I have always loved cooking. And of the many types of cooking, I have particularly been fond of grilling and barbecue. When I was an undergraduate, I bought a Weber Smokey Joe mini-kettle and used the hell out of it all the way through graduate school. Then, when the wife and I got married, my folks gave us a Weber Genesis gas grill as a wedding present.

I like Weber grills. They’re well-made, they last a long time, and they work. I liked our grill, because I could come home, fire it up, and be ready to grill chicken in about ten minutes. Turn it off, and you were done.

But, as any grilling enthusiast can tell you, nothing tastes like charcoal. You need the smoke to really get that ‘cooked on a fire’ flavor. So, I got a little Luhr-Jensen smoker. I made many batches of beef jerky, smoked some salmon, and added flavor to chicken breasts, steaks, and pork butts. But I still had to finish cooking on the Weber.

A couple of years ago, some friends invited us over for dinner. I walked out on their deck and saw a big black grill leaking wonderful-smelling smoke. It was our friends’ new Traeger wood pellet grill. What a concept. An auger delivers hardwood pellets to a firebox, which heats the grill. Turn it up high, you can grill. Turn it lower, you can roast. Turn it way down, and the whole thing becomes a hot smoker. You can select pellets that are 100% oak, cherry, mesquite, hickory, apple, alder, etc.

I wanted one.

But they weren’t cheap. And our Weber still worked fine. So, I filed it away in the back of my mind for ’someday’, and tried to forget about it everytime I fired up the old reliable Weber.

Well, someday finally came. The wife and I picked up our new Traeger pellet grill last weekend. Along with the grill itself came a recipe book, a Traeger ballcap, and two 20 lb bags of pellets. I chose alder and hickory. We got it home and I assembled it. Monday night I fired it up to 350 degrees for 45 minutes to season it. And tonight, it was time to cook.

100% alder pellets

For our first meal from the grill, I got a couple of young chickens, spatchcocked them, and applied a dry rub. Then I put them on the Traeger. The biggest adjustment I’m going to have to make is the difference between direct heat and purely indirect heat. The Traeger’s indirect heat means it’s almost impossible to burn your food. On the other hand, all my mental estimates of how long it will take to cook something are now obsolete.

Note: That’s a stack of two butterflied chickens, one on top of the other.

The chicken turned out a beautiful, golden brown, incredibly moist, and very tasty. Unfortunately, it was still a little bloody at the joints. Damn. Well, next time I’ll know better. The kids still scarfed it down like they were starving. I was pleased to note that it didn’t have more than a nice background flavor of smokiness. If you want to really add smoke flavor, you just need to turn the heat setting all the way down to ’smoke’. Otherwise, you just get a nice touch of hardwood flavor as you cook.

Yes, it was expensive, but I anticipate using it a LOT. With the digital thermostat you can bake in it easily. Wood-fired pizza, anyone? How about a skillet full of hot cornbread to go with your BBQ brisket?

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.