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Despite their compact size, the Traeger Ranger and Tailgater are great options for on-the-go barbecuing and offer impressive performance.
Yet, they each have their benefits and drawbacks. So, which one is best? I’ve tested both models to provide an objective comparison so you can choose the best one for your needs.
In-Depth Comparison of the Traeger Ranger vs Tailgater
Let’s dive in and see how these models stack up against each other based on key comparators.
When it comes to cooking performance, both the Tailgater and the Ranger are top-notch options. While they may be smaller units, they still deliver consistent results.
Although you can expect minor temperature swings with these compact models, they’re not significant enough to impact performance.
Additionally, during testing, I didn’t experience any issues with jamming in the auger, which can sometimes be a problem with pellet grills.
One issue with the Tailgater is that a small amount of smoke can escape from under the lid because the seal isn’t as tight as the Ranger.
The cooking area is the main difference between the Traeger Ranger and the Tailgater. The Ranger has a total cooking area of 176 square inches (fits 3-5 steaks), while the Tailgater has 300 square inches.
In addition to the length of the grates, there’s also the height of the lid. In that regard, the Tailgater has more vertical room, making it easier to smoke taller meat like a turkey.
In short, if you plan to cook larger cuts of meat, go with the Tailgater.
Temperature Control and Range
Both models include a digital controller so you can easily adjust the temperature. The controller has multiple operating modes, including a keep warm and a hold function.
Since the Ranger is smaller, it can heat up faster. Still, both models have the same maximum temperature of 450°F.
The Ranger has 16,000 BTUs of power, while the Tailgater has 19,500. Yet, the Ranger has a smaller cooking area, which gives it more power per square inch.
Lastly, the Traeger Ranger can reach the maximum temperature in 10 minutes. The Tailgater takes a few extra minutes to get to that point.
Pellet Hopper Capacity
Both models hold up to 8 pounds of wood pellets in the hopper.
However, the design of the Traeger Tailgater makes it a little easier to remove old pellets and add new ones. It has a pellet door for easily disposing of the pellets into a bucket.
The compact design of the Ranger makes the hopper less accessible, especially when cooking.
8 pounds is a relatively small capacity, meaning neither grill is designed to cook for lengthy periods. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them for long cookouts. You’ll just need to refill the hopper.
When grilling at high temperatures, you may burn through 8 pounds of pellets in under 3 hours. When smoking, the pellets last 4-6 hours.
The Traeger Tailgater is the larger of the two pellet grills, measuring 37 inches wide and 18 inches deep. It’s 20 inches tall with the legs folded and 36 inches tall with the legs extended.
It sits a bit short, even with the legs extended, making it awkward to use. Plus, the legs are a hassle to deploy.
On the other hand, the Ranger measures 21 inches wide, 20 inches deep, and 13 inches tall, giving it more of a square shape. It’s typically placed on a picnic table, truck bed, or cart.
The compact design of the Ranger makes it more portable. You can easily find space to transport the unit in a vehicle packed with other gear.
In fact, both models made it to our list of the best portable smokers.
With the Ranger, everything is contained inside the main housing. The hopper assembly and the grill grates sit inside the same case. The lid also has latches to keep it shut.
The Tailgater takes up a bit more room. Still, at 37 inches wide, it’s considered portable as far as smokers are concerned. Plus, the handles on the side make it ergonomic to carry.
The Traeger Ranger weighs 54 pounds, which is 8 pounds lighter than the Tailgater.
Although that’s not a huge difference, it’s something to consider, especially if you need to carry it a long distance from your vehicle to a spot at a park.
At the time of writing, the Ranger costs $80 less than the Tailgater. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $449.99 for the Ranger and $529.99 for the Tailgater.
Traeger sells a grill cover for both the Ranger and Tailgater. The cover for the Ranger costs a little less due to its smaller size.
Traeger also sells a cast iron griddle designed to fit the grill grates on the Ranger. However, this add-on isn’t available for the Tailgater.
However, you can buy a folding front shelf for the Tailgater. This shelf adds more space for food prep or placing your utensils down when cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions
At this point, you may already have an idea of which Traeger model is better suited for your needs. If not, the FAQs below should help you make an informed decision.
Is Traeger a Good Brand for Portable Pellet Grills?
Traeger is a reliable brand with a reputation for manufacturing quality grills and accessories trusted by professional chefs and backyard enthusiasts.
What Type of Pellets Should I Use With the Traeger Ranger or Tailgater?
Always use food-quality wood pellets. Using home heating pellets can void the warranty, as the pellets contain binders and chemicals that may impact the performance of the grill.
Is the Traeger Ranger Easier to Clean Compared to the Tailgater?
The smaller size of the Traeger Ranger makes it a little easier to clean compared to the Tailgater. However, both options are relatively easy to clean and maintain thanks to the removable grill grates.
Does the Traeger Ranger or Tailgater Come With Wifi Connectivity?
The Ranger and Tailgater models don’t support wireless features. However, several of Traeger’s high-end grills, including the Ironwood 650, come with a mobile app that provides wireless control from a compatible phone or tablet.
How Do You Add and Remove Pellets from the Traeger Ranger and Tailgater?
Don’t empty the pellets while the grill is on. Wait for it to cool down. The Tailgater has a pellet door on the side for easy disposal. For the Traeger Ranger, use a vacuum to remove pellets and ashes from the firepot.
Can You Cook a Brisket on the Traeger Ranger?
The cooking grill grate measures about 15 x 12 inches, large enough to hold a small to medium-sized brisket. However, the Ranger won’t fit a large brisket.
Do You Need Electricity to Use the Traeger Ranger or Tailgater?
An electrical outlet is needed to operate the Traeger Ranger and Tailgater. These pellet grills use a digital arc controller that requires access to a standard 110-volt electrical outlet.
Can You Use a Traeger Ranger or Tailgater Grill in the Rain?
It’s not safe to use any pellet grill in the rain because they have electrical components that shouldn’t get wet. Additionally, since pellet grills are powered by electricity, contact with water can be dangerous.
Traeger Ranger vs. Tailgater – Which Should You Buy?
Both models stack up similarly in cooking performance. However, if you prioritize portability, go with the Traeger Ranger because it’s more compact and smaller.
On the other hand, if cooking space is more important, the Traeger Tailgater is a better option.