Smoker Review: Traeger Pro Series 34 Pellet Grill

The pellet smoker craze exists for a reason
Bacon-game poppers, ready for the smoker. Jamie Carlson

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Back in July of this year I got a new Traeger Pro Series 34 wood pellet grill. I had heard of pellet grills, but had no personal experience with them. For those who aren’t familiar with them either, the basics of the grill are this: There is a heating element in the bottom of the grill, and the grill self-feeds wood pellets (made up of any number of different fruit and hard woods) into it. There is a blower that helps fuel the heat and circulates air inside the grill. The folks at Traeger told me to think about the pellet grill more like an oven than a traditional grill. This is because a grill gives you direct heat, whereas this pellet grill produces more of a convection heat by circulating air inside the grill.

And the primary difference between an oven and the Traeger is that the heat inside it includes smoke from the wood pellets. With a wide variety of woods to choose from, you can match the type of smoke flavor that best suits your cooking. For example, I made a grilled duck breast with sour cherry salsa and I used cherry wood to cook the duck. Traeger also offers their Big Game pellet blend which is a combination of red and white oak, hickory, and rosemary. It is wonderful on all kinds of wild game and I have used it on everything from salmon to venison jerky.

Wild Duck Recipes
The finished wild duck and sour cherry dish. Jamie Carlson

The temperature range on this grill goes from around 180°F all the way up to 450 degrees. When you set your cook temperature, the grill will usually stay within 5-10 degrees of that setting. This allows you to smoke low and slow, to roast hot and fast, and everything in between. The main factor for controlling the temperature is refraining from opening the lid. The grill will cool off very quickly once the lid is opened. Fortunately, the Pro Series 34 comes with a double thermometer and two meat probes so you can check the internal temperature of whatever you are cooking without ever having to open the lid.

meat thermometer smoker
Using a meat probe to test the internal temperature of wild game helps prevent overcooking. Jamie Carlson

When I cooked a venison roast and only wanted the internal temp to reach 140°F, I was able to track that progress simply by hitting the temp button for an instant read on the roast’s temp. I pulled the roast off at about 135°F, tented it with aluminum foil, and let it rest for ten minutes. In that time, the internal temp rose up to the desired 140 degrees. That kind of precision has taken a lot of the guesswork out of cooking venison. Everybody who has ever grilled a deer steak or nice chunk of backstrap knows that the difference between tender, juicy venison and dry, over-done venison is only a matter of minutes. All wild game can be a little tricky to cook, and it takes some time to learn the right techniques. This grill certainly helps with that—as well as adding that primal flavor that only comes from cooking over woodsmoke.

wild smoked salmon
Pellet-smoked salmon. Jamie Carlson

I have had this grill now for about several months and have been cooking everything I can on it. I have smoked, roasted, and braised everything from rabbits and ducks to pheasant and antelope. It does everything you would want it to on wild game, but it also works incredibly well for roasting vegetables and baking desserts. I have baked wild rice bread and blueberry cobbler on the same grill. If you think fresh warm bread out of the oven is a treat, you should try a loaf of wild rice bread baked with maple pellets. I can’t say that a Traeger grill will turn you into a great wild game chef, but it certainly will help.