Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

Joe Traeger invented the pellet smoker back in 1985, so to say the brand knows pellet smoking is an understatement. And while we’ve tested a bunch of Traeger grill/smoker combos, I was excited to get my hands on one of their latest offerings: The Ironwood XL, the bigger, pricier sibling of the Traeger Ironwood. This behemoth of a smoker boasts 924 square inches of cooking space and claims to fit four whole chickens, eight racks of ribs, or four pork butts. And, like other Traeger grills, it features app connectivity, allowing you to (supposedly) set and forget your meats as they cook. I put it to the test by smoking more than 20 pounds of meat, treating friends, family, and my sensitive stomach to a smorgasbord.

Editor’s note: We received a press sample of the Ironwood XL, but all of our opinions are our own.

The Tests

Serious Eats / Grace KellySmoked Ribs Test: I smoked seven racks of ribs over the course of one month.Smoked Chicken Wings Test: I smoked three dozen chicken wings over the course of one month.Smoked Pork Butt Test: I smoked four pork butts on three separate occasions.Smoked Pork Chops Test: I smoked pork chops for two. User Experience Test: I noted how easy the smoker was to set up, start, and use, closely evaluating its app design and integration. I also examined how easy it was to clean.

What We Learned

It’s Big 

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

The XL in the smoker’s title isn’t superfluous—this thing really is massive; it has a nearly three-foot-long cooking area and a 22-pound hopper capacity. 

While bigger can be better, there are a few caveats: more space means it’s more challenging to keep a stable temperature throughout the cooking area. I found that certain areas of the grill, namely the front and right side, were cooler, while the back and left side were the hottest (likely due to the fan blowing in that direction). This is something to keep in mind when you’re smoking a lot of meat since it might take certain things longer to cook depending on where they are. 

The ambient temperature also fluctuated quite a bit during longer cook times, even when I wasn’t opening the smoker frequently. When I used the Thermoworks Signals to track the temps whilst smoking a pork shoulder overnight, the ambient temperature fluctuated 15 to 20 degrees.

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

That said, Traeger does note in the Ironwood XL manual that “Temperature fluctuations are normal for Traeger Grills. Any significant fluctuation could be the result of wind, air temperature, improper use, lack of grill maintenance, or pellet quality and condition.” 

The generous size of the smoker also means it’s better to smoke more meats at once—like a freezer, the fuller it is, the more energy efficient it is (e.g., you won’t waste loads of pellets to heat a huge space for a few chicken wings). With that in mind, if you’re looking to smoke a rack of ribs once in a blue moon, then this thing is probably overkill. BUT! If you’re an aspiring backyard pit boss with lots of meat-eating friends, then the bigger workspace could be a boon.

It Was Easy to Use, and It Smoked Like a Champ

Everything we smoked, including ribs, pork shoulders, chicken wings, and pork chops, emerged wonderfully smoky.Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

While some smoking aficionados may poo-poo pellet smokers, instead preferring feeding logs into a converted oil drum, we loved how easy the Treager was to start up and use—it’s great for a novice smoker. Just plug it in, load the hopper with your pellets of choice (I used hickory and applewood pellets), and press the power button. From there, you can adjust the temperature and start smoking. 

As for results, well, they spoke for themselves: ribs and pork shoulders had blackened bark on the outside and the signature pink tinge on the inside, while chicken wings emerged a burnished bronze. Even the two pork chops I made came out delicious: tinged a light shade of mahogany, they were the moistest (sorry) pork chops I’ve ever made. Overall, everything was exquisitely juicy and perfectly smoky, and my sister-in-law said the wings were the best she’s ever had (high praise!). I used the “super smoke” function (programmable on the app or on the smoker interface) throughout testing and found it imbued the perfect level of smokiness to everything I threw on the grill. Just don’t cover it all up with barbecue sauce! 

The Built-In Ambient Sensor Didn’t Reflect Reality 

The Treager’s built-in ambient temperature readings were consistently about 20 degrees higher than the readings on the Thermoworks Signals ambient probe I placed in the center of the grill. This was likely due to the location of the probes; the Traeger ambient probe is in the back right corner of the smoker near the hopper, so it didn’t accurately reflect the temperature of where my meat was cooking, which was in the center. And, as any smoking aficionado will tell you, ambient temperature is pretty important. To take the guessing out of it, we’ve historically recommended getting a separate ambient probe that you can place near your meat for ultimate accuracy (and peace of mind—dinner will turn out great).

Making Recipes Via the App Was Meh

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

While the smoker was easy to set up in a manual sense, the app and grill interface weren’t so easy to use together. While you can add a recipe to the smoker through the app, I found that the times were off—for example, during a three-two-one smoke/grill cycle for ribs (three-hour smoke, two-hour wrapped cook, and one-hour direct-heat cook), when I used the recipe to set the times, it defaulted to the two hours first, when it should have started with three hours. And while I could adjust the time on my phone, it wouldn’t translate over to the grill itself, which was frustrating. In the end, I recommend following a recipe and manually programming the cook and temperature times into the smoker, which worked great.

It Didn’t Excel at High Heat Cooking—But That Was Okay

The Traeger struggled to get a cast iron up to a high temperature to sear pork chops.Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

While this is technically a smoker AND grill, the Ironwood XL really excels at the former. Its max heat is 500°F, and if you’re looking to get there quickly, you might be eating late. When I tried to heat the grill to 450°F to reverse sear pork chops in a cast iron skillet per a Traeger recipe…well, it wasn’t happening. The cast iron never got hot enough to give the chops a proper sear, and my Thermoworks Signals probe showed the ambient temperature holding steady at around 350°F. I was too hungry to wait, so I threw the skillet on an induction burner and seared them that way instead. In the end, it’s really a smoker—and a dang good one at that. 

The Verdict

Serious Eats / Grace Kelly

If you fancy yourself a budding pit boss with lots of (lucky) friends to feed, then the Ironwood XL is a fantastic, easy-to-setup smoker that yields deliciously smoky, juicy results. If it’s just you and another person, it’ll do the job fine but you’ll burn through a lot of pellets for two pork chops. Finally, if you’re looking to lean on the app and built-in ambient probe to guide your cooking—don’t. Instead, as with other smokers, we recommend investing in a good thermometer probe system and adjusting the temperature and cooking time manually on the smoker’s dial and screen.

The Pros

The Traeger Ironwood XL provides ample space for smoking multiple cuts of meat (I easily fit two racks of ribs and a large pork butt, with room to spare), and the results won’t disappoint. Everything I smoked came out burnished on the outside, moist on the inside, and with plenty of smoky flavor. It’s also really easy to set up: just plug it in, load the hopper, and press the power button to get it started. I also liked the ample side tables on either end of the smoker, which were convenient for keeping tongs, plates, paper towels, barbecue sauce, a basting brush, and other smoking gear within arm’s reach. I was even able to fit my portable induction burner on the left side of the smoker, making it a full-blown outdoor kitchen (okay, I’m exaggerating, but it was great!). 

The Cons

First: It’s big, so if you have a postage-stamp backyard, that’s something to keep in mind. It’s also good to consider how much meat you’ll be smoking in one go since this smoker is made for cooking lots o’ meat at once (that said, they do sell a smaller version of this same smoker). Also, certain areas of the smoker ran cooler than others, which can throw off cook times (but if you adjust the time or bump up the temperature accordingly, your food should turn out just fine). Second, while it’s easy to load up the hopper and turn the smoker on, setting the cooking time and temperatures was a little more difficult, especially if you’re trying to use a recipe in the app. 

Finally, the ambient temperature probe isn’t in the center of the smoker, so it doesn’t give the best data; instead, I recommend investing in a separate thermometer system to keep your barbecue on track. 

Key Specs

Weight: 200 lbs​​Cooking surface area: 924 square inchesHopper capacity: 22 lbsMax temp: 500°FModes: Super smoker, keep warmWhat’s included: Two wire probes, two racksWarranty: 10-year limitedPrice at time of publish: $2000


Can I sear on the Traeger Ironwood XL?

While you technically can sear on the Ironwood XL, we had issues getting the smoker up to higher temps quickly, oftentimes making it easier and faster to just sear our smoked meats elsewhere. 

Is the Traeger Ironwood XL worth it?

If you smoke a lot of meat and want an easy-to-use system that doesn’t require feeding logs into an offset smoker, then the Ironwood XL is a great option. 

How do you clean a smoker and how often should you do it? 

Traeger recommends wiping down the grill grates on your smoker after each use and cleaning up any spilled barbecue sauce or meat juice. Every two to three cooks, they suggests a deep clean of the interior of the smoker.

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