So you want to get a pellet grill and are torn between a Traeger and a Pit Boss.
I get it. Traeger’s are expensive and the Pit Boss looks nice. If you read the comments section at the bottom of this post you will see that for a few years I did not recommend Pit Boss. However, in 2018 Pit Boss made a serious upgrade to their warranty and in 2019 launched the Pro Series Pellet Grills that impressed the heck out of me. It looks to me that Pit Boss has gotten serious about making high quality pellet grills and isn’t interested in just being the cheapest player in the market.
Both Pit Boss and Traeger have lots of different models and this review will not attempt to cover them all. Instead, we are going to focus on the two most obvious head to head comparisons. We will be looking at two traditional pellet grills from Pit Boss and the two lowest end grills by Traeger.
If you want to see some higher end grills from Pit Boss then check out the Lockhart Platinum and KC Combo. If you want to see some higher end grills from Traeger then check out their Gen 2 Pro, Ironwood and Timberline grills.
Let’s take a look at the head to head comparison of some of these grills and see which one you like the most.
Pit Boss 700 Classic vs Traeger Pro 22
The Pit Boss 700 is a Walmart exclusive grill that can also be found on Amazon at times and is one of the popular grills in the Pit Boss lineup. The Traeger Pro 22 is extremely similar in size and function to the 700 Classic.
Here are the important details about the two grills:
|Model||Pit Boss 700||Traeger Pro 22|
|Grilling Area||700 sq in||572 sq in|
|Outlet Vent||Downdraft rear exit||Up and Out Top Vent|
|Hopper Capacity||21 lbs||18 lbs|
|Warranty||5 Years||3 Years|
The Pit Boss has a better warranty, higher top temperature, more cooking surface, a larger hopper and is about $200 less expensive than the Traeger.
The smoke exhaust design is an interesting difference between these grills. On the Traeger the smoke comes up from the burn pot and goes out the top of the smoker through the smokestack. On the Pit Boss the smoke comes up from the burn pot, goes up to the lid and then has to come back down across the meat before it can exit out the back of the smoker.
The vent design on the Pit Boss 700 Classic is the same design that Traeger uses on its higher end grills like the Ironwood and Timberline. Traeger says that the rear exhaust design provides better smoke flavor and improved convection cooking.
Let me also go on a rant about the size of the pellet hopper.
Traeger sells their wood pellets in 20 pound bags. 20 pound bags are pretty much the industry standard. So please….why in the world does Traeger make a grill with an 18 pound hopper? By design they want you to end up with a bag that is almost empty that you have to roll up and stash away to make sure the last two pounds of pellets don’t get wet.
Pit Boss gives you a 21 pound hopper. This means that you can run your grill until the hopper is almost empty, fill it up with a full bag of pellets, and then throw the empty bag away.
Head to Head User Reviews
I combined all of the user reviews from Home Depot, WalMart, Amazon, Ace Hardware, Traeger and Pit Boss into one data set. The data set ended up with 822 independant reviews for the Pit Boss 700 and 996 independent reviews for the Traeger Pro 22. This data set is current as of June 12, 2020.
The difference in rating between these grills is minimal.
While the Traeger has more 5 star reviews (78% vs 74%) when you combine them with the 4 star reviews the balance flips back to Pit Boss (89% vs 88%).
One the low end of the review scale Pit Boss again has the advantage with only 7% 1 and 2 star reviews compared to 9% for the Traeger.
Pit Boss Austin XL vs Traeger Pro 34
The Pit Boss Austin XL is another Walmart exclusive grill that can also be found on Amazon at times and is one of the popular grills in the Pit Boss lineup. The Traeger Pro 34 is extremely similar in size and function to the Austin XL.
Here are the important details about the two grills:
|Model||Pit Boss Austin XL||Traeger Pro 34|
|Grilling Area||1000 sq in||884 sq in|
|Outlet Vent||Up and Out Top Vent||Up and Out Top Vent|
|Hopper Capacity||31 lbs||18 lbs|
|Warranty||5 Years||3 Years|
The Austin XL is a larger grill with a higher top temperature, a larger hopper and a better warranty. It also costs about $200 less than the Traeger.
I have the same rant about the hopper size on the Pro 34 that I did for the Pro 22.
Note that the Austin XL does not have the back vent exhaust like the 700 Classic but uses a traditional smokestack like the Pro 34.
Head to Head User Reviews
I combined all of the user reviews from Home Depot, WalMart, Amazon, Ace Hardware, Traeger and Pit Boss into one data set. The data set ended up with 409 independent reviews for the Pit Boss Austin XL and 1005 independent reviews for the Traeger Pro 34. This data set is current as of June 12, 2020.
There is a clear difference in user satisfaction between these two grills. The Traeger came away with 78% 5 star reviews compared to 68% for the Pit Boss. Combining the 5 and 4 stars reviews does not change the picture. Similarly on the low end of things, 5% of the Traeger ratings were 1 star compared to 15% for the Pit Boss.
The biggest complaints with the Austin XL revolves around paint that bubbles up, peels off and lets the grill rust. There are also complaints about malfunctioning control panels as well as customer service in general.
Four Primary Differences Between Traeger and Pit Boss Pellet Smokers
- Price: Pit Boss grills are about $200 cheaper than their Traeger counterparts.
- Warranty: Traegers come with a three year warranty compared to five years on a Pit Boss.
- Heat Management: The location of the fire pot and how heat is distributed is very different.
- Flame Broiler: The Pit Boss Grills have a sliding flame broiler system that is absent on Traeger’s.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences in heat management between the two brands.
Traeger Heat Management System
On a Traeger the fire pot is on the far left side of the grill and is covered by a heavy steel heat deflector.
The fire pot and heat deflector are then covered by a solid metal grease tray.
Pit Boss Heat Management System
On a Pit Boss pellet grill the fire pot is located in the CENTER of the grill and does NOT have a heat deflector over the pot.
The fire pit on the Pit Boss is covered by a domed metal shield with open slits.
The open fire pot and the slits in the shield are intended to let you do do “open flame grilling”. This is a handy feature when you want to sear off a flank steak after you have smoked it. When you want to smoke instead of grill there is a second metal shield that slides over the open slits.
There are pros and cons to how the grease trays and heat deflectors are arranged in these grills.
Why the Traeger System is Better
There are two huge reasons why I like the Traeger system better.
The first reason that the Traeger system is better is that the addition of heat deflector directly above the fire pot makes the Traeger have much more even heat distribution than you get on the Pit Boss. The temperature profile across the cooking grate in a Traeger isn’t exactly even but it is pretty dang nice.
The second reason that the Traeger system is better is that the flat grease collection tray is extremely easy to clean. You can easily line the tray with foil or just take a putty knife and scrape everything off. The curved dome shield on the Pit Boss makes cleaning up more of a challenge.
Why the Pit Boss System is Better
I love playing with fire.
With the Pit Boss system you get to slide the heat shield aside and have direct access to flames for searing steaks and chops. On one hand the “flame broiling action” is a bit of a gimmick that you won’t use much. On the other hand the primal part of my brain just keeps saying, “Fire is Good!”
Head to Head Summary
- Pit Boss has a better warranty that Traeger.
- Pit Boss has a Flame Broiler system and Traeger doesn’t.
- Pit Boss is less expensive than Traeger.
- Pit Boss has larger hopper than Traeger
- User Reviews are similar between the brands with a slight advantage to Traeger.
The ONLY place where Traeger really beats Pit Boss is in marketing and branding. Traeger was one of the very first manufacturers of pellet grills and they do a great job of building on that history. You can go on Twitter and Instagram and find loads of celebrities and amateurs that are proud members of the Traeger Nation. Traeger sponsors a lot of professional barbecue cooks and has been great at building the brand that promotes the image of a high quality product.
But when it comes to establishing yourself as a serious player through your long track record Pit Boss recently pulled a pretty slick trick. The Traeger brand was built by Joe Traeger back in the 1980’s. Joe eventually sold Traeger to a private equity firm who rebuilt the company but kept Joe’s name on the front door.
But Joe Traeger, the true founder of the pellet grill industry, is still around and working. Want to take a guess at what he is doing these days?
Update 9/18/2019: It looks like Pit Boss has been beating up Traeger so bad that Traeger has resorted to breaking out the lawyers and filing lawsuits against Pit Boss. Here is the official response from Danson’s.
History of the Brands
Traeger was a founder of the pellet grill industry with a history that goes back to 1987. The company was founded by it’s namesake, Joe Traeger, and was based in Oregon for many years. Eventually the company was sold to private equity groups who fired almost everyone in Oregon and moved operations to Utah.
Traeger held the original patents for pellet grills but as soon as they expired the market was flooded with other companies wanting a piece of the market.
The Pit Boss Smokers are made by Danson’s, the same folks behind the Louisiana Grill brand. Louisiana Grills are fine smokers that go toe to toe with a Traeger. The Louisiana Grills are also priced the same as Traegers. While Louisiana Grills made progress in taking market share from Traeger the folks at Danson’s realized that they could sell more grills if their product was less expensive. And thus the Pit Boss Smoker brand was born.
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