Modern pellet smokers are one of the newest innovations in BBQ smoking and Traeger was the first company to introduce them. They were quick to gain popularity and now we see a huge range of pellet smokers vying for the best pellet smoker title. Their popularity has grown because they’re convenient for both backyard and competition level cookers. They’re very easy to use and produce fantastic results. We’ll take a look at the Traeger Junior Elite in our review, one of the most popular low budget pellet smokers on the market.
A pellet smoker is a normal grill that can be used for smoking, but that is heated by using small, high energy wood pellets. This makes them very versatile. They generally have a digital controller built in that monitors the temperature inside the grill and then automatically feeds pellets into the fire pot to keep the smoker at the desired temperature. The reason why these grills are so popular is because they offer the classic wood smoked flavor without the inconvenience of having to tend to the grill. They are the best option in set it and forget it grills around today.
Table of Contents
What’s included with the Traeger Junior Elite
- Main smoker cooking chamber with pellet burner
- Four legs with two wheels
- Digital thermostat with auger mechanism
- Instructions and manual
- Drip bucket
- Three year warranty
36 H x 37 W x 18 D inches (91.4 x 94 x 45.7 cm)
60 lbs (27 kg)
Design and Build Quality
The design of the Traeger Junior Elite follows similar design principles to most pellet smokers. It works by having you set a temperature on the digital controller that you would like the smoker to remain at. A standard household outlet gives the digital controller it’s power. The controller then sends a signal to a rotating auger that delivers the pellets from a hopper to a fire pot that houses the igniting rod. This igniting rod is hot enough for the pellets to begin to burn and smoke which is transported through the smoker and cooks the food through convection heating and surrounds them in enough smoke to give them a truly smoked flavor.
This type of design is tried and tested and works incredibly well. The auger effortlessly transfers the wood pellets to the fire box, which burns the pellets efficiently and effectively. This creates a very easy smoking system that is super simple to use.
The build quality of the Traeger Junior Elite is mostly quite good.
It’s made from a heavy duty steel that manages to keep a lot of the heat and smoke inside. The welding and general construction is good, but there are a few rough edges that affect the overall finish. The build quality tends to be the biggest problem for people. There have been several reports of the grill not working as well as expected.
What smaller grills like this tend to have as a major positive is that they are portable. The Traeger Junior Elite is just that. It has a set of two wheels built into the back two legs that make it moveable. It isn’t the most practical way of transporting the grill and there are several pellets smokers that are better for moving around, such as the Green Mountain Davy Crockett or even the Traeger Tailgater. Both of these grills feature foldable legs that make moving them around much simpler. The Traeger Junior Elite is quite light for such a versatile grill, though. At 60 lbs is makes it much lighter than bigger pellet smokers and this helps a lot with the portability.
Overall, the design is very good but the build quality could be better.
Ease of Use
Pellet smokers are known for their ease of use. They require no baby sitting, are incredibly easy to light and even regulate their internal temperatures automatically. The Traeger Junior Elite is very much the same and is mostly very easy to use.
When you get the box, the Junior Elite is in many parts and requires some assembly. This is the most arduous part of using the smoker. The assembly is somewhat complex and will take a while. There are some good instructions and resources online to help but it will still likely take you at least an hour.
Once you’ve put it together it requires a power source from a standard electrical output. This isn’t like an electric smoker where the electricity powers a heating element, the electricity is only used to power the thermostat and auger. After the initial start up it uses very little energy to keep it running. When the power is connected it becomes so simple to use that anyone with no experience at smoking meat can produce great results. All you have to do is put the pellets in the hopper, set it to the temperature you’re looking for and it’ll do the rest. Use our smoking times and temperature charts to make sure you get the right temperatures.
It sometimes has temperature fluctuations and can struggle a little in keeping a specific temperature, but generally it will be close enough to the set temperature for you never to notice.
What’s good about the Traeger Junior Elite
- Being a pellet smoker makes it very versatile – Whilst it isn’t really a replacement for a grill it can do much more than just smoke meat.
- It has a very fast heat up time – This is again due to it being a pellet smoker. It can reach optimal temperature within 10 to 15 minutes.
- Thermostatically controlled – This allows you to set very precise temperatures and then forget about it whilst it does all the hard work. You could easily leave this to cook over night without much trouble. (As long as there’s enough pellets). The digital controller that it is equipped with, gives you an accurate and easy to see temperature reading in real time.
- Portable design – Whilst the design doesn’t allow for the same portability as smokers such as the Davy Crockett, this is still light and mobile enough to be able to be taken camping, tailgating or just allows for easy movement around the garden.
- A variety of pellet flavors – Different flavors of pellets give you so many more options with no extra effort. You can get a range of flavors such as apple, cherry, maple, hickory, pecan and bourbon. The pellets can be changed over or mixed up to give you a huge potential canvas of flavors that are waiting to be tried and experimented with. Check out our ultimate guide to smoking with wood for more information on wood flavors and the combinations you can create.
- Comes with a 3 year warranty – This shows that despite a few flaws here and there, Traeger believe in their product and are willing to replace almost any malfunctions or parts.
What’s bad about the Traeger Junior Elite
- Build quality – The biggest problem is probably the build quality and reliability of the thermostat controller. Some of this can be due to user error when it comes to assembling the smoker. Some of this is due to ambient conditions. But some of it is down to Traeger.
- Is a little small – This is to be expected as it is a lower budget pellet smoker and is aimed towards people who don’t need as much grilling space. But 300 square inches is a bit small when you compare it to electric or propane smokers that can reach several times the cooking space.
- Price – This is well priced for a pellet smoker. In fact the only pellet smoker worth your time that is cheaper than this is the Davy Crockett. So, if you’re set on a pellet grill then this is a good option, price-wise. But when you compare this to other smokers, especially electric smokers the deal might not seem as good. For almost a third of the price of the Traeger Junior Elite you can get a Masterbuilt 30 inch electric smoker that has almost two and a half times the cooking space.
- Can run out of pellets – There have been several cases where people have been doing a long cook and have run out of pellets part way through. This isn’t a huge problem as it’s very easy to top them up, but the whole point of a pellet smoker is to give you as much ease of use as possible and having to refill half way through isn’t what you want.
Overall, the Traeger Junior Elite is a relatively inexpensive pellet smoker that would be perfect for someone looking to try one out who’s on a budget. It’s also small and light enough to make a great traveling smoker, working well for tailgating and camping.
It does have a few potential issues that you should be aware of, but at this price you’re not going to get a much better grill. It’s ease of use, design and the results it produces are more than enough to justify the potential problems.
Quick Tips and Tricks
- Like with most smokers and grills, we recommend picking up a cover to protect your smoker from the weather, dust and dirt.
- We recommend covering the drip tray with foil to make cleaning it super simple.
- Use a digital meat thermometer to keep an eye on the temperatures of the pit and the meat.
- Clean the fire pot out before each time you use your Traeger smoker.
- Make sure you season your smoker correctly. Use our seasoning guide and the Traeger manual to make sure you do this correctly.
- Traeger provide a lot of recipes that are perfect to try on your new smoker.
- They also have a Youtube Channel with some very useful information – Perfect to have a browse through if you’ve got a new smoker.