restoring an OLD OKJ Highland (I think???)

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Original poster
Aug 27, 2021
SE Texas
Hi guys,

I was given an old OKJ offset smoker, I THINK it's an old Highland because it's about the right size and looks pretty similar but there are a LOT of small things that are different that have me confused.
I have scoured google images to try to find a picture of one like mine and I can't find any. That's why I think it's pretty old. I'm hoping someone can help me identify it.

The first thing that's different is that the wheels are very small, maybe an inch larger around than the smoke stack pipe. They are very thick metal.
There is no bottom shelf at all and never was one. Nothing connects the front legs to the rear legs except the cooking chamber itself.
The handles are wooden. The "ears" for the handles are two pieces each (four total) and are welded on, very thick metal.
There is only one "port" in the lid for a single thermometer near the smokestack end.
The cooking grills are very heavy round bars that were originally chromed, most of which has rusted off. They are 14.5" x 15"
If there were small grills on the bottom of the cooking chamber for coals, those are missing.
The firebox is a solid pipe, it is not split into halves, it's made from the same, very heavy pipe as the main cooking chamber.
The cooking grill for the firebox is missing, the little grill on the bottom of firebox is severely rusted away and frail.
I can't find any seams in the big pipes, my dad said if it was cold rolled there would be a seam where they weld it, he said it's actual pipe.

The dimensions are: Cooking chamber 30" x 16", firebox 16" x 16", overall 46" long.
The metal is 0.16" thick per a cheapy calipers my dad gave me.
I didn't get to measure the height before it was taken apart and dropped off for me to restore.

I found something online, a letter from some guy that used to work at OKJ before it was sold and he described how to tell a new from old smoker by the serial number plate style.
According to that my would have been made after the sale to Charbroil but I can't figure out anything by comparing photos.

I bought a little sand blaster and have some regular sand for the moderately rusted stuff and some black diamond sand for the heavy rust.
My dad loaned me a needle gun for the very thick rust that is built up in the firebox then I can sand blast it.
After that I'll paint it all up then add my mods.

I found a website which I'm sure y'all are very familiar with, Horizon Smokers. I ordered a set of new grills and a tuning plate kit, that set me back for an eye watering $245 !!
I bought a Lavalock "lowering kit" and a stainless steel firebox basket, some silicone thermometer probe grommets and a new "Unicook" brand cover for when I'm finished with it.
Later I plan to put gaskets and door locks on it and a Horizon brand grill for the firebox so I can sear things.

It's a lot. And it won't be easy, I'm wheelchair dependent (and a bit old) and I have no idea how I'll get it off the ground up into the air so I can put the legs on, it's dangerously heavy and far, far above anything I can lift.
But I'm hard headed and I'll figure out a way to get it done.
I'm looking forward to smoking meats and jalapeno so I can have fresh chipotles!
Later this year I plan to buy a used, woring fridge, hide it on my patio in a little "outhouse" looking structure and connect it to a small smoker so I can cold smoke cheeses.
It's bloody hot here 12 months of the year so it would have to be a working fridge. I guess I could also cold smoke meats as well.

I've never been able to BBQ worth a flip before, much less smoke things. I bought a $99 grill from Walmart a while back and after ruining several pounds of meat I decided to look on youtube and learned that I needed to put the fire on one side and the meat on the other side and keep the temp between 225 and 275. Well that went better but is was very hard to control the temperature. A few more tries and I got much better at it! Yay! Still not all that great though. Meh.

Then a few weeks ago a family member told me I could have this OKJ grill, it was sitting out by her barn rusting away. Her husband bought it a long time ago, she couldn't remember when but the did remember he only used it twice before he became very ill and passed away. He didn't get a chance to clean it so it was caked inside with old charcoal, grease and very thick rust. She said if I didn't want it she would throw it away! I said WOA THERE!! and she got a couple of guys to take it apart and bring it to my place. I didn't know they were gonna take it apart but, oh well, at least it's near wheelchair level now for me to work on it.

I've attached a few pictures of it as it was before and after it was moved to my place, I hope someone can help me identify it, I'm curious to learn more about it and I'm excited to get started on it because I can't wait to start smoking meats!


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Hello and welcome to SMF.

The link below contains some interesting information.

Welcome to the forums. Look forward to pics of your progress on restoring the OKJ.


That's right Jim.
We love to see smoker restorations along with cooks here on the forums.
As an added bonus, there are lots of folks willing to share their knowledge on the "how-to" part.
But it sounds like D DeeAnn already knows how to go about it. And from the pics, it looks like the smoker only has surface rust and not much pitting.
At least DeeAnn's OKJ wasn't packed full with a huge rat nest! LOL.

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Thank you for all the replies, lots of good advice already!

So, I have sleuthed it out and have a strong belief that my smoker is combo brand of OKJ and New Braunfels. I took a photo of the thermometer and it has TWO company names and logos on it, along with the dreaded "Made in China". When I searched for that I found a website claiming to sell parts for it (along with anything else in the world) and there was a PDF assembly manual with a photo that exactly matches my smoker! There were even a few recipes in the back.

The PDF has a revision date on it of 1-16-2003. Of course that doesn't tell me when this smoker was made but it gives me a round-about idea of it's age.
I'm still tickled silly to have it, it was free but I'll end up putting several hundred dollars into it and I have no doubt it'll be a great smoker that will last me the rest of my life.
I have a few more pics of it and some other related stuff.
I looked more closely at the lids and they are definitely going to need gasket material. But first things first.
I'm going to grind the bolts off to separate the firebox so I can put a gasket between it.
Next time I go outside tonight I'm going to put a bright light inside to see where all the leaks are gonna be.

It's not a proper OKJ but the price was right and I've wanted one for decades! I used to have a neighbor that had a smoker that looked very similar to this, he BBQ'd every single day, rain or shine, I don't think he ever even let it cool down. The smell was to die for! And anytime he would see me out back he would fix me a plate and pass it over the fence to me. Oh man that was sooooo good! So now I get the chance to do my own. Shame I can't have it in the air conditioning. Now I just need to get a cover built for my patio so at least it'll be out of the rain and sun.


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Well, Ive run into a real problem.

The parts I ordered came in. I bought;

1. a LavaLock Smoke Stack Lowering Kit
2. a 16" Convection Plate from Horizon
3. two "Framed Cooking Grill - 15" x 15" for 16" Classic Cooking Chamber" also from Horizon
4. a charcoal basket from Amazon (vendor DELSbbq)
5. a Unicook brand weather cover

So none of it fits. Not one thing. Well, maybe the cover will, can't tell until I'm finished with all the other stuff first.

On the charcoal basket all I had to do was take a grinder and make two very small notches so the bolts would pass through. After that, just right! Disaster averted.
But then the other things, not so much.
The new grates are really, really nice. But they don't fit. If I put ONE grill in, it fits great, the fit front to back is perfect. It's when I try to put the second one in that the problem starts. They are too wide by probably a 1/2" or so. Actually if they were each a 1/2" narrower it would leave a wee bit of side to side room.
As it is, one sits on top of the other and it's wobbly. After several days of deep contemplation I think what I can do is weld some nuts to the bottom of one grate so that it will sit on the rails up just enough that it will overlap the other one and sit solidly and stably on the rails. It's not what I wanted but there's not much more I can do without sending them back and exchanging them for a pair of odd sized grills that would fit near perfectly. Sending back those heavy things, the cost to ship and probably a restock fee just isn't worth it. I'll have to live with the minor modification I suppose.

Then there's the smoke lowering thing. With the grill in place it's too big to fit inside. However I feel pretty sure that all I have to do is grind a little off of the edges and it would fit. Very, very tightly. It's a lot bigger than I expected and I'll lose a bit of grill space to it but the great part is that it will be sitting on the grill and that absolutely will force the smoke and heat to completely fill the cooking chamber and have to go below the level of the meat to exit out. I'm kind of "Meh" on the bulk and fit of it but think it will be a real asset in the end.

And then there's the REAL PROBLEM. The convection plate. It doesn't even come close to fitting, not by a mile. I popped it into the smoker and I cried when I saw the giant gap it leaves where the two chambers are bolted together. You could drive a truck through the gap. As it is, there is a less than zero chance that the plate will do anything at all.

In a fit of depression I spent hours and hours pouring over every single page and every single photo of every product on the HorizonSmokers site.
I finally figured out that the convection plate I bought was built to specifically fit a Horizon brand smoker and other brands. I figured out that in all their smokers they weld a plate of steel across the portal between the firebox and cooking chamber. Because of that design you can just slide their convection plate in and TADA! Perfect fit!

But now I'm out of money until the end of the month after buying all these goodies. So I got on ebay and I bought a "3/16" .1875 Hot Rolled Steel Sheet Plate 8" X 12" Flat Bar A36" piece of metal. I searched for a piece that would be 3/16" and 14" or 16" wide but they were outside my budget. I bought what I could afford.

Fortunately for me, my dad left me a garage full of dangerous tools. So I have grinders and saws and all sorts of wonderous things. Also there is a welding machine in there too. My dad did teach me to weld and while it won't be pretty it will hold. I will have to practice a bit on some junk metal first, I haven't done that in years..
I think my best and easiest bet is to cut the 8" x 12" into two 4" x 12" strips then cut 4" off one of them to have a 4" x 16" strip and weld them across inside just like Horizon does. I have no clue how to cut that stuff though, it's quite thick and heavy. I'll have to dig about in the garage for something to cut it with. My dad used to have a giant grinder that had like a 14" wheel on it and he could cut all sorts of stuff. It was really dangerous, loud and made a huge spray of sparks. I think if I can find it I can do it.

This last bit is going to be the hardest, most trying part of all. When it quits raining I'm going to make a piece of cardboard of 16" x 4" then put the convection plate in and see if the cardboard will seal it up. At least I'll be able to know in advance what I have to do to make it fit. Oh dear this is really turning into a huge boondoggle.

Oh yeah, and the sand blaster broke like right away. I was trying to use some of that black coal slag sand but it kept clogging up. It might have been damp and it might have had crud in it because it was out of my aquarium. I had rinsed it out and put it to dry in a huge black tray in the sun for weeks but I think it didn't 100% dry out. And a lot of the pieces were different sizes so that may have gone against me. I think I'm gonna buy a new bag from the feed store and try that. No idea why the feed store sells it but they do. I bought it for aquarium use originally. Also I found several 5 gallon buckets of what my dad called "sugar sand" that he used in a sand blaster box on small things. That didn't work worth a flip either, it clogged up a lot too, I think it was full of crud too. It did take a little paint off but it didn't do diddly on the rust. And there is HEAVY, pitted rust.
Actually I just looked at Tractor Supply and they sell a "fine" version of that Black Diamond sand so I think I'm gonna buy a bag of that instead of plain sand. I also have to buy new nozzles for the blaster because I guess I dropped it and broke the only nozzle that came with it and harbor freight does not sell them in-store. Gee thanks.

Oh yeah, I sprayed the inside of it with PAM because of the hurricane, I didn't want it to rust again after all the work I've done on it so far. I still need to sandblast the inside anyway then respray it before seasoning it.

This thing is fighting me hard, it wants me to admit defeat and give up but I'm too stubborn. It's going to take me a lot longer than I hoped for.
Also being old and in a wheelchair doesn't help matters much either. But I really, really want a REAL smoker. I've only ever had "grills" and all I do is end up burning or over cooking it and it never tastes great. I never could figure it out. Since I bought yet ANOTHER grill I decided to watch some youtube and have begun to put the coal to one side and the meat on the other, I bought a pair of smoker tubes and fill them with pellets and am having slightly better luck now but it's very, very difficult to maintain a constant temperature. So I great faith in the smoker, once it's working.

I was thinking that I would try to smoke a brisket so the other day when I was grocery shopping I thought I would browse the briskets to get an idea of the price (SHOCKING!) thinking I would end up having to spend about $35 or $40 on one. I didn't know anything about brisket. But then I saw one that was $189 !! WHAT!!
It had some weird name on it that I couldn't remember. Later I was at home and went to the store shop at home site and searched for brisket and sorted it by most expensive at the top. And BOOM, there it was. Wagyu. WTF... So I google Wagyu and found out it's Japanese. Ok, then I found a youtube video explaining what it is and why it's so expensive. WOW! Ok, so yeah, I wanna do that, someday. First off I'm gonna learn on cheap briskets and work my way up to Black Angus (Mmmmmmm!) and eventually to Wagyu and even then start with the cheaper cuts of Wagyu. I watched a video of a guy explaining how difficult it is to cook one and how easy it is to mess it up so I'm quite concerned with learning and learning and more learning and lots of youtube watching before I try a Wagyu.

I'm also scanning craigslist for a used, working fridge because I want to make a cold smoker. I'll put it on my patio and build a wooden enclosure around it to resemble an old country outhouse to disguise it and provide sun shade and some weather protection. I have a small grill that is about the size and shape of the firebox on my OKJ, I'm gonna drill 6" holes in the fridge and the grill and connect then with a dryer hose and use pellet smoker tubes in the grill so no heat will transfer. I'll have the smoke-in at the top side of the fridge and the smoke-out smokestack outlet on the side at the bottom so it will be like a reverse flow smoker. Then I can run the fridge so keep it cool enough to slow smoke fish, cheese, jalapenos, etc over loooong periods. I love me some chipotle!

Maybe I would have been better off moving a mountain with a teaspoon.


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Well, you just never know what obstacles you'll run into when reviving/modifying an old smoker. Hang in there.

P.S. If it weren't for the hipster "foodies" discovering brisket a few years ago, we all would still be buying briskets on the cheap. Of course, the events of the past year and half don't help at all.
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I have a stupid question for you guys that know all about welding, because I don't.
The welding machine I have access to is really old, I remember my dad using it in early 70's to build a car trailer so it's at least that old.
I have no idea if it's been used since then so I suppose I should plug it in and see if it makes noise, like maybe a fan inside? Dunno.
Anyway, presuming it works, what would you guys recommend I should buy for welding rods?
The new piece of metal I bought was sold to me as "3/16" .1875 Hot Rolled Steel Sheet Plate 8" X 12" Flat Bar A36".
I do not know what sort of steel the smoker is made of, cheap I suspect. And as best as I can figure out it's about 0.16" thick via $4 calipers.
It's a long drive to the welding supply place so I need to be sure to get the right thing the first time.
Another stupid question, what do I set the welding machine to? I just don't know.
I know I need to practice on junk metal but I need to practice on the proper setting so when I go to the real thing I won't mess it up.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks! :emoji_upside_down:


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If there aren't any welders on here to help you, go to the welding supply with all the info you can. Tell them all you have told us. Be sure to tell them about your welder. It's a Lincoln AC225. It's an AC only welder and that's important where welding rod selection is concerned. They should be able to select the right rods for you and give you good advice. I suspect they will sell you some 6011, or 6012, or 6013 rod of 1/16" to 3/32" diameter.

ETA - They should have a chart with amperage setting recommendations too.
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