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Traeger Ironwood 650 review: This smart grill can up your summer party game

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Today, Traeger introduced updates to the Pro and Timberline series while also rolling out the new Ironwood series. All six new grills, two options for each of the three series, include WiFIRE technology and the new D2 drivetrain system. Prices range from $799 to $1,799 and all can be controlled with your smartphone.

As a young US Coast Guard officer moving around the country, we stuck with inexpensive charcoal or propane grills that usually lasted two to three years before falling apart. When I left the service and settled down in a new house five years ago we decided to look for a better quality grill and bought a Weber model that connects to the natural gas in my house. My grilling game improved and with the help of the Meater wireless thermometer my results have been solid for the last several months.

Last month, Clay Blackham, senior VP of Method Communications, reached out to gauge my interest in testing out a new smart grill. I asked about the connection to mobile technology and learned that these new grills incorporated Traeger’s WiFIRE technology that provides smartphone connectivity and control with iOS and Android smartphones. Clay told me that my life would change with a Traeger and after more than a week with three different grilling sessions and different meats I think he may just be right.

See also: Cook a perfect turkey with the help of the Meater wireless thermometer and your smartphone

New Traeger Pro and Timberline models and prices

The Pro 575 and 780 were introduced today with the number specifying the square inches of grilling space. The Pro series has an 18-pound hopper for pellets, a meat probe, and an extra grill rack. The Pro 575 is $799 and the Pro 780 is $999.

These two grills have the new WiFIRE technology and D2 Direct Drive system. A new Pro D2 controller is also present with an increased temperature range of 165 degrees to 450 degrees, set in five-degree increments.

The Timberline 850 and 1300 were also revealed, again with 850 and 1300 square inches of grilling space, at prices of $1,799 and $1,999. The current Timberline series had WiFIRE technology so that continues here as well. In addition, the D2 Direct Drive system is included with a new Timberline D2 controller.

A new pellet sensing technology is present in these two new Timberline grills that allows users to monitor the amount of pellets currently in the hopper. You will still need someone to manually fill the hopper, but that’s usually an easy task for another family member or neighbor.

As specified by Traeger:

The new D2 Direct Drive drivetrain uses an all-new variable speed fan and auger, providing optimal blue smoke production across a much wider temperature range for the finest hardwood flavor. It also features Turbotemp technology, allowing the grills to get hotter faster so users can get grilling quicker and enjoy more precise cooking temps. The D2 drivetrain is all powered by an industry-first brushless motor, delivering years of reliable performance.

Ironwood 650 specifications

The new Ironwood series comes as the Ironwood 650 and 885, again with these numbers specifying the square inches of grilling space. The 650 is priced at $1,199 and the 855 at $1,399.

WiFIRE technology, the D2 Direct Drive system, Traeger’s DownDraft Exhaust and TRU Convection systems, and new Ironwood D2 Controller are all found on the new Ironwood series. The temperature range of the grill is 165 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, set in five-degree increments, with a new Super Smoke Mode that lets you quickly increase smoke and boost the flavor with a single button press on the D2 Controller or in the smartphone app.

The Ironwood 650 has assembled dimensions of 46 inches wide by 27 inches deep by 48 inches in height. The assembled weight, with an empty hopper, is 146 pounds. The pellet hopper has a capacity of 20 pounds.

A grease bucket is provided with a couple of extra bucket liners. The bucket hooks to a bracket on the lower left side of the barrel that is fed by the grease drip pan. You can purchase grease drip tray liners, a folding front shelf, and a grill cover. Traeger included a grill cover with this evaluation unit and it is made of very thick material with a rubber lining to keep the grill fully protected if you do not have it under a cover outside.

A smaller upper grate is provided with a lower one that can be used in two positions. You can fully remove the upper or lower grate too in order to have the most flexibility for cooking or to maintenance the grease tray or firepot.

A stainless steel shelf is provided for the left side of the Ironwood 650 with three hooks on the front to hang your grilling utensils. There are a couple of other screws in the left side for other accessories.

Unboxing experience and initial use

The Ironwood 650 evaluation unit was delivered via FedEx Freight with a grill cover and bags of hickory and apple pellets. It arrived on a pallet in a large box that stated two people were recommended for setup of the grill. Unfortunately, no one else was around the day it arrived so I set it up myself. Keep in mind, I played football and rugby in college so was confident in my ability to maneuver around 150 pounds of grill.

The box that the Traeger was packed in is quite large and when my three girls were young we always made forts out of these boxes. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Traeger provided directions to reverse the outer box and printed the inside of the box to be one of the coolest cabins for kids I have ever seen. I offered the box up in our neighborhood Facebook group and it was quickly scooped up by a family with young kids who have enjoyed playing in it every day since I passed it along.

Traeger includes easy-to-read assembly instructions, an owner’s manual, the tools you need for assembly (screwdriver and wrench), and all of the hardware necessary to assemble the grill. The major components, including the barrel, hopper, and controller, are all assembled in the box. Setup primarily consists of attaching the four legs, supporting brackets between the legs, handle for the lid, and stainless steel side shelf. Internal grill racks, grease drain pan, and other parts are removed from inside the grill first and then reinstalled into their proper location after you get the legs on and stand up the grill. One set of legs has large wheels while the other set has casters with locking mechanisms so the grill will not move around in windy conditions or on a surface that is not level.

The Ironwood 650 has a new pill-shaped barrel design, along with Traeger’s DownDraft exhaust and TRU Convection systems in order to help food cook in the shortest amount of time. Unlike many Traeger grills, there is no smoke stack for exhaust as the exhaust is instead forced out the upper back of the barrel and then downward towards the ground.

After assembling everything, I followed the instructions in the owner’s manual to season the grill. This is a process that takes about an hour and only has to be completed the first time you fire up the grill. It took longer for the first ignition than I anticipated, even after priming the auger, so I actually emptied out the fire pot and started up the ignition sequence a second time with more patience for ignition. The second time everything went as planned for seasoning.

The grill ignited in a timely fashion every single time after the seasoning process and I’ve been very pleased with how fast it heated up. While the app lets you easily send recipes and cooking instructions to the grill via WiFi, you can also manually enter custom cook cycles using the D2 Controller. Custom cook cycles can also be setup in the smartphone app and sent via WiFi to the Traeger. The grill is on my back patio and has held the WiFi connection with no issues.

The Ironwood 650 also comes with an internal probe. The prove connects via a 3.5mm jack on the front left of the D2 Controller and then through a rubber grommet into the inside of the grill. I’ve used the probe for a couple recipes and it has proven to be accurate and essential for properly cooking the meat to perfection.

There is a timer button on the D2 Controller that you can use for timing other things, such as vegetable cooking, basting, or toasting buns. It does not impact grill operation or recipes. There is also a Super Smoke button that you can use when the grill is between 165 and 225 degrees Fahrenheit in order to add more smoke flavor to your meat.

I also switched out hardwood pellets over the last 10 days. This was easy to do with a spatula and the rear clean-out door on the back of the hopper. I simply held a large bowl under the access door and removed the pellets in the hopper in this manner.

See also: Best BBQ equipment for tech fans

Smartphone application

The Traeger app and WiFIRE technology was previously only provided on the Timberline series, but with today’s releases this smartphone connectivity is now also available on a couple Pro and Ironwood grills. In order to fully test out the capability of the Traeger app I tested it using an iPhone XS, Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, Google Pixel 3 XL, and Samsung Galaxy Note 9.

The app appears to have the same capabilities whether your are using an iPhone or an Android phone with slightly different ways to access the various sections of the app. The Android app uses an three-bar menu icon to slide in options from the left side of the display while the iOS app has bottom icons to switch between the main pages for home, recipes, WiFIRE, shop, dealer locator, and other helpful Traeger references.

On the home panel you will see a featured recipe, the status of your connected grill, a troubleshooting section, and quick access icons to top 10 recipes, favorites, tips & tricks, and filters to quickly view recipes for beef, pork, poultry, lamb, vegetables, seafood, wild game, baked goods, and cocktails. The recipes have a thumbnail photo, name of the recipe, description, cooking time, and number of ingredients. Tapping on a specific recipe gives you the ability to quickly add it to your favorites, share the recipe, view the difficulty level, see the estimated prep time, view the cooking time, and see which hardwood pellet is recommended for that recipe.

Once you find a recipe you wish to cook, scroll down for the ingredients and then further down for the preparation details. After getting everything together and then before you go outside to grill, tap the button to cook now and the recipe will be sent via WiFi to your connected grill.

The app will control the full grilling experience, including informing you when time or internal probe temps are reached and then proceeding to the next step in the grilling process (as applicable). The app controls the grill temps, as well as sending alerts to baste and perform other manual tasks that the app cannot perform. Since many smoke and grill times continue for many hours, you are no longer tied to the house when preparing meals. I was controlling the grilling experience from the office one day and from a date night another day. It was awesome to have a full and complete understanding of the status of the meal on the grill through the smartphone app.

In the WiFIRE section of the app you can view the grill temperature, probe temperature, and timer status. Tapping on any one of these three dials puts that metric in the center of the display in larger size. Buttons on the bottom of the WiFIRE display let you set a sauce timer, super smoke mode, and enable the keep warm option.

The shop option in the app lets you order grills, hardwood, accessories, grill covers, sauces, rubs & spices, recipe books, Traeger apparel, and parts to repair your grill.

Grilling experiences

My brother is an avid outdoorsman who hunts and fishes regularly, including butchering his own game and then grilling it on Traeger grills. He has always been held up as the family grillmaster, but was also excited to hear about my experiences with this new Ironwood 650 smart grill. I took him a sample of the Traeger BBQ brisket I cooked up and he loved it. My youngest daughter loves her uncle’s brisket, but said the one I cooked beat even his standard of excellence.

Since I tested the Ironwood 650 out with multiple phones, it was clear to me that the iPhone app had just a bit better functionality. This isn’t surprising since I continue to find iOS apps to be better than Android apps in major and minor ways. The clear difference in the Traeger app is that the Android app does not show the current step in the process on either the home page or the WiFIRE status page. This is a bit annoying since I tried a few different recipes in the past week and like to know how many steps are left and where I was at in the whole grilling process.

In the past 10 days, I used the Ironwood 650 to cook a roasted beer can chicken, smoked pork loin, and BBQ brisket. I used hickory wood pellets for the chicken and brisket with apple pellets for the pork loin. I went to the store to buy some Traeger Signature pellets and mesquite to try out some other flavors. I have salmon to smoke next, but didn’t get a chance to grill it up before the review embargo lifted. The chicken was very moist, but next time I plan to smoke it for a few hours and then turn up the temperature at the end to get the skin crispy. The pork loin was excellent and extremely easy to grill. The BBQ brisket was fabulous and again so easy to do that it’s almost embarrassing to say all I did was rub on the spices, wrap it up for 24 hours, and then throw it on the Ironwood 650 as the Traeger did all the work.

I have thoroughly enjoyed grilling with the Traeger Ironwood 650 and absolutely love the smell of the smoke that is embedded in my clothes and in my nose. It’s amazing how much you can do with a Traeger grill and I have only begun to test out its capabilities. I understand you can bake pizza or cookies, grill vegetables, and so much more. We use our grills here in Washington State all year long because of the mild temperatures and I can’t wait to taste more great meals cooked with the help of my smartphone.

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Twitter’s decentralized future – TechCrunch

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This week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey finally responded publicly to the company’s decision to ban President Trump from its platform, writing that Twitter had “faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance” and that he did not “feel pride” about the decision. In the same thread, he took time to call out a nascent Twitter-sponsored initiative called “bluesky,” which is aiming to build up an “open decentralized standard for social media” that Twitter is just one part of.

Researchers involved with bluesky reveal to TechCrunch an initiative still in its earliest stages that could fundamentally shift the power dynamics of the social web.

Bluesky is aiming to build a “durable” web standard that will ultimately ensure that platforms like Twitter have less centralized responsibility in deciding which users and communities have a voice on the internet. While this could protect speech from marginalized groups, it may also upend modern moderation techniques and efforts to prevent online radicalization.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and chief executive officer of Twitter Inc., arrives after a break during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. Republicans pressed Dorsey for what they said may be the “shadow-banning” of conservatives during the hearing. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What is bluesky?

Just as Bitcoin lacks a central bank to control it, a decentralized social network protocol operates without central governance, meaning Twitter would only control its own app built on bluesky, not other applications on the protocol. The open and independent system would allow applications to see, search and interact with content across the entire standard. Twitter hopes that the project can go far beyond what the existing Twitter API offers, enabling developers to create applications with different interfaces or methods of algorithmic curation, potentially paying entities across the protocol like Twitter for plug-and-play access to different moderation tools or identity networks.

A widely adopted, decentralized protocol is an opportunity for social networks to “pass the buck” on moderation responsibilities to a broader network, one person involved with the early stages of bluesky suggests, allowing individual applications on the protocol to decide which accounts and networks its users are blocked from accessing.

Social platforms like Parler or Gab could theoretically rebuild their networks on bluesky, benefitting from its stability and the network effects of an open protocol. Researchers involved are also clear that such a system would also provide a meaningful measure against government censorship and protect the speech of marginalized groups across the globe.

Bluesky’s current scope is firmly in the research phase, people involved tell TechCrunch, with about 40-50 active members from different factions of the decentralized tech community surveying the software landscape and putting together proposals for what the protocol should ultimately look like. Twitter has told early members that it hopes to hire a project manager in the coming weeks to build out an independent team that will start crafting the protocol itself.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the initiative.

Bluesky’s initial members were invited by Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal early last year. It was later determined that the group should open the conversation up to folks representing some of the more recognizable decentralized network projects, including Mastodon and ActivityPub, which joined the working group hosted on the secure chat platform Element.

Jay Graber, founder of decentralized social platform Happening, was paid by Twitter to write up a technical review of the decentralized social ecosystem, an effort to “help Twitter evaluate the existing options in the space,” she tells TechCrunch.

“If [Twitter] wanted to design this thing, they could have just assigned a group of guys to do it, but there’s only one thing that this little tiny group of people could do better than Twitter, and that’s not be Twitter,” said Golda Velez, another member of the group who works as a senior software engineer at Postmates and co-founded civ.works, a privacy-centric social network for civic engagement.

The group has had some back and forth with Twitter executives on the scope of the project, eventually forming a Twitter-approved list of goals for the initiative. They define the challenges that the bluesky protocol should seek to address while also laying out what responsibilities are best left to the application creators building on the standard.

Parrot.VC Twitter account

Image: TechCrunch

Who is involved

The pain points enumerated in the document, viewed by TechCrunch, encapsulate some of Twitter’s biggest shortcomings. They include “how to keep controversy and outrage from hijacking virality mechanisms,” as well as a desire to develop “customizable mechanisms” for moderation, though the document notes that the applications, not the overall protocol, are “ultimately liable for compliance, censorship, takedowns etc.”

“I think the solution to the problem of algorithms isn’t getting rid of algorithms — because sorting posts chronologically is an algorithm — the solution is to make it an open pluggable system by which you can go in and try different algorithms and see which one suits you or use the one that your friends like,” says Evan Henshaw-Plath, another member of the working group. He was one of Twitter’s earliest employees and has been building out his own decentralized social platform called Planetary.

His platform is based on the secure scuttlebutt protocol, which allows users to browse networks offline in an encrypted fashion. Early on, Planetary had been in talks with Twitter for a corporate investment as well as a personal investment from CEO Jack Dorsey, Henshaw-Plath says, but the competitive nature of the platform prompted some concern among Twitter’s lawyers and Planetary ended up receiving an investment from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s venture fund Future Positive. Stone did not respond to interview requests.

After agreeing on goals, Twitter had initially hoped for the broader team to arrive at some shared consensus, but starkly different viewpoints within the group prompted Twitter to accept individual proposals from members. Some pushed Twitter to outright adopt or evolve an existing standard while others pushed for bluesky to pursue interoperability of standards early on and see what users naturally flock to.

One of the developers in the group hoping to bring bluesky onto their standard was Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko, who tells TechCrunch he sees the need for a major shift in how social media platforms operate globally.

“Banning Trump was the right decision though it came a little bit too late. But at the same time, the nuance of the situation is that maybe it shouldn’t be a single American company that decides these things,” Rochko tells us.

Like several of the other members in the group, Rochko has been skeptical at times about Twitter’s motivation with the bluesky protocol. Shortly after Dorsey’s initial announcement in 2019, Mastodon’s official Twitter account tweeted out a biting critique, writing, “This is not an announcement of reinventing the wheel. This is announcing the building of a protocol that Twitter gets to control, like Google controls Android.”

Today, Mastodon is arguably one of the most mature decentralized social platforms. Rochko claims that the network of decentralized nodes has more than 2.3 million users spread across thousands of servers. In early 2017, the platform had its viral moment on Twitter, prompting an influx of “hundreds of thousands” of new users alongside some inquisitive potential investors whom Rochko has rebuffed in favor of a donation-based model.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Inherent risks

Not all of the attention Rochko has garnered has been welcome. In 2019, Gab, a social network favored by right-wing extremists, brought its entire platform onto the Mastodon network after integrating the platform’s open-source code, bringing Mastodon its single biggest web of users and its most undesirable liability all at once.

Rochko quickly disavowed the network and aimed to sever its ties to other nodes on the Mastodon platform and convince application creators to do the same. But a central fear of decentralization advocates was quickly realized, as the platform type’s first “success story” was a home for right-wing extremists.

This fear has been echoed in decentralized communities this week as app store owners and networks have taken another right-wing social network, Parler, off the web after violent content surfaced on the site in the lead-up to and aftermath of riots at the U.S. Capitol, leaving some developers fearful that the social network may set up home on their decentralized standard.

“Fascists are 100% going to use peer-to-peer technologies, they already are and they’re going to start using it more… If they get pushed off of mainstream infrastructure or people are surveilling them really closely, they’re going to have added motivation,” said Emmi Bevensee, a researcher studying extremist presences on decentralized networks. “Maybe the far-right gets stronger footholds on peer-to-peer before the people who think the far-right is bad do because they were effectively pushed off.”

A central concern is that commoditizing decentralized platforms through efforts like bluesky will provide a more accessible route for extremists kicked off current platforms to maintain an audience and provide casual internet users a less janky path towards radicalization.

“Peer-to-peer technology is generally not that seamless right now. Some of it is; you can buy Bitcoin in Cash App now, which, if anything, is proof that this technology is going to become much more mainstream and adoption is going to become much more seamless,” Bevensee told TechCrunch. “In the current era of this mass exodus from Parler, they’re obviously going to lose a huge amount of audience that isn’t dedicated enough to get on IPFS. Scuttlebutt is a really cool technology but it’s not as seamless as Twitter.”

Extremists adopting technologies that promote privacy and strong encryption is far from a new phenomenon, encrypted chat apps like Signal and Telegram have been at the center of such controversies in recent years. Bevensee notes the tendency of right-wing extremist networks to adopt decentralized network tech has been “extremely demoralizing” to those early developer communities — though she notes that the same technologies can and do benefit “marginalized people all around the world.”

Though people connected to bluesky’s early moves see a long road ahead for the protocol’s development and adoption, they also see an evolving landscape with Parler and President Trump’s recent deplatforming that they hope will drive other stakeholders to eventually commit to integrating with the standard.

“Right at this moment I think that there’s going to be a lot of incentive to adopt, and I don’t just mean by end users, I mean by platforms, because Twitter is not the only one having these really thorny moderation problems,” Velez says. “I think people understand that this is a critical moment.”

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Facebook blocks new events around DC and state capitols – TechCrunch

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As a precaution against coordinated violence as the US approaches President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Facebook announced a few new measures it’s putting in place.

In a blog post and tweets from Facebook Policy Communications Director Andy Stone, the company explained that it would block any events slated to happen near the White House, the U.S. Capitol or any state capitol building through Wednesday.

The company says it will also do “secondary” sweeps through any inauguration-related events to look for violations of its policies. At this point, that includes any content connected to the “Stop the Steal” movement perpetuating the rampant lie that Biden’s victory is illegitimate. Those groups continued to thrive on Facebook until measures the company took at the beginning of this week.

Facebook will apparently also be putting new restrictions in place for U.S. users who repeatedly break the company’s rules, including barring those accounts from livestreaming videos, events and group pages.

Those precautions fall short of what some of Facebook’s critics have called for, but they’re still notable measures for a company that only began taking dangerous conspiracies and armed groups seriously in the last year.

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WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash – TechCrunch

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WhatsApp delays enforcement of a controversial privacy change, Apple may get rid of the Touch Bar in future MacBooks and Bumble files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for January 15, 2021.

The big story: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash

Earlier this month, WhatsApp sent users a notification asking them to consent to sharing some of their personal data — such as phone number and location — with Facebook (which owns WhatsApp). The alert also said users would have to agree to the terms by February 8 if they wanted to continue using the app.

This change prompted legal threats and an investigation from the Turkish government. Now the company is pushing the enforcement date back three months.

“No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a post. “We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.”

The tech giants

Uber planning to spin out Postmates’ delivery robot arm — Postmates X is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company.

Apple said to be planning new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros with MagSafe and Apple processors — This could be the end for the Touch Bar.

Amazon’s newest product lets companies build their own Alexa assistant for cars, apps and video games — Yes, that means your next car could have two Alexas.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Bumble files to go public — The company plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange, using the ticker symbol “BMBL.”

Tracy Chou launches Block Party to combat online harassment and abuse — Currently available for Twitter, Block Party helps people filter out the content they don’t want to see.

Everlywell raises $75M from HealthQuest Capital following its recent $175M Series D round — Everlywell develops at-home testing kits for a range of health concerns, and it added a COVID-19 home collection test kit last year.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Fifteen steps to fundraising a new VC or private equity fund — Launching is easy; fundraising is harder.

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree — The acquisition of Fountainhead Press marks Top Hat’s third purchase of a publishing company in the past 12 months.

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says wisdom lies with your developers — Takeaways from Lawson’s new book “Ask Your Developer.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Video game spending increased 27% in 2020 — According to the latest figures from NPD, spending on gaming hardware, software and accessories was up 25% in December and 27% for the full year.

DOT evaluated 11 GPS replacements and found only one that worked across use cases —  The government wants to create additional redundancy and resiliency in the sector.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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