Oklahoma Joe Highland smoker with mods

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Original poster

I have been using an electric smoker for a couple years, and I like it but the size limits me as to what I can do. This past weekend I went out and got an Oklahoma Joe smoker. I watched some videos and read a lot of comments on here and other places about some modifications. I followed the advice of people who know more about it than me and added two thermometers, high temp seal, door gaskets and closers and baffle plates. I have a few questions that I'm hoping to get answered. Please remember this was my first time using charcoal and wood and it is cold in northern NY 

1) Do the plates need holes in them, mine are solid 1/4 steel. I have 2 that are 15"x14" and 1 4"x14" that I angle up towards the hole at the fire box. There is a gap in the middle of the 2 bigger plates. My temps on the 2 thermometers on the top were up to 100 degrees different, obviously the one closer to the fire box was hotter but I don't think it should be that much different should it? Aren't the plates supposed to even the temps out a little? Do I need to get the smoker really hot for awhile before they heat up enough to make a difference?

2) I drilled out for a thermometer at about grate level, and that temp was way lower than either of the others. It hovered right around 175 while the other 2 were in the 3 and 4 hundred range at some points while I was trying to figure out how to raise and lower the temp. Would raising the grate higher, where the temp is higher be a solution to colder weather smoking?

Any and all suggestions would be appreciated and helpful.

You don't have to drill holes, but if you do, smaller ones closer to the firebox and larger farther away.  Keeping the plates solid, follow a somewhat similar principle:  gaps between the plates are smaller closest to the firebox, and wider farther away from the firebox.  Key is the plate that redirects the heat and smoke from the firebox under the other plates:  make sure that's happening

You also reference 2 thermometers that are hotter than the one at the grate:  are these the factory therms that came with the unit, and did you put them in the two portals in the lid?  If so, did you calibrate them with boiling water before installing them?  Very seldom can you trust a manufacturer's thermometer, especially those measuring temps fairly high up in the lid.  My $0.02
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One thermometer came with it, I bought the other two but either way calibrating them is one step I forgot to do. Now I feel like the guy that calls IT and has to plug in the computer.....

As for the plates the smaller one closest to the fire box I have at an angle but it was only covering about 3/4 of the opening, should it be covering the whole thing? It's plenty big enough and it wouldn't affect the spacing of the plates at all if it was
No worries, amigo, that's what bouncing these ideas on the boards is all about.  Just check the thermometers against boiling water to see where they come in:  if they're off, you can make accommodations accordingly.

Yes, cover the whole opening--otherwise, the baffle isn't really redirecting the heat and the smoke under the tuning plates and what you're trying to accomplish isn't really being accomplished.  Search "tuning plates" in the site's search engine, and there are numerous threads and pictures available that you can read through and see the photos.  Hope this helps--let me know if you need anything else.
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​Ok so I boiled water and put the thermometers in, much to my dismay they were spot on....., (my Bluetooth enabled therm. was about 5-8 degrees off)

When firing it up to get it ready should I crank it up as high as I can get it for that hour or so, then start dialing it back as the time to throw meat on gets near?
I don't know if you necessarily need to go WOT with the pit initially:  I think what Viking is recommending is to make sure that you have a constant cook temp before you start shifting the plates around.  What I would recommend is to place the thermometers at different points along the grates to see if you have even (or fairly close) temps throughout the cook chamber.  If not, you can then begin to shift the plates accordingly based on any different readings.

Also, you may want to (if not already) find a way to drop the exhaust chimney down to grate level:  that has a tendency to help with uneven temps and air flow as well.
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The way I see your heat management is to cut the large plates into several smaller widths so you can space them closer at the FB and farther apart as you go away from there.

The other alternative would be to drill holes in the large plates. Smaller holes close to the FB and larger as you go away from there.

Either of these methods should help even out the heat and smoke. Google a horizon smoker and look at their convection plate.
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