Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Smoker Review
The Highland Smoker is a big, bold, and robust grill in the sub $1,000 smoker market. This smoker proves you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to achieve great results. If you’re looking for a smoker under $1,000, the Highland Smoker is our pick as one of the best offset smokers you can get for the money. But let’s find out if it is the right choice for you.
In summary, the Highland Smoker is a wagon-style offset smoker. It duals as a charcoal grill with a main chamber and a lateral offset box. This is a heavy-duty unit with plenty of square inches of cooking space. Thanks to its wheels, it is easy to move around. Before we get into more detail about the smoker, let’s take a look at the specs below.
- Height: 53 IN
- Width: 57 IN
- Depth 35.5 IN
- Main Grill Area: 619 SQ IN (17.25 x 33.75)
- Offset Firebox Grill Area: 281 SQ IN
- Total Cooking Area: 900 SQ IN
- Grill Material: Porcelain-enamel. Heavy-gauge steel construction (2.5mm thick).
- Cooking Grates: Porcelain Coated Wire
- Warranty: 2 years on all parts.
- Fuel: Wood, wood chips, wood splits, charcoal, and pellets.
First things first, this is a stick burner with a low-hanging, offset firebox and a smokestack on the opposite end. It’s much different than pellet grills (AKA pellet smokers), charcoal smokers, or electric smokers as it uses wood as its main fuel source.
The first thing you’ll notice is this smoker looks like something you’d pay much more money for. There are no fancy features, it’s just a well-made grill with very few parts.
The black high temp paint makes it look timeless and the wagon wheels add rustic charm to the unit. The smoking chamber and firebox both have a cool touch handle that keeps your hands from burning.
The top of the firebox serves as a plate warmer that can be used to keep food warm or start preheating wood for your fire.
There are three porcelain-coated 6mm wire grill grates inside the cooking chamber that are fairly easy to remove and clean. The firebox also has two 6mm wire porcelain coated grates perfect for high heat charcoal grilling. This is great to have for searing meats after they’re done smoking. See my reverse seared steak recipe for more info.
The firebox damper is built into the ash drawer for ease of cleaning during or after your cook. For long cooks, it’s a good idea to clean it as you go for better airflow.
This grill has a lot of cooking space and is a good smoker if you’re cooking for a large family or get-together.
It also has a large bottom shelf that’s great for storing firewood or cooking utensils.
Since offset meat smokers in this price range are usually made with thin materials, they lose heat fast. This means you must fuel them constantly and keep an eye on them. You don’t have to worry as much with the Highland smoker.
Inspired by Joe Davidson’s original designs, this is a solid grill that will last a long time. The entire barrel and lid are made with porcelain enamel. This is a thin ceramic layer over thick metal. There’s a chance the paint will start to peel off after a few years and you can also expect rust after heavy use. This is metal, after all, so buying a good grill cover will help.
Using the smoker
The best way to light the smoker is by starting with hot lump charcoal and then adding the wood. I recommend using a chimney to light the charcoal quickly. If you want to cut down on the time it takes to get cooking, use a GrillGun to light the wood and skip the charcoal step. Once hot, add wood splits or wood chunks, though I prefer splits. I see a lot of people using wood pellets and charcoal briquettes as fuel, but I don’t recommend it.
Ensure your cooking temperature is between 225ºF and 250ºF by checking the gauge every 30 minutes or so. Add more fuel as necessary. You have total control over the temperature in your smoking chamber by adjusting the dampers on the firebox and smokestack.
The smoking chamber is ideal for slow cooking with indirect heat. One of the best features of the Highland model is a smoke chamber that also has charcoal grates allowing you to use the smoker as a charcoal grill as well. You can also use the firebox for direct grilling, which gets even hotter. As for flavor, offset smokers let you work with many types of wood. Hickory and oak are very popular, but fruit woods like apple and cherry impart sweet flavors into poultry and other proteins.
Place your food directly on the grill grate and prepare for long, fun hours of cooking. You’ll have to add more fuel every two hours or so, but that’s part of the fun. I would recommend a pellet smoker if you want a more hands-off cook. Just know that you won’t get the same amount of smoke flavor from a wood pellet smoker.
Cleaning the smoker
Cleaning the smoker is easy thanks to the wide ash door on the firebox. As mentioned earlier, during long sessions you’ll have to clean the ash while the fire burns to maintain airflow.
After cooling, cleaning the firebox is pretty easy. The grates are easy to clean, but the bottom of the smoking chamber is a bit tougher, especially if you’re smoking saucy BBQ that drips. I usually put an aluminum pan underneath to catch drippings, making cleanup much quicker.
Pros and cons
- You can move the temperature gauge on the lid to a different position or add an additional gauge to measure the temp across the entire smoke chamber.
- Heat distribution in the cooking chamber is very good for a grill in this price range
- The firebox doubles as a charcoal grill
- Fairly easy to clean.
- The fire box balances the unit when moving the grill around.
- The grill is relatively easy to set up, but the parts are heavy.
- The front shelf is handy for adding/removing food but can sometimes get in the way while cooking. You can remove it.
- Smoke leaks can happen because of the metal-to-metal lid closure. Gasket paper can help with smoke control and I highly recommend it.
- Food closer to the firebox tends to cook a little bit faster. This is solved by placing a large piece of wood on the grill grate closest to the firebox.
Should you consider other Oklahoma Joe’s Smokers?
Even if this grill checks all the right boxes, some other options in the Oklahoma Joe’s lineup might make more sense for you.
The Highland Reverse Flow Offset Smoker
For a couple hundred dollars more, you can upgrade to the reverse flow version of this smoker. The main difference between regular offsets and reverse-flow smokers is that the latter takes a bit more time to warm up, but they burn the fuel slower and usually provide more smoke flavor. Reverse-flow units burn steadier because the smoke runs under a baffle plate along the barrel before reaching the chamber, instead of flowing straight in from the firebox causing a hot spot.
Despite being more efficient, the brand’s Reverse-Flow Offset Smoker is almost twice as pricey as the regular Highland Offset Smoker so you need to weigh the benefits over the cost. If you have the additional funds, I highly recommend going the reverse flow route.
Bronco Pro Drum Smoker
Another option to the classic offset smoker is the barrel smoker. These barrel-shaped smokers hold the fuel in the bottom, and the smoke and heat flow upward. They’re easy to set up and fairly easy to use. However, barrel smokers can lose too much heat when opening the lid, which might lead to erratic results. Finally, they are harder to move around than a wagon-style offset smoker. The Bronco Pro Drum Smoker is a good choice if you’re in the market for a solid drum smoker.
The Highland is one of the best smokers in its price range. It costs $300-350 and offers a lot of value for money. Other smokers can cost well over $1,000 and are similar in size, shape, and build to the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Offset Smoker.
For its ease of use, price point, and build, this model makes an excellent first smoker and is a great option for smoking pork butt, rib racks, brisket, or just about anything else.
If you need a bit more cooking space, Oklahoma Joe sells a very similar Longhorn model which has 751 square inches in the main chamber.
Is the Highland Offset Smoker for you? Let me know! Don’t forget to comment below and contact me with any questions.