cooking chamber, but in my mind that only guards against rust and moisture damage. My guess is it doesn't insulate the grill's interior, and that'll likely translate into excess fuel consumption during the winter months. 

I asked Weber if this was the case. The company took issue with my concerns and pointed out that the grill's "endcaps" are dual-walled. Weber says this helps insulate the SmokeFire's cook box from external temperatures. Even so, I'm a little skeptical.  

Winner: Traeger Timberline 850

Verdict

It's a close call. In terms of sheer numbers of category wins, the Weber SmokeFire comes out on top. It can cook hotter and keep track of more things as it's cooking them, and it offers more room on the grill for giant cuts of meat.

That said, the fact that Weber's cooking chamber doesn't appear as insulated gives me pause. I'm the kind of guy who likes to smoke barbecue all year long. I also appreciate the massive number of guided recipes Traeger has within its app library. Personally, if I had meat to grill and money to burn, based on these specs, I'd buy the Timberline.

Of course, the SmokeFire costs $600 less, and that alone might make it the wiser choice. I won't be entirely convinced until I see first-hand how well it cooks. Stay tuned, because that's exactly what I plan to do.