Ditching the pellet smoker for a stick burner

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Smoke Blower
Original poster
Jun 21, 2010
Piedmont Triad of NC
Yesterday my wife and I were at Lowe's home improvement to get her some paint for a craft project she has going on and I swung by the grills and was looking at an OK JOE Highland when she said to me, "you have been wanting a new grill, do you want to get that one?" I was almost too stunned to reply but I did mange to squeak out YES. so I have a new OK JOE highland on its way soon. I can hardly wait to try it out.
I love that woman
That being said, can you guys recommend some must have accesories that I will need for my new smoker. I already have a charcoal chimney that I bought at the same time I bought the OK Joe and I have a remote thermometer from my previous smoker.
I agree with Doug don't flush the pooper. A time may come where you don't want or need to fire up the stick burner.

Congratulations on the new Toy. Post up some pics when you get it fired up.

Sounds like she's a keeper🤣

You have mostly everything you need.. smoker, charcoal, chimney starter, thermometer.

I would have some spray oil available when it arrives so you can season the smoker, I usually do the inside and the outside but inside is the most important part. Just spray it on lightly, wipe it with a paper towel to remove the excess then light 'er up and run it at around 250 - 275°F (135°C) or so for a couple of hours.

This bakes the oil into the metal making it more rust proof and burns off any manufacturing oil that wouldn't' be good for cooking.

Over time you can expect some paint to flake off especially around the firebox and it's good to have some high temp paint on the ready for touching up here and there.

It's also nice to have a metal bucket with a lid and a metal ash shovel for pulling out the ashes.

A lot of people wait until the ashes cool down and I often do that as well but if you ever want to just give it a clean and the ashes are still a little hot, the metal bucket with a lid ensures nothing melts and you won't have any air getting to it and starting surprise fires.

Word to the wise, don't leave ashes in there if it can get wet. That creates a very caustic mixture that will rust out the bottom of your firebox quick. Hopefully you can keep it in the dry but definitely without ashes in it if it may get wet.

That smoker has an extra thermometer plug in the lid (I think) so it doesn't hurt to grab an extra smoker thermometer so you can get a better reading from left to right. The temp will vary most likely on the side that's closest to the firebox from the side that's away from the firebox and knowing that range will help you in determining where you place things.

That's all I have for now.. you're in for some fun cooking and we fully expect to see some pictures soon😀

By the way.. I agree with others. Don't ditch the pellet smoker as you will have times when you just wanna cook something without having to babysit it and during those times, it'll be nice to have.
Don’t ditch the pellet machine, but do buy a kettle. Then you will be set with the trio of outdoor cooking pits for most everything. Don’t go backwards but always forward. That’s my advice.
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I have to get rid of the pellet. I do not have enough room on my deck for two pits
Shed? garage? Out in the yard somewhere? What I'm getting at is that while tending a fire on a stick burner is enjoyable when time allows, I would more than likely get rid of my Highland before my Camp Chef, but I'm not faced with such a choice since I still have room to add.
I have the Ok Joe and have enjoyed it. If it's going to be outside, get this cover for it. I had a factory cover and it didn't last very long. Depending on how much more money you're willing to spend, there are a lot of mods available here. I bought them all and the only one that I'd recommend is the baffle plates. The firebox basket is a waste and mine burned out in less than a year, but I was using my smoker A LOT. Here's a pretty good video on fire management for the Joe and this is what I do.

For maintenance, at a minimum keep the ash cleaned out after each use.

For fuel just remember that if you use wood, it has to be seasoned and dry, not fresh cut and still green.

Just so you'll know, smoking on my Joe led me down the path to buying a large custom offset, so buyer beware...:emoji_wink::emoji_laughing:
Welcome to the dark side. I have an offset and love it.
They are a world apart from a pellet, you will need to think about getting some wood now and where to put that if space is limited. I would find a place to stash the pellet for awhile to make sure this the route you really want to take. Maybe a neighbor or family member. Like others said you will need to tend a fire and work with the fire and wood to get around the desired temp.
Not trying to talk you out of it but it's much different than a pellet.
I keep a cheap 4" nylon bristle paint brush to sweep out the ashes from the firebox. That's after I scoop out the big stuff into a covered steel trash can.
You'll want some sort of gasketing for between the 2 firebox halves and where the firebox attaches to the chamber. I found some at a fireplace shop but you can probably find something on-line. I just use a steel plate and foil for a baffle. Those are the only"mods" I have.
I'm in the same boat as you as far as space, but like others have said, you might want to hang on to the pellet machine somehow, at least for a while.
Oh, in addition, some type of container to hang under the drip hole at the left end!

You might check out this guy's youtube site which has a lot of good in-depth advice on mods for an OKJ Highland.

Here's another one:

Be sure to season the inside or your new Highland before your first cook.

There have been lots of complaints from folks who say the paint peeled off their firebox after the first or second use which looks horrible and promotes rust. So I also seasoned the outside of my firebox with bacon grease before my first cook as recommended by somebody somewhere and the firebox seems to be holding up very well. I spray it with veg oil every cook or two. It still looks amazingly good after almost two years. There is a little rust on the bottom. Bonus - it gives you a great excuse to cook some bacon!

FYI: The steel thickness is 2.2 mm on the cook chamber and stack and 2.5 mm on the firebox, according to my caliper. By comparison, the steel on a Weber kettle and SnS kettle is 1.2 mm thickness. The steel on a OKJ Bronco is 2.5 mm. The steel on a Mill Scale 94 is 6.35 mm (quarter inch). And the steel on a Chud's custom offset is 9.5 mm (three-eighths inch).


My mods over the past 21 months:
  • gasket tape around cook door - seals door and protects door-mounted gauge calibrations
  • ash bucket for under firebox door
  • charcoal basket - mine is stainless steel with no rust
  • fire bricks - 3 in firebox, 3 in cook chamber - protects bottom and improves thermal density
  • baffle plates custom fit for Highland - but not bolted together - for temp tuning
  • water pan custom fit for Highland baffle
  • welders blanket over top half of cook chamber for heat retention
  • probe port rubber grommet on left side drilled with step bit
  • grease bucket with liner
  • four 18" stack extensions to improve draft - I got mine at advanced auto for $8 each on sale
  • stack extension 18" with damper from bbqsmokermods - I wanted a damper up there
  • 2nd thermometer to check right-to-left temp equilibrium at a glance
  • shelf grate behind firebox to put splits when opening firebox door (see smoketrailsbbq)
  • little wire basket which fits inside the handle on the left to hold SmokeX, spray bottle, etc
  • little mirror to peer up through door vent opening into firebox to check flame
  • ash scraper tool for firebox with exact correct geometric curve
  • added half-height cinderblocks for the smoker to rest on lifts the cook chamber to hip level
  • cover - same one GonnaSmoke recommends above

My mods total around $350 so far, I think. I have no leaks in the cook chamber and I have even temps right to left on the grate and on the top with no temperature spike problems.


Be advised: The stack extension pipe from bbqsmokermods is not "super heavy pipe" or "extra thick pipe" as they claim in their listing. It's actually "extra thin." That is, it is significantly less thick than your stock stack. The pipe of their stack extension measures 1.4 mm thick compared to your stock stack which is 2.2 mm thick. Interestingly, the thickness of the other extensions which I purchased from Advanced Auto which are actually tailpipe exhaust extensions are also 1.4 mm thick. Nonetheless, their listing states: The extra thick pipe improves draft over the common exhaust pipe mod. This is because the thicker pipe retains heat better than thin wall exhuast [sic] pipe. So the quality of this product improves its function over normal pipe. But the fact is, their pipe is not any thicker than an exhaust pipe and is actually thinner than the stock stack which makes their conclusion suspect. Nonetheless the collar of the bbq extension is very thick, almost a quarter inch, and the damper plates are about half as thick. This gives it a lot of weight and makes the extension look and "feel" industrial and very thick. It is not. Also, it does not weigh "almost 9 lbs!" as they claim, it actually weighs 6 lbs 2 oz. according to my postal scale. I mentioned these things in the 4-star review I wrote for them and they thanked me by not posting my review.

One other point about the baffle plates from bbqsmokermods - as far as its size, it is customized to fit the Highland, but you'll find that the firebox bolts get in the way and unfortunately there are no pre-drilled holes to match the placement of the baffle against the firebox bolts on the right-side bulkhead. This means the plate's right side will hit those bolts and not snug up against the bulkhead as it is designed. This means convective air and smoke will escape over that gap along the top and sail right over whatever it is you're cooking and out the stack. You could just leave it like that if you wanted, but that's not best. You could also drill oversized holes - larger than the bolt heads - which would allow the baffle to snug up loosely, but that's not best either. The baffle plates are relatively thick steel - 2.7 mm which is thicker than the stock steel on the Highland - and the bend in the baffle plate reinforces its strength, which means it can be used to add to the integrity of the right side cook chamber bulkhead that the firebox bolts onto. Why is that important? You'll find over time that the bulkhead will begin to bow out slightly due to the repeated expansion/contraction of the steel (because the steel is so thin) and as the wall bows out, the firebox will begin to sag due to its weight pulling on the middle of the cook chamber bulkhead. But if you drill appropriate bolt-sized holes into the baffle plate where the top two firebox bolts are located, you can bolt the center of the baffle's right side to the bulkhead using the top two existing fire box bolts (or longer ones as needed). You can ignore the pre-drilled holes in the baffle plate. As you torque down the two center firebox bolts, this will pull the bowed bulkhead back into its original shape and correct the firebox sagging problem.


Stock photo - you will have to drill those two center firebox bolt holes yourself: https://bbqsmokermods.com/pub/media...e78fccba877b2195fbb8f0adf1b0/i/m/img_3651.jpg

And another minor problem - there are two small triangular parts to the baffle plate which you will assemble onto the plate. These exist to block the large leak on the sides which would exist due to the two 45 degree bends in the baffle. Unfortunately, those right-angle corners of the triangular parts will hit the circular weld of the firebox wall and interfere with the baffle snug-up with the wall, so you will want to grind down those two sharp corner tips just a bit so they don't hit the weld.

One other mod: I cut the baffle plate at the lower 45 degree fold near the firebox with an angle grinder and a cutting wheel to enable me to fine-tune the right-to-left temps to perfection by making very slight adjustments to the very narrow exposed crack opening with a flathead screwdriver. This has enabled me to achieve perfectly even temps from right to left. It also makes it simple to remove the baffle plate for a particular cook, if I wish. The part of the baffle that's bolted to the bulkhead will stay in place and act as a heat deflector to block that harsh radiant heat. See "Moberg secrets" on youtube.

Mods I didn't do:

Gasket around firebox door - didn't do it*
Latches on sides of cook chamber door - no need for them for my door
Stove gasket cement in various places at fire box - didn't do it*

*leaks around the firebox are air intake leaks, most of which feed the fire, and so don't bother me too much

Other stuff I got:

wood splitter wedge - works amazingly well

10 ton hydraulic log splitter from Harbor Freight - for those thick logs

Have fun!


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Welcome to the dark side. I have an offset and love it.
They are a world apart from a pellet, you will need to think about getting some wood now and where to put that if space is limited. I would find a place to stash the pellet for awhile to make sure this the route you really want to take. Maybe a neighbor or family member. Like others said you will need to tend a fire and work with the fire and wood to get around the desired temp.
Not trying to talk you out of it but it's much different than a pellet.
I am giving the Pitt Boss to my son so If I ever really need it back I can get it.
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