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Traeger Timberline 850 Grill review: Traeger’s smart smoker makes food to die for

Unfortunately cleaning this machine takes some effort. You have to remove all the grates along with the big grease plate plus the two steel heat shields. Only then can you access the Timberline's fire pot. I also recommend wearing work gloves to guard against grime and employing a Shop-Vac to remove ash quickly.  

Burgers

Grilling burgers at high temperatures is a trial for any outdoor grill. It's a particularly tough challenge for smokers, which traditionally cook low and slow. I'm happy to say the Traeger Timberline 850 passed this test with flying colors. While not the fastest backyard burger cooker I've tested, so far it's yielded the tastiest results.

For the test I grilled three batches of six 5.3-ounce burgers, each made using the same hamburger press. Once the grill was ignited, I dialed the Timberline's temperature up all the way (500 degrees F). Once the grill finished its preheating program (20 minutes), I placed the patties on the grill in a rectangle shape (two patties high, three across) with 1.5 to 2 inches of spacing between them.

I inserted the Timberline's meat probe into the center front patty, then closed the hood. When 6 minutes had rolled by, I flipped the burgers over. With the lid closed again, I recorded how long it took the internal burger temp to hit 145 degrees. The Timberline 850 finished the test in 20 minutes, much longer than both the Weber Genesis II (10 minutes, 10 seconds) and the Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared (10 minutes, 15 seconds).

The Timberline 850 turned modest chuck into phenomenally good burgers. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The burgers that came out of the TimberLine were worth the wait. Intensely flavored with smoke (hickory pellets), my test patties were remarkably juicy, with a gentle sear. It was an almost magical transformation of humble supermarket chuck.

Inspired by these results and the Traeger app, I whipped up a couple Juicy Lucys. I must say, that day I enjoyed one of the best burgers I've had in recent memory. I'm including meals from top-dollar restaurants to hipster joints and respected burger chains here, too.

Thanks to the app I made tasty Juicy Lucy burgers.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Chicken

The Traeger Timberline proved just as impressive for roasting whole chickens. I set the grill to 425 degrees F and waited for the machine to preheat (17 minutes). Meanwhile I prepared a 6-pound whole chicken to cook beer-can style. Again I used the grill's meat probe to alert me when the chicken's internal temperature hit 165 degrees F.

I roasted two whole chickens this way. On average the Timberline cooked them in 1 hour and 17 minutes (1:13, 1:21). That's faster than the Char-Broil SmartChef (1:34 average), and slightly slower than the Weber Genesis II (1:14).

The Timberline makes a mean beer-can chicken, too.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Both these birds were superbly cooked. Their skin was deliciously crisp, yet the meat inside was moist and tender. This was true no matter if I sliced dark or white meat. The hickory wood pellets also added an extra smoky depth to the chicken's flavor.

Just for fun I grilled up a batch of wings, too. They turned out every bit as delectable and didn't last long.    

Ribs and brisket

The ultimate test for an outdoor smoker is traditional barbecue pork ribs and beef brisket. I picked up two racks of freshly butchered baby back ribs sourced from the local supermarket. I also seasoned them with basic store-bought dry rub.

I cooked each rack individually in the Timberline for a full 5 hours at its 225-degree setting. After both cooking sessions I was treated to ribs that were truly fantastic. Smoky from the applewood pellets I used, the meat had an enticing flavor combination of natural sweetness and savory spice.

Baby Back ribs were excellent when smoked by the Timberline.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Next I tried a 5-pound flat of USDA prime beef brisket. Loosely guided by the "Beginner Brisket" recipe within the Traeger app, I seasoned my slab of meat. I then injected it with a liquid mixture of beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, salt and a pinch of sugar.

I used the Traeger app to have the grill cook my brisket automatically.

Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

With the Timberline fully fueled and ignited, I instructed the grill to run the "Beginner Brisket" program. When the temperature inside the grill reached 225 degrees, I dropped by brisket inside and inserted the Timberline's probe into the thickest section of the meat. Since the recipe calls for heavy smoking here I engaged the grill's "Super Smoke" function during the first 3 hours of the cook. A full 9 hours later (12 hours total), internal brisket temp hit the magic number (204 degrees).

After letting the meat rest (wrapped in foil and sealed inside a cooler) for 3 more hours, I enjoyed brisket that was tender and moist, and that melted in my mouth. It has a solid bark packed with spices, plus a smoke ring visible in every slice.  

A barbecue that will tempt you

The $1,700 Traeger Timberline 850 grill does much to satisfy the primal pull toward cooking over a campfire, but with mechanical precision and convenience. You pay a hefty price for the privilege since the Timberline costs twice as much as top-notch propane grills such as the $850 Weber Genesis II E-310 and Char-Broil $800 SmartChef Tru-Infrared. The Timberline also is designed to burn only Traeger-branded pellets. Priced at about $1 a pound ($18.99 per 20-pound bag), it's an additional expense to consider. Still that's about the same price ($19.99) as a propane tank refill at my local Home Depot.

The Weber and Char-Broil grills are much easier to start and operate than the comparatively finicky Timberline too. For most backyard cooks who want a smart grill, those competitors are more than adequate to do the job. Amateur pitmasters and barbecue addicts alike are sure to sing praises of the food the Timberline smokes, though. That might entice you to splurge on this machine. Throw in Traeger's excellent app and automatic cook programs, and the combination becomes even harder to resist.

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