Z Grills vs. Traeger: Smoker Showdown

October 18, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

Z Grills and Traeger grills differ in terms of price, construction, temperature range, performance, additional features, and more. Generally, Traeger grills are more expensive and have more features than Z Grills. Traeger is well-known in the BBQ world, while Z Grills is a relative newcomer.

As a chef and pitmaster, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to test out a wide variety of Traeger and Z Grills models, allowing me to come to my own conclusions. I’ll share everything I learned, I promise!

In this post, I will discuss Z Grills vs. Traeger, talk about some of their similarities, and give you an idea of which one might be right for you!

Z Grills Vs Traeger

About Traeger

Not only are Traeger grills the industry standard, but they are also a household name - arguably one of the most famous in the country, perhaps the world. This isn't surprising, considering that Joe Traeger was the first person to invent the wood pellet grill.

The first pellet grill was created in 1985, and three years later, the company was born. Today, it is the world's largest wood pellet grill manufacturer.

Not only did Traeger pellet grills get a head start on the competition, but they have been consistently churning out high-quality products. This, combined with the fact that they also improve and modify features with every new model, ensures that Traeger continues to be a success.

About Z Grills

Z Grills is often seen as a new kid on the BBQ block. In reality, though, the brand has been producing barbecue products and pellet grills for various other brands for quite a while. Finally, the owner decided to produce their very own Z Grills pellet grill in 2007.

Since then, the company has built quite a reputation for itself. Its main selling point is that it produces good quality equipment at an affordable price.

Z Grills vs. Traeger Pellet Grills

Now, let's compare these pellet grill brands and determine what each of them has to offer:

Burgers and Sausages on a Grill

Construction Quality

Don't let the lower price of Z grills fool you - these pellet grills are built to last. Virtually all of the grill components are made from heavy gauge steel. And, when you dig a little deeper and check out the cooking grates as well, they hold up just fine. Most of the Z grills boast porcelain-coated cooking grates.

Now, some people hold it against the company that their wood pellet grills and their parts are manufactured in China. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that these grills are a lower-quality option.

Not many people realize that for the last few years, Traeger Grills has also outsourced manufacturing to China. The parts are merely assembled in the US.

You may have heard people wondering: are Z Grills made at the same factory as Traeger?

No, but for a time there, Z Grills was producing certain parts of the Traeger grill models!

It is a little trickier to narrow down the quality of Traeger products. This is because the materials used often depend on the model. The higher priced ones boast superior build quality, such as solid stainless steel material. 

Of course, this doesn't mean that cheaper ones are junk - they are also made from good quality materials, and the brand always makes sure to pay attention to details such as welding, heat retention, etc.

The problem with Traeger's pellet grills is that the materials for even the grates can vary with every line. For instance, the Pro and Ironwood series have porcelain-coated grates, while the Traeger Timberline has stainless steel cooking grates.

Stainless steel is incredibly lightweight and durable, while porcelain-coated grates have the benefit of being easy to clean. It’s up to you to determine which level of quality is right for you.

The TL;DR answer for you: Traeger is a solid pellet grill, but so is Z Grills.

Selection - Models and Choice

The level of selection offered with each grill brand is important. This ensures that each consumer can find precisely what they are looking for in features as well as what’s within their budget.

The Traeger line starts with Town and Travel. These entry-level pellet grills are the company’s portable options. The Tailgater has a hopper capacity of 8 lbs and 184 square inches of cooking surface area. The Ranger boasts a 300 square-inch cooking surface and an 8 lb hopper.

By comparison, the Z Grills range consists of just one portable model, the “Cruiser,”, which has 202 square inches of cooking surface and an 8 lb hopper. As far as portable grills go, the two companies are pretty evenly matched.

Traeger also offers the Traeger Pro series, consisting of the Traeger Ironwood and Traeger Timberline. Each series is more sophisticated and expensive than the others. The wood pellet grill technology improves with each line. There are also variations in the cooking surface area of the grill. Traeger Pro series has larger cooking areas than the portable grills.

By comparison, there are far more Z Grills models for you to choose from. There are the 450, 550, 600, 700, and 1000 series. There is a lot more variation between them as well.

As with Traeger, the Z Grills products become increasingly more sophisticated. Between each line, there are numerous variations. This is because the A, B, and C versions of the models reflect new changes made to the old designs.

Therefore, when it comes to the sheer amount of choice, I would say that the Z Grills wood pellet grill wins the category.

Two Women Chatting and Grilling Meat

Price Range

Traeger produces more expensive grills. Let’s take a closer look at the price variation between Z Grills and Traeger to determine just how much of a difference there is.

The cheapest option for Z Grills is the portable pellet grill at $329. On the Traeger side, the most affordable model is also the portable grill, which is priced at $450.

For the Traeger Pro series, the price range is $650 to $1000. For the Z Grills 450 and 550 series, it is $470 to $600.

For the Ironwood series, the cost is between $1400 and $1600. For Z Grills 600 and 700, it is $480 to $750.

Lastly, the Timberline series costs around $2000 to $3800. For the Z Grills 1000, it is $700 to $850.

It is clear that the Traeger prices are far, far higher than Z grills. The more sophisticated the lines get, the deeper the divide in the price department.

Aesthetic Appeal

For some people, it matters what their grill looks like. This is especially true if you are someone who likes to have a lot of cookouts. A wood pellet grill can be an extension of your home.

If this is something that you do find important, then in the argument of Z Grills vs. Traeger, Traeger would win. To me, this brand boasts a more streamlined design, and every inch of the grill looks quality.

Even the hopper, tables, and storage space have all been designed with the main cooking chamber in mind. As such, the whole silhouette comes together nicely.

This isn't to say that the Z Grills pellet grill is unattractive by any stretch of the imagination. However, the design isn't as sophisticated, and it can look slightly clunky in comparison.

Temperature Range

Temperature range is an important deciding factor when it comes to choosing between grills. The Z Grills have a range of 180°F to 450°F, while the Traeger pellet grills burn at a maximum temperature of 500 °F.

This is a difference of 50°F between Z Grills and Traeger - just how much of an impact can this have?

Well, this all depends on how you enjoy grilling your food. If you are someone who enjoys char marks and searing temperatures, ideally, you will choose the Traeger. 

With that said, you’re probably not buying a pellet grill for hot and fast grilling anyway. Get a kettle grill for that. These pellet grills are designed to smoke meat, baby.

Traeger Ironwood 885 Series

Temperature Control

I would argue that precise temperature control in a smoker is even more important than the temperature range. This is key for two main reasons - First, having a steady temperature means that you will not have to hover over your grill continuously. Instead, you can simply set it and forget it.

The other benefit is that you get to guarantee that your food is cooking at a steady rate. You can easily calculate when it is going to be done. This feature also makes it easier to know when to check the internal temperature of your food.

As far as the controls go, I would say that both Z Grills and Traeger offer excellent options. Both command panels aren't just easy to use; they are also highly responsive. The one on Traeger is a bit more sophisticated, but I can't say that I have found any serious faults with the Z Grills options either.

I have to say in favor of Traeger, though, that the D2 Direct Drivetrain feature is nifty. This feature ensures that not only does the grill fire up more quickly, it can reach higher temperatures faster and maintain them easily, too.

To add to this, the cooking chamber of the Traeger grills has been reinforced to improve heat retention. This helps maintain heat.

This feature comes in handy, particularly when barbecuing in cold weather. It ensures that the grill doesn't struggle to start up or reach target temps.

Z Grills do not have this feature, and I have to admit that this is a slight mark against them. If you wish, you can purchase an additional blanket that you can wrap around the cooking area but this isn't nearly as elegant and is a bit of a hassle.

Cooking Space

I know that one of the main features that people look at when comparing pellet grills is the cooking space. After all, this is key if have a large family, have frequent cookouts, or simply want to be able to cook a lot of food at once.

When it comes to Z Grills vs. Traeger, both make big cookers. The largest grill that Traeger offers is the Timberline XL, coming in at a whopping 880 square inches of cooking surface area. The Z Grills 1000 series has a cooking space of over 1,000 square inches. 

So, if you need to cook a ton of food, the Z Grills 1000 or the Timberline XL will get the job done.

Some of the cooking area in these smokers includes a warming rack as well. Due to this, you need to make direct comparisons from one model to another.

Hopper Capacity

When considering hopper capacity, you shouldn't just focus on the number alone. You need to think about it in comparison to the cooking space of the grill. The bigger the cooking space, the bigger the hopper you’ll need.

When it comes to hopper capacity, both grill brands are fairly comparable. Most Z Grills have a pellet hopper size of 16 or 20 lbs. With the Traeger grills, the sizes are 18, 20, or 24lbs. In general, though, Traeger models tend to be larger.

These big hoppers ensure both brands can continue burning wood pellets for many hours before running out.

Smoking Meat and Veggies on a Traeger Ironwood

General Performance

I have been testing out Z Grills for a while now, ever since they started gaining momentum in the industry. I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised every time I get an opportunity to use any of the grills in the collection.

As someone who has exclusively used high-end grills for many years, I found the performance of the Z Grills to be more than adequate. With a little bit of finetuning and some additional attention to the grilling process, you can produce something truly spectacular.

The Traeger grills have been designed for finesse and a different class of pitmaster. As a result, when setting up and using the grill, you are able to appreciate the features that result in a smoother grilling experience.

If you are someone who is all about getting perfect results each and every time, then I would suggest Traeger. However, if you are willing to settle for pretty impressive, then the Z Grills will serve you just as well.

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Ease of Use

Particularly if you are new to pellet grills, the last thing that you want is to mess around with anything too complicated. Even if you are a pro, you still want a grill that is easy to use.

I have to say that both Z Grills and Traeger are fairly simple to use. This is especially true for the newer models that have digital controls and a display that is easy to read and understand.

Wi-Fi Features

Up until very recently, Z grills didn't have Wi-Fi features. As of this writing, there is just one grill equipped with this function - other Z grill models don't have Wi-Fi connectivity. The app works fairly well. 

With the Z Grills app, you can change and monitor the temperature, set a timer, and even check the levels for the meat probes. As mentioned, this isn't bad.

Most Traeger grills have Wi-Fi connectivity. The grills sync up to an app. The Traeger Wi-Fi app takes things one step further. You can also check the capacity of your pellet hopper, ensuring that you don't run out of wood pellets during your cookout. I have to say that this is a pretty cool feature.

Maintenance and Cleaning

Cleaning is one of the worst parts of owning a pellet grill. This is why people are always looking for makes and models that can be cleaned quickly and easily. So, in this battle of Z Grills vs Traeger, who wins?

In this category, both brands appear to be evenly matched. This is because there isn't any special rig or system in place to clean the grills. Instead, it is a matter of removing individual parts and then vacuuming up the ash from the firebox.

The grease management system on both Z Grills and Traeger follows the same design. To make drippings easier to clean up, you can simply wrap the grease trap in foil.

There is one area where Z Grills scores extra points. All these grills have porcelain-coated grates, while only some of the Traeger grill models have this feature. It is slightly easier to scrub off dried food and grease from these kinds of grates than grates made from other materials. So at least one part of the cleaning process will be easier for you.

ZGrills FLAGSHIP 700D3 Pellet Grill


Traeger and Z Grills each offer a three-year warranty, which is pretty standard. I do like that Z Grills offers a bit more in terms of customer service and has a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The reason that this makes Z Grills stand out is because it shows that they believe in their product and are willing to fix any flaws or issues promptly. This is certainly important when you are a consumer.

I have to say that both of these grills are built extremely well, and unless there is some unfortunate issue, you are likely to bypass the warranty period without issue. These smokers should last decades.

This warranty doesn't cover flaking or cracking paint.

Additional Features

Z Grills is all about minimalism. This helps them hit their price point as a middle-of-the-road grill. It’s how they are able to keep their total costs low. So, if extra features are something that you don't mind giving up, then Z Grills could be perfect for you.

On the other hand, if you like bells and whistles and gadgets and gizmos, then Traeger might be your smoker of choice. Most models even include a meat probe that you can digitally monitor on the display.

The Flavor

I’ve had great results with both Traeger and Z Grills. The smoke from the pellets makes finger-licking food.

Is Traeger Worth the Cost?

It depends on your budget and how much you plan on using your smoker!

This is a question that I get all the time from people who are thinking of buying a good grill for the first time. They have all heard of Traeger but aren't sure that they want to believe the hype. After all, is it worth it to spend a thousand dollars or even more on a grill?

Personally, I do find that Traeger is worth its price tag. I love how I am able to manipulate various elements of the grill to get the perfect results. And, I enjoy the fact that the machine is so responsive.

However, does this mean that I don't believe a budget-friendly grill brand like Z Grills doesn't have any place on the circuit? Not at all! As I mentioned, I love what this grill can do. And I also think that these grills are a great entry point for people venturing into the world of barbecue.

The price is non-threatening enough to want most people to give it a try. To add to this, the performance is great enough to guarantee that you don't regret your decision.

Couple Grilling Food Using Trager Ironwood Grill

The Final Verdict - What is Better Z Grills or Traeger?

I can't give you a definite answer, and there is one major reason for this. The Z Grills and Traeger pellet grill line was not created for the same audience.

Z Grills was created for individuals who are budget-conscious and only grill occasionally but are still looking for a satisfactory grilling experience.

Traeger, on the other hand, is built for people who are truly serious about their grilling. If you are someone who smokes meat often and is meticulous about the kind of barbecue that you produce, then you are going to love the precision of the grills as well as all the features that they have to offer.

Before you decide whether one of these grills is better than the other, you first need to think about what you require as the cook. Once you have your list of requirements, you will be able to identify the best option for you pretty quickly.

As you can see, there is a lot to get into regarding these two brands, but now you have a clearer idea of what each one of them offers you. Grab the grill that fits your needs the best and get to cooking!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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