Pros: Inexpensive, standard features
Cons: Thin wall steel, small firebox door, made in China
First and foremost, this is a great entry level smoker for the price. For $300 you can start your own adventure with this stick burner and if you hate it or have to sell it you're not in too deep. That being said, if you are a seasoned pit master this unit may not be up to snuff. The reason I gave it three and a half stars is purely based on the material it's made from.
There was no floor demo available at Lowe's when I bought it so I couldn't get a good look at it beforehand. Checking out the Oklahoma Joe's website it looked like a really solid unit and I've owned an Oklahoma Joe's smoker in the past. This current (Char-Broil) model pictured here is not the Oklahoma Joe's I used to know. More on that at the bottom of this page.
I'll have to get out my dial caliper to check and update this review, but I would estimate this to be 15 or 16 gauge steel?
When I opened the box, I my heart sank a bit. There was the obligatory Chinese blister pack with the fasteners in it. Then I pulled out the front rack and there is was:
I was on the fence about boxing it up and trying to find a better unit around town on Craigslist or saving to buy a custom made unit. I decided to keep it, even if it becomes a backup / overflow unit down the road.
Here are some photos of it during and after assembly showing additional details:
Those are some "tacky" welds. Quick a dirty as would be expected in a mass production model from overseas. If I owned a welder I would have reinforced those a bit:
Yes, that is a Longhorn cover in sitting in there. That's all they had at Lowe's and they said it would fit this Highland model. While it almost fits just right, it's a bit loose and blows in the wind. It will need a couple of grommets and bungee cord to keep it on there through a storm. You can find the actual Highland covers on Ebay if you want an exact fit:
The firebox door is a bit small and damper is really too small to allow enough oxygen in for a clean burn. I'm sure to be running it with the door wide open, wind gusts permitting.
Standard issue, generic temp gauge. I do like the fact they included an additional threaded bung to move the gauge down if you want or add a second one. Ultimately, I'll be adding a second Tru-Tel down low on the other end where it counts:
Firing it up the first time to start the seasoning process I notice the misalignment of the firebox door. The unit is only at 150º F or so degrees in this pic so it's really not a thermal expansion issue.
Main door is similar in nature:
Full on fire; burning off the factory oils and junk inside. It's not a well sealed unit but I'm not too concerned about that. When the fire dies down and it's producing clean smoke it's certainly not billowing out like this:
Overall, I would say if you're new to wood fired smoking and you want to give it a shot, this unit will get the job done. I would say it's probably comparable to a New Braunfels Hondo or the like you'd find at Academy. If you have a larger budget and want to go with something heavier, maybe one of the Old Country units for $400 to $500 would be better.
If you want to hear a little story please read on...
I have to say I really miss my old Oklahoma Joe Smoker that I was forced to sell several years ago. I believe it was an original version of the current Longhorn model. Back then I didn't know much about smokers or equipment or else I would have kept it. Just to give some background on Oklahoma Joe's from information on their website:
Oklahoma Joe's started in 1987 when Joe Davidson designed and manufactured 12 meat smokers to sell at the Oklahoma State Fair. Not only did he sell all 12 of those, but he also managed to get orders for over a hundred more. He used this money to build his business and become the legend he is today.
Made from 12-gauge black oil pipe, Oklahoma Joe's smokers are all about Texas-style barbecue. In fact, they're modeled after the ones used by roughnecks in Southern oil fields. Durable and heavy-duty, these smokers are built tough — and built to last.
In 1994, Joe and his team outgrew their original factory and built a brand new facility in Stillwater, Oklahoma. With this new plant, they were able to expand to over 150 employees and produce 100,000 units a year. Meanwhile, Joe was winning barbecue competitions all around the U.S. He's won over 300 competitions including Jack Daniel's World Championship, the American Royal World Championship and the Memphis in May World BBQ Championship just to name a few.
Char-Broil bought Oklahoma Joe's from Joe Davidson in 1998. Together, they've since helped pitmasters everywhere hone their craft and develop their own special barbecue flavors.
Now, I'm certain that Mr. Davidson took pride in his original smokers. 12-gauge oil pipe is going to hold in some heat and offer some good corrosion allowance. The very first grill I ever owned was given to me by my grandfather. It was made from oil field pipe and it was heavy. Just like the original ones from Texas it was made by oil field workers.
If I'm correct the Oklahoma Joe's model I used to have was a 12 gauge unit built in Stillwater. It had heft to it; when you raised the main door or firebox door you could feel that weight. When you knocked on it, it didn't ring or have that 'tinny' sound to it.
This is what it looked like, wooden handles and all:
I'm sure Joe has his reasons, but It's really sad to see such a great, formerly made in the USA product outsourced to China. However, it's great to see so many independent folks out there designing, manufacturing, and selling custom smokers, right here in the United States. When it's time to upgrade my next smoker will either be custom made by myself or custom made from a local vendor.