New to smoking and need help!

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Original poster
Jun 7, 2018
Hi, I am very new to smoking. In fact, I haven’t even smoked my first cut of meat yet. I was given an Oklahoma Joe Highland as an early Father’s Day gift. I’m starting with a few dry runs before I try to throw any meat on this pit. I am having issues with the pit maintaining a constant heat. If I make a good bed of coals, the pit stays WAY too hot. And if I have a small bed with a piece of wood, I have trouble keeping it constant. I have tried everything I can think of to manage this fire, and nothing is working for me. Any help is appreciated.
I don’t own one but I know a ton on here do. You might want to try the search function as I know some here have made mods that have helped them keep constant temps.
Well, I have made most of the suggested mods to the smoker. The only one I haven’t done is the plate in the bottom of the smoker. But my understanding is that that is for more even temps throughout the cooking chamber. I’m having issues with keeping the fire at a constant temp.
Welcome Reece! First off, I hope they gave it to you already put together, I know that would save a couple hours, haha. I got a highland about a month ago and am very pleased with it. I didn’t go crazy with mods but I would recommend getting another thermometer and installing it closer to grate level (there are some great cheap digital ones on amazon and most come with a clip to hold it close to grate level so you don’t have to drill through the lid). Also, you’re gonna want to install some kind of deflector plate over the opening between the firebox and cook chamber to keep the right side from getting overheated. There will be a few leaks but some good thermal gasket tape won’t set you back too much and then you’ll be good to go.

As far as your fire goes, I usually start with a chimney of charcoal with about 3-4 splits to get the bed going. Once the wood has caught you can start to close the vents to manage temp, the deflector plate will help regulate between the two ends (I’ve seen a video where a guy wraps one of the firebox grill grates in heavy duty foil and uses it for a cheap deflector). When the temp starts to dip, I add another split about 1.5 inch square by 8-10 inches long and that usually gives another 30-45 mins of heat without too big of a spike in temp.

Hope this helps, sorry for being long winded

I am glad it was long winded. Unfortunately, I did have to put it together myself but afterwards, I sealed just about every crack with hi temp silicon and used some thermal gasket around the lids. I also have a digital thermometer that I have tried placing throughout the pit with no luck. I tried lighting a chimney full and adding a single split to the firebox and my temps were above 400. I will definitely try adding a deflector seeing as that is the only mod I’m lacking that I know of.
It takes a lot of practice and trial and error. The thing that helped me the most was doing a short cook, I smoked some sausages the other night and the total time from lighting the chimney to taking off the finished links was about 2.5 hrs. I got stressed over long cooks when I was still learning and the short one lowered the stress level a lot.
If I’m being completely honest, I just wrapped one of the grates in aluminum foil and leaned it up against the opening between the firebox and the cooking chamber and I’ve already seen better stability out of the pit! Thanks for the baffle tip man!
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Sounds like you are starting to figure it out. Question for you on the OKJ. Is there a grate for the coals to set on in the fire box or does it sit on the bottom? If it doesn't have a grate then i would make sure to put one it as it will help.

Cant wait to see what you create.
There is a grate for the coals to sit on. I actually had to turn it sideways to keep the ashes from smothering the fire, but once I did that and added a charcoal basket, it helped some but not enough for me to comfortably put meat on. This baffle between the fire box and cook chamber seems to be helping quite a lot though.
Here's my two cents. I have always thought of my stick burners as nothing more than a common wood stove. (which I grew up using) Once you have a good bed of coals going you just need to keep the heat steady, dial back your smoke stack lid (dampner) to restrict output but not enough to smother the fire, then open the air intake on the door just enough to keep it going. Then keep feeding it, admittedly this is the tricky part, too fast and you get hot, too slow and the temp falls, this is were the experience with how you pit runs comes in. I use split oak for heat and pecan or hickory for flavor up to a meat temp of 140 (that's another subject) after that all oak for heat. I also use lump coal and on the really rare occasion brickets. I treat all of them the same way as far as running the pit at temp. Again, just my two cents worth. Good luck and have fun learning your pit.
How long are you letting the coals to burn. I know in my stick burner it takes about 45 minutes for things to level out then 1 stick of wood every 45 minutes to a hour. Also are you leaving the smoke stack wide open? and just using teh firebox vents to regulate?
I’ve only been letting my coals set for about 20-30 minutes, but yes I am keeping the smoke stack open and using the intake vents to regulate temps. Maybe on the next dry run I’ll try to let my coals settle out a bit longer.
You definitely need to let the firebox settle in until you get your temp you are after. I started out on an OKJOE and they are good pits just require some serious attention. Nothing wrong with that. You will learn to be an excellent fire manager. Keep in mind that getting your pit ready is just as important as seasoning what your going to smoke. Its important to allow the steal in the cooking chamber to heat up. Thats what will help you sustain a more manageable temp. This is a thin metal pit so outside air temp will play a factor, always keep that in mind. Sounds like you have done your homework on how to start your fire just use a little more patience before you start your cook. I often had to use the damper on the exhaust to control the temp along with the damper on the door and there is nothing wrong with choking it off completely from time to time to get ahold of the temp. Obviously this will be done for a short period only but it will help if the temp runs away. As your cooks progress and get longer make sure to never let your coals go out. Keep that nice glow going. Sounds like you are on the right track. Enjoy your smoker and look forward to seeing your cooks.
I'm in the same boat as you except I haven't built mine yet , I hope to be seasoning mine this weekend , how long did it take you to build
Good luck with your temps
I built it by myself and it was incredibly difficult to bolt the firebox to the cooking chamber. I had to get inventive with some jack stands and wood just to stab the bolts. But if you get someone to help hold the larger pieces while you bolt them up, it should only take 1.5 to 2 hours to get everything like it should be. And the first time I fired up, there were leaks EVERYWHERE. I would highly suggest sealing it up wherever you can!
I'm in the same boat as you except I haven't built mine yet , I hope to be seasoning mine this weekend , how long did it take you to build
Good luck with your temps
Mine took about an hour or so to put together, it helps to have an extra set of hands when connecting the fire box. It’s a real simple build though, the instructions are great!
I have been very fortunate with my OKJ. My heat is very stable using only charcoal. I use the Embers branded Royal Oak from Home Depot for the most part. I put about 3/4 of a chimney full of unlit charcoal and add that to the firebox. Then I light approximately the same amount and let them start to develop white ash on the edges. I add that to the firebox then put some wood chunks in for smoke. In my case that is mostly pecan. My pit is generally at the 250 range within 20 minutes. I have already learned where to close my firebox vent to for me to hold that temp. Now the 250 is the cool side it's generally abot 275 closer to the firebox. I find that if I wait until the temp drops to about 240 then add in 6-12 unlit coals it will hold that temp for a good hour plus until more unlit coals are needed. It works very well on my pit. I never had to plug all of the seams on my unit. I only put the Lavalock on the door to the cooking chamber. I always leave my smoke stack wide open unless I am trying to smother the fire after a cook is finished. Hang in there and find a method that works for you. Once you do, you are going to be a happy camper. Enjoy your weekend.

Well, I lit my pit and started another trial run today. I was fighting it a bit (much better than previous times) but then it started to rain.. I have seen the most consistent temps since this rain started and it’s kind of aggrivating. Lol.
Keep workin it Reece, you will get it. I literally watch the temp at all times and when I see a temp change up or down I either shut the oxygen off or give it more depending on which way I want it to go. You got this. Before you know you will have that thing cruising like a cadillac. Worst case scenario you can use a sprinkler to help you control the temp since you said the rain kept it more steady LOL just kidding
Reece I would like to suggest to you that you try cooking with only charcoal for two or three runs. The reason I say this is to get a feel for how your pit should run. Nothing burns as consistently as charcoal. If you are close to a Home Depot then I suggest trying the Embers brand. It’s about $5 a bag and burns with good heat and for a decent amount of time. Try throwing in a full chimney of lit coals and then watch your pit for about an hour. Leave the stack wide open and the firebox vent about half open. Your pit will reach some kind of peak by that hour mark. Keep watching until your temp drops 10 degrees. When it drops that far put in 6 unlit coals and watch for a peak that matches the first load of charcoal. Don’t adjust any of the vents st all during that time. Once you discover how many coals it ales to keep your pit even for a given interval of time you can start to work with that vent to find your sweet “cooking “ spot. Once you get s feel for fuel timing with the charcoal you should be able to apply the same concept if you are using wood as your primary heat source. Good luck and don’t give up.

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