In this Traeger Tailgater review, we’re going to do a comprehensive evaluation of this quality little pellet grill.
We’ll look at what’s in the box first. And moving on to the design, build quality, performance, and user experience. Next, we’ll continue with what we like and what we don’t like about the grill. Then conclude the article with its alternatives.
Let’s get started.
Traeger Tailgater 20 Unboxing
Traeger has started it all. The company invented the pellet smoker some 30 years ago in Oregon. And it still remains as the leading brand of the industry.
Ever since the popularity of the pellet grill, Traeger has been investing heavily in marketing and product development. It has a wide selection of products, ranging from big commercial units to a mid-sized one that looks like a pink pig (named Lil’ Pig). The company also has some small and portable models. The most popular one is the Traeger Tailgater 20.
This smoker is geared toward campers, tailgaters, and RVers. It has somewhat similar quality as its larger cousins, just downsized for mobility (even smaller with the legs folding down). That being said, because of the size, the Tailgater 20 is also suitable for people who have limited backyard space or live in apartments/condos.
Keep in mind that the true purpose of this grill is for travelling. So being lightweight is always the key focus. Therefore, its construction is not as robust as other stay-at-home models. Just something to be aware of if you plan to buy it for home use.
- Overall Dimensions – 37”W x 18”D x 36”H
- Dimensions (with legs folding down) – 37”W x 18”D x 20”H
- Fuel – smoking wood pellets
- Power Source – electricity 110V AC (needs converter for 12V DC)
- Main Cooking Area – 300 sq in (no extra warming rack)
- Cooking Grate Material – porcelain-coated steel
- Total Weight – 62lbs
- Max Temperature – 450F
- Min Temperature – 180F
- Pellet Hopper Capacity – 8lbs
- Material – powder-coated steel, plastic
- Wifi – no
- Built-in Meat Probe – yes
- EZ Folding Legs – yes
- Keep Warm Mode – yes
- Warranty – 3 years
- Compact and lightweight for travel and small home
- EZ folding legs reduces the footprint of the grill
- Simple user interface
- Decent cooking area and pellet hopper capacity for a travel smoker
- Porcelain-coated steel cooking grate makes it easy to clean up
- Efficient grease management system
- Offer versatility in cooking
- Needs two people to fold the legs down
- Hefty price tag for a portable model
- Plastic wheels and handles
- No Wifi connectivity
- Little low even with the legs
Detailed Traeger Tailgater Review
Design & Build Quality
As we mentioned earlier, this smoker aims at being mobile and lightweight. So its design and construction really reflect that.
If you’re 5’9’’ and over, you might find that this grill is a bit short, at 36” in height. It’s even shorter when you fold the legs, at 20” in height. For tailgating, it’s actually not a problem since the tailgate will raise the grill high enough. For camping and home use, we suggest putting it on a cart or table to accommodate for the lack of height.
The reason for this is to make the legs light. If Traeger installs taller legs, it might add extra weight, making it a chore to move the grill. By the way, the Tailgater weighs only 62lbs. For a pellet grill, that’s pretty light.
And unlike some portable models, the Tailgater doesn’t have any smoke stack on top of its lid. Instead, Traeger features two vent holes. We really like the absence of the smoke stack. It keeps the grill profile nice and streamline. You don’t have to worry about the stack getting in the way when trying to load the grill onto your vehicle.
Speaking of the lid, it’s made from thin steel coated with powder to give it a shiny finish. The same for the main housing and the hopper. Again, the purpose is to minimize the weight as much as possible.
We’re totally OK with that. However, one drawback is that there is no latch to secure the lid. This will be a problem when moving the grill. The lid will be bouncing up and down if you go down a bumpy backcountry road. The same problem happens to the hopper lid as well.
The rest of the grill, i.e. the handles and wheels, are made from plastic. It’s fine if the wheels are plastic, but the handles should be something else. After all, the handles are the point of contact with the grill when cooking. You don’t want them to melt away from all the heat. Fortunately, previous customers haven’t reported any such incident yet.
With all being said, the Traeger Tailgater 20 still feels substantial enough. It has a compact size, with some smart designs and acceptable construction.
The Tailgater features a digital controller where you can adjust the temperature in 5-degree increments. This allows you to maintain precise temperature during the cook. Here, you can also start and stop your grill. It works the same way as other pellet grills.
One drawback though is the lack of Wifi connectivity. That means you cannot control the grill from afar.
But for a portable pellet grill, the Tailgater has a decent temperature range. It can go up all the way to 450F or as low as 180F. It’s hot enough to do high heat searing, but if you want to smoke or roast low and slow, that should be no problem either.
Compared to a gas grill, it might take some time for the grill to get hot. To put things into perspective, it only has about 19500 BTU of cooking power. But hey, the wood smoky flavor is a good trade-off nonetheless. Keep in mind that you will go through pellets faster if you cook on high heat often.
Pellets Burning Efficiency
Speaking of, the hopper can hold a maximum of 8lbs of pellets. If you’re after high heat, the grill will burn at a rate of 2lbs per hour. For medium heat, it will be 1lb and the rate is 0.5lb for low heat.
All the numbers are just approximate. If you do the math, it would be 4 hours at high heat, 8 hours at medium heat, and 16 hours at low heat. For the purpose of cooking on the go, we think that 8lbs is large enough. It also makes the grill light even at full capacity.
In fact, you don’t want an 18- or 20-lb pellet hopper attached to this grill. That will add an extra 10lbs or 12lbs of weight. It’s really not ideal at all.
Cleaning & Maintenance
The Traeger Tailgater has a straightforward grease drain system, where all the excess liquids go into one bucket. Simply dump everything inside it and you’re good to go.
In addition to that, the grill features porcelain-coated cooking grate. Food bits rarely stick to this type of material. So this makes cleanup a breeze, really. Avoid using a grill scraper. Otherwise, you will chip away the coating.
That said, there is no ash drain in the grill body. As a result, you have to spend some time scooping out the ash between cooks. There is no drain chute for the pellet hopper either. So a bit of work is required here if you want to empty the hopper.
The grill is fairly easy to put together. The assembly is less complicated than IKEA furniture. And Traeger does include some basic wrenches in the package.
You also need to do a burnoff to season the grill. Just load some pellets. Turn on the grill, crank up the temperature, and let it go for about 45 minutes. The purpose is to burn away all the manufacturing oil and shipping dust.
Compared to other similar models, the Tailgater 20 has a larger grilling space, at 300 square inches. According to Traeger, you can fit 2 chickens, 3 racks of pork ribs, or 12 burgers all at once. This is a decent amount of food that can feed a small group of people. Keep in mind that this grill doesn’t have any extra warming rack.
However, it does have a Keep Warm mode. We actually dig this feature. It keeps all the cooked food nice and toasty until all your friends finally show up at the game.
The Traeger Tailgater also sports a built-in meat probe. It allows you to monitor your food’s internal temperature without lifting the lid. The grill can get down to 180F or as high as 450F as mentioned above. That’s pretty versatile for all types of cooking, from low n slow to high heat grilling.
As you already know, this grill has folding legs. They reduce the footprint of the grill. And that lets you stow in your RV, along with your YETI coolers, or set it on any flat surface. While this feature is great for transportation and storage, folding the legs can be an awkward job for one person.
You have to lay it on the side in order to do that. And if you remember at the beginning of this article, we briefly stated that there is no latch to secure the main lid and the hopper lid. As you can imagine, the cooking grate and pellets will just fall out of the grill. Not fun at all.
Another complaint we have is that the grill only supports one source of power, which is the standard residential 110V. If you take it on the road, you would need a generator or a power inverter so you can plug it into your car.
Available Accessories & Replacement Parts
For a reputable and established company such as Traeger, you will have no problem finding replacement parts.
They also sell other accessories that go with the Tailgater pellet grill. One of them is the front rack. This adds extra prepping space in the front of the grill, turning it into a hybrid between a pellet grill and an offset smoker.
Another good one is the insulation blanket for winter grilling. What it does is to insulate your grill and maintain a consistent temperature regardless of the air temperature. The blanket also prevents extra pellets from burning in extremely cold weather.
Support & Warranty
Traeger offers a 3-year warranty after the date of purchase. Their customer support is responsive. They also have an awesome Instagram account, along with an active blog, Facebook page, and Youtube channel. If you have any questions, you can always reach out via these platforms.
What We Like
We like the fact that this grill is compact and lightweight. The absence of the smoke stack is actually a clever design. It makes it easy to load the grill onto your vehicles without fearing that it will hit other objects there.
We also like the porcelain-coated cooking grate and the grease management system. They allow for an easy cleanup. The last thing is the pellet hopper. As we’ve said before, 8lbs is all you need for a travel smoker to cook anything. This also doesn’t add unnecessary weight to the grill.
What Could Be Improved
We’d love to see cast aluminum instead of plastic handles. Maybe a latch for the hopper lid and the main lid. That way, it’s easier for you to fold the legs all by yourself.
Even though the vent holes are a good idea, we think Traeger should include some sorts of rubber grommets to plug these holes. They’re to prevent moisture from building up inside the grill.
Finally, it’s the price. It seems a bit high. Mind you, if Traeger addresses some of the problems above, that would easily justify the price. But the reality is, it’s hard to find many portable pellet smokers of this size for much less.
Here are some of the Traeger Tailgater 20’s competition
Camp Chef Pursuit 20
This grill is pretty much the same as the Tailgater in terms of price, portability, and material. It too features folding legs. The cool thing is that they turn the grill into a rolling suitcase so you don’t have to pick it up.
The Camp Chef has a bigger pellet hopper, at 10lbs of maximum capacity. Although its main grilling space is smaller than the Traeger’s (253 vs 300 sq in), it does have an extra warming rack just in case. Another awesome thing is that this grill has a built-in bottle opener. So you can grill and drink beer at the same time. How cool is that!
To check out the Camp Chef Pursuit 20, please follow this link here.
Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett
The Davy Crockett is smaller than the Tailgater. It has other features that the Tailgater doesn’t have. One of them is the dual-power system. You can connect the grill to a 12V battery or your car without needing to buy any extra adapter.
The Davy Crockett is indeed Wifi-enabled. That means you can control the grill from the comfort of your smartphone via an App. However, the digital controller’s interface is not as user-friendly as Traeger’s. So it might take some time to get used to.
Other than that, the Davy Crockett also has a side shelf, tool hooks, and a cover to boot. Better yet, the whole package is priced less than the Tailgater. If you’re on a budget, definitely check this one out.
For more information on the Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett, click here please.
Should You Buy The Traeger Tailgater?
If you plan to take the grill travelling with you frequently, the answer is Yes. It is large enough to satisfy your cooking needs on the road, yet still small enough to move around with ease.
If you want to get a stay-at-home pellet smoker, we’d advise you to spend some extra money and get a bigger model.
With that being said, if you have a limited backyard space or live in an apartment, the Traeger Tailgater 20 is still a viable option for those scenarios. Please keep in mind that this grill won’t be performing as good as a full-blown pellet grill.
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Have a blessed day.