Back in February, I had the opportunity to visit Traeger‘s mothership in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was escorted around by the one and only Chad Ward, who is their Director of Marketing (BBQ) and also has his own shops in Florida called Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply.
Chad was kind enough to show me around, let me check out some Traegers in action, and get a sneak peak at the new Traeger Timberline, which was freshly released today. I waited to post this article for a while, but I
made a blood oath gave my word that I would not share pictures until the day the Timberline was officially announced. Since it has been announced, here are a few pictures I took:
I also had a chance to sit down with Chad and do a Q&A, which I have transcribed highlights below.
Dan (Me): When exactly did Traeger begin?
Chad: Traeger began 30 years ago in 1987 by Bob Traeger in his old wooden barn in Oregon. Bob patented all of his designs, which have been used for other wood fire cookers such as Fast Eddie’s pellet cookers. Bob was the innovator in wood fire cooking.
D: I know Traeger headquarters recently moved from Oregon to Utah.
C: Traeger moved from Wilsonville, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah as part of the ownership change that took place with Jeremy Andrus as CEO. The move to Salt Lake City was announced late 2015. Jeremy was previously the CEO of Skullcandy and became interested in Traeger because he bought one, cooked on it and said, “this is the best brand that no one knows about.” Months later, he and some other investors bought the company, aligned their channel strategy, and have helped the company grow exceptionally.
D: One thing I’ve noticed about your marketing strategy is that it’s all about fun; enjoying the experience instead of trying to be all professional.
C: What’s better than being outdoors, with family and friends, and cooking a great meal? And by doing that on a Traeger, it’s a lot simpler than any other method. You get consistent results, great quality, you’ve always got that flavor and taste off of a great wood fired grill and that’s fun! That’s how we want people to see the brand.
D: I noticed you have your own brand of pellets. Do you actually make them or hire it out?
C: We are the only pellet grill company to own their own pellet mills, meaning we control the quality of wood we bring in, we control the quality of pellet we turn out. It is the only 100% wood based pellet (we do use a food grade soybean oil to bind the wood together). One test I’ll tell people to do: take a glass of water and drop a Traeger pellet in. It immediately dissolves back to sawdust. You do that with another pellet that uses an artificial binder and it just clumps up.
D: It seems like Traeger has this sort of “cult” following, but not in a bad way. As if you have your own brand of loyalists. Why do you think that is?
C: I think it comes back to taste and consistency. People know when they cook on a Traeger what they’re going to get off of it. They’re very loyal to the brand and we appreciate it. We don’t take that lightly. We try to stay in touch (via social media) not only with those who are loyal, but even those who are new to the brand. We love staying in contact. We not only want to be the grill manufacturer, we want to be the subject matter expert. In fact, we have over 1,000 recipes on our website and these are recipes that have all been tried and trued and shot right here in our culinary kitchen. These are recipes either written by employees or Traeger enthusiasts.
D: Traeger grills are a 6-in-1 cooking device (smoke, sear, bake, roast, braise, and BBQ). What is the difference between baking something like lasagna in the oven as compared to in a Traeger?
C: You’re cooking over 100% wood fire and not a heating element. It’s going to give your lasagna that kiss of smoke.
D: Soemthing that was news to me (since I’ve never used a Traeger before) was that Traegers, like all pellet grills, is that they need to be plugged in. Do you have anything coming out to work around that?
C: You have to have some type of power. We have used solar panels to power a Traeger. We’ve even used marine batteries. There’s ways to get around having an electric receptacle in a building to plug into. FYI- that power is needed to run the auger and the fan to control the temperature and fire.
D: You all have your own line of rubs and sauces.
C: We do. We are really excited to soon be launching a whole new line of rubs and sauces that we have put a year’s worth of R&D (research and development) into. We’re really proud of them. In March, we are dropping around 25 new accessories, such as butcher paper. We also have a 3-piece BBQ set coming. Traditionally, 3-piece sets include a fork, spatula, and tongs. But when was the last time you saw someone use that giant fork? Instead, we put a pig tail on ours so you can take that steak or tri-tip, scoop it, and flip it over. That’s a much better third tool than a fork.
C: Our customer service we have invested heavily in. You have a problem with our Traeger and you call our customer service it will get resolved it will be resolved in a timely fashion. That is something we review (with our leadership) every single day: what’s our customer service call volume and what’s our percentage of resolution with in the acceptable time period.
D: For anyone who hasn’t used a Traeger before, what would you advise?
C: Don’t overthink it. We have a great instruction manual on how to put it together. You putting it together helps give you a better idea of why it is structured the way it is. We also have a great cookbook that comes in every grill we sell. And I tell you what: that is where to start. Pick that chicken recipe. Or pork butt recipe. And just follow it to a T. If you’re grilling, start with chicken. If you’re smoking, start with pork butt. They are pretty cheap cuts of meat and are pretty forgiving. And one thing, not just for Traeger users but for anyone using a grill or smoker, get a good digital thermometer. Everyone wants to say “oh, it’s done after seven hours” or “oh, it’s done after five hours” but time is just a guide. Every animal has lived a different life. Some cuts are more tender, sometimes that same style of cut is more tough. Some will cook quicker than others. You need to be cooking to internal temperatures. Once you start cooking to internal temps, you will become a better cook overnight. Also, don’t forget that when you pull the food out, it will gain another 3-4 degrees in temp, also known as the carryover cook. Don’t forget to estimate that.
So, there you have it folks! Thanks again to Chad and Traeger for letting me hang out!