Traeger Tailgater vs Junior Elite: Which Should You Buy?

If you are in a hurry and just want to find out what the winner is, then we recommend the Traeger Tailgater.

Though pellet grills have been around since the 1980s, they’ve gained popularity in the last decade. They’re especially attractive to grillers who prefer the smoky flavor of charcoal, but enjoy the instant gratification that propane-fueled units provide.

Joe Traeger was a trailblazer in the industry, obtaining the first patent in 1986. Today, the company manufactures a broad range of products, including units that are suitable for tailgating. So how do two of Traeger’s current travel-sized models stack up against one another? To unearth the answer, I decided to pit the Traeger Tailgater vs Junior Elite.

In this article, we’re going to compare the following two pellet grills:

Things To Consider When Shopping for a Travel-Sized Pellet Grill

Pellet grills are charged through electricity, but they use compressed hardwood sawdust as fuel. These pellets are stored in a hopper, which is usually mounted on the side of the main barrel-shaped chamber. When the grill is turned on, an auger component feeds the pellets into the cooking chamber. The digital control board allows grillers to set the unit to their desired temperature beforehand.

When you’re tailgating, you want the grilling process to be as safe and hands-free as possible. That’s where pellet-fueled units can come in handy. A properly functioning pellet grill should heat to the pre-set temperature within 15 minutes. Once it reaches this temperature, it utilizes remarkably little energy, even when used for long cooking applications like southern barbecue. Another benefit of pellet grills? They’re designed to keep flare-ups to a minimum, enough so that you can lay strips of bacon directly on the grilling grates and not worry about causing a fire.

As with any new appliance, it helps if you know what you’re looking for in advance. Here are a few of the features to be aware of as you narrow down your search.

Value

Pellet grills vary widely in cost. They can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, but others climb into the four-figure range. Determine in advance what your budget will be, and try to stay within that range.

If you are on a budget, you might want to read this review first.

Grill Size

This category is subjective, depending on the size of your group and the kinds of foods you like to grill. For tailgating purposes, however, you’ll probably want to look for a smaller size. 275 to 400 square inches of grilling space should be sufficient. On a related not, grills designed for travel should weigh under 80 pounds for maximum portability.

Hopper Capacity

Most full-size pellet grills will have a hopper capacity of at least 18 pounds. Travel-sized units can carry as little as five pounds, but in these cases, the limitation can be viewed as a benefit rather than a liability, since they make the unit easier to carry.

Temperature Range

Look for a unit that can cook at temperatures low as 180 and as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit, especially if you’re planning on using the grill for a wide variety of dishes. The lower temperatures are perfect for smoking and barbecuing, while 500 degrees is hot enough to bake pizza and flatbreads. Also, keep an eye on how well it maintains its set temperature throughout the cooking process.

Efficiency

The grill should heat quickly, consuming roughly one pound of pellets per hour once it achieves the desired temperature.

Durability

Heavy-gauge stainless steel is the preferred material for pellet stoves, as it allows the unit to withstand punishment from the elements, as well as from the fire itself. Cooking grates are typically made of steel as well, sometimes with a porcelain coating.

Warranty

Reputable and trustworthy pellet grill manufacturers will back up their products with a customer satisfaction guarantee. Look for a warranty of three years or more, and be sure to understand what is and isn’t covered before making a purchase.

Traeger Tailgater vs Junior Elite: What’s In The Boxes?

#1 Traeger Tailgater

Here’s what you’ll find in the box when you unpack the Traeger Tailgater:

  • Main cooking chamber constructed of high-quality stainless steel
  • Porcelain-coated stainless steel grilling grates
  • Hopper with 8-pound capacity
  • Digital Elite temperature control system
  • Foldable legs for portability

Pros:

  • Easy to assemble
  • Easy to use
  • Weighs in at just 62 pounds
  • Works great for beef jerky and other smoked meats

Cons:

  • Finicky auger and temperature control
  • Relatively high price point for a tailgating unit
  • Lack of special features

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

#2 Traeger Junior Elite

Savvy consumers will note that similar components are included in the Junior Elite package:

  • Main cooking chamber constructed of high-quality stainless steel
  • Porcelain-coated stainless steel grilling grates
  • Hopper with 8-pound capacity
  • Digital Elite temperature control system

Pros:

  • Very lightweight at just 60 pounds
  • Low price point
  • Efficient pellet consumption

Cons:

  • Legs don’t fold like the Tailgater’s
  • Temperature control can be inaccurate
  • Overall construction quality not as high as the Tailgater

Read our full review of the best Traeger pellet grills here.

Features & Benefits

Now that we’ve gone over the criteria and specifications, it’s time to see how well these two Traeger models stack up against one another.

#1 Traeger Tailgater

Value

The Tailgater is priced at the higher end of the spectrum, especially when you take its smaller size into account (see below for more details). However, considering its durable construction, the unit could end up paying for itself over just a few seasons.

Grill Size

With a grand total of 300 square inches of available cooking space, the Tailgater is the perfect size for camping and RVing—and, of course, tailgating. Die-hard grilling enthusiasts should consider investing in a unit that offers a bit more room, especially if they routinely entertain a large group of friends.

Hopper Capacity

The Tailgater boasts a hopper capacity of 8 pounds—fairly typical for a model of this size, although larger ones are also available. In this case, however, I appreciate the smaller hopper size, because it keeps the unit from being too bulky.

Temperature Range

Though the built-in dial on the Tailgater displays a potential temperature range of 180 to 375, I’ve found that the controls are not entirely accurate. The temperature seems to fluctuate beyond 25 degrees Fahrenheit in either direction, which isn’t exactly ideal for grilling burgers. For low-heat cooking applications such as smoking, however, the Tailgater tends to settle into its groove.

Efficiency

When it comes to overall efficiency, the Tailgater earns high marks. The auger function is top-notch, feeding only the requisite amount of pellets into the cooking chamber. I’ve found that it burns through roughly one pound of pellets per hour during low-heat cooking applications, and roughly one-and-a-half that many when it’s cranked to its maximum temperature.

Durability

As mentioned above, the Tailgater is constructed of durable steel, with porcelain-coated grilling grates. I haven’t had any problems with the setup or the stability of the unit so far, but bear in mind that the joints of the folding legs have the potential to become weaker over time.

Warranty

Traeger offers a three-year warranty on parts, but labor is not included. Note that the parts must have been defective upon arrival in order to be covered by the warranty.

>> Check Price on Amazon <<

#2 Traeger Junior Elite

Value

The Junior Elite usually carries a lower price tag than the Tailgater, but it’s still far from a bargain, especially for a travel-sized unit. If you’re looking specifically for a Traeger, but want to save a little bit of money, then the Junior Elite could be a good bet.

Grill Size

The 300-square inch capacity of the Junior Elite should be sufficient for most tailgaters. In this regard, it isn’t significantly different from the Tailgater, but it is two pounds lighter. You’re not likely to notice this change unless you plan on hauling the grill across many miles. Still, it’s enough to tilt the balance toward the Junior Elite in this category.

Hopper Capacity

With a hopper capacity of eight pounds, the Junior Elite matches up with the competition once again. As mentioned above, this is a sufficient hopper size for a travel-sized pellet grill. Remember not to fill the hopper until you arrive at your destination, to avoid making the grill any heavier than it needs to be.

Temperature Range

The Junior Elite features a maximum temperature setting of about 400 degrees, and Traeger claims that it’s accurate to within 20 degrees Fahrenheit in either direction. In my experience, however, the Digital Elite control system is a bit temperamental, meaning the readout can’t always be trusted. Since I’ve had similar issues with the Tailgater, however, this category is something of a toss-up.

Efficiency

When the hopper is filled to capacity, the Junior Elite offers about 16 total hours of cooking time. That means it burns through roughly a half-pound of pellets per hour. Though it’s difficult to tell whether this tendency would continue if the unit were capable of heating to higher temperatures, this grill wins the round when it comes to efficiency.

Durability

When it comes to longevity, I haven’t had the best luck with the Junior Elite. Though it’s constructed of heavy steel with porcelain-coated cooking grates, there’s an interior finish that began to peel off after just a year or so of use. For this reason, the Tailgater could be considered a better value, despite the slight increase in cost.

Warranty

Traeger’s three-year warranty is also in place for the Junior Elite. Though the company has a good reputation for turning out long-lasting equipment, it’s probably a good idea to keep your documentation handy for three years after purchase, just in case.

Firing Up the Traeger Tailgater and Junior Elite

I’ve enjoyed cooking with both the Traeger Tailgater and the Junior Elite models. The question is, do others feel the same? And which one would be likelier to win in a head-to-head matchup?

A brief internet search brought me the information I was looking for. On the whole, the reviews for the Traeger Tailgater were positive, with the majority of users claiming that the grill was portable, efficient, and exceptionally easy to use. The foldable legs were also a talking point, since they make the unit that much easier to load into the trunk of a car, or the back of a truck.

My quest to uncover the customer response to the Junior Elite yielded similar results. One satisfied griller was particularly impressed with the price point, which is noticeably low for a Traeger model, even a travel-sized unit. There were some issues reported with the temperature control, something else that aligned with my own findings. A few others cited problems with missing or damaged parts, but these complaints were easily rectified by a call to Traeger’s customer service department.

In Conclusion

When it comes to traveling grills, the Tailgater ranks highly. This makes it easy to recommend, especially if you plan on making smoked meats a regular staple of your tailgating or camping experience. While it shares many features with the Junior Elite, it earns higher marks in the value category. It’s also easier to transport on account of the foldable legs, a feature that also frees up more space in the vehicle for the rest of your ingredients and supplies.

This grill should hold you in good stead through many years of use, even when used on a regular basis. Should you decide to invest in the Traeger Tailgater, I hope you’ve found this roundup to be both useful and instructive. Click here to check the price of the Traeger Tailgater.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

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