Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Review
The Oklahoma Joe’s Highland is an extremely popular smoker offset smoker, especially for beginners. I currently own 3 other Oklahoma Joe’s smokers: The Bronco, The Bronco Pro, and the Rider DLX Pellet Grill, and I’ve always been a fan of the quality and design of Oklahoma Joe’s products.
For the Highland smoker, they offer two models: The Original and the Reverse-Flow version. I decided to try out the Original model so that I can give you my thoughts on performance, quality, and whether you should buy one.
Oklahoma Joe’s sent me this smoker for free in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Unboxing and assembly of the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland
This was not my first experience with an Oklahoma Joe’s smoker, so I knew what to expect when it came to unboxing and assembly. One thing I really like about Oklahoma Joe’s is that they put a lot of thought into how they package their grills/smokers. The location of everything in the box just makes sense.
The main cooking chamber is the first thing you see when you open the box. It is supported by foam inserts. You are also almost immediately greeted by the grill cover and the instruction manual, which is nice because a lot of people like to take a peek into the instructions before they start assembling a grill.
When you open up the chamber, all of the various parts, pieces, and components are packaged individually on the inside. The hardware is laid out in an easy-to-read pack that clearly labels all nuts, bolts, and tools.
Assembly was pretty straightforward – but I do recommend having another person to act as a “second set of hands” for some steps. I would say about 85% of the assembly can be done by a single person, but there are parts (like attaching the fire box to the smoke chamber) that having a second person to help out becomes really nice.
All-in-all I would say that the assembly took around 30 minutes, so not too bad at all. The instruction manual is easy-to-follow and everything is very clearly labeled.
I was also impressed by the fact that they even included a set of instructions on How to Season Your Smoker, which is helpful – especially for beginners. There is also a section on how to light the pit, food safety, and basics about smoking with wood – all helpful things to include, so kudos to Oklahoma Joe’s on that one!
Features and specifications of the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland:
|Cooking surface:||619 sq. in.|
|Dimensions:||33.5 x 53 x 57 in|
|Grate material:||Porcelain Coated Wire|
|Meat capacity:||4 pork butts|
7 whole chickens
2 to 3 briskets (depending on size)
|Warranty:||2 years on all parts|
|Price||Check Latest Price|
Firing up the Highland for the first time
I’m a big believer in the “go big or go home” method when testing out a new pit. I mean, you have to put the thing to the ultimate test to really see how it stands up! I chose a 14lb American Wagyu Brisket for my first cook on the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland and an American Wagyu Tri Tip.
I fired up the smoker the same way I light pretty much all of my offset smokers. I added a decent-sized bed of charcoal briquettes to the fire box and lit them with a weed torch (side note: if you aren’t using a weed torch to light your charcoal, you are missing out – total game changer and time saver).
Once the coals were hot, it was time to really get it going and start adding wood. I smoked with post oak wood for my first cook.
The fire box definitely fits a full split, but it almost seemed like it was just slightly too big. I don’t think it is small enough to warrant using chunks in lieu of splits, but it just felt a little crammed depending on the size of the split.
There is a log-warming plate that is installed on the top of the fire box, if that’s your thing. I personally live in Houston, TX and have never needed to “warm up” my logs, but figured I should mention that it is there in case you do!
I ran the pit between 225°F and 300°F over the course of the 19 hour brisket cook and used quite a bit of wood – more than I was expecting, which leads me to my next topic…
Look, I want to start by saying that this pit is extremely affordable – that is important to keep in mind. Honestly, the next price range you’re going to find when shopping for offset smokers is about 3x more expensive than the Highland.
Oklahoma Joe’s makes a quality product FOR THE PRICE. But, when you are buying a pit at that price point, you are going to have to sacrifice a bit of build quality simply because of economics.
That being said, let’s get into it!
Overall design is very traditional for an offset smoker. Fire box, cooking chamber, exhaust – in that order. But because it is not fabricated as a solid piece (e.g., you must assemble the individual components) there are gaps and leaks throughout. I was able to run the pit for 19 hours while smoking a brisket, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated a few times with temperature control.
Also, because of the gaps – especially in the fire box – this pit burns through wood quicker than I’m used to. I was having to add a split every 30 to 45 minutes.
On a positive note, it’s a great pit for beginners because it is going to teach you very quickly how to manage a fire!
One thing that has always impressed me about Oklahoma Joe’s grills and smokers is the attention to detail when it comes to things like the wheels, the size of the exhaust, and the temperature gauge. They are very thoughtfully crafted and the oversized wagon wheels make the pit extremely easy to move around if you need to.
The temperature gauge that Oklahoma Joe’s uses is one of my favorite designs. It is labeled with categories of cooking based on temperature:
- “Smoke” – 150°F to 250°F
- “BBQ” – 250°F to 350°F
- “Grill” – 350°F to 550°F
I also broke out an ambient probe to test the temperature gauge and it stayed within 5 degrees for most of the cook (except right after we had opened the chamber, etc.). So, it’s safe to say that the gauge is accurate!
I also really like the handles on both the cooking chamber and the fire box. They are easy to grab, heat resistant, and set off far enough from the body of the grill that you can fit your hand in there even if you are wearing bulky heat-resistant gloves, etc.
The results of my first cooks on the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland
As I mentioned before, I did two cooks simultaneously while I was testing out the Highland. I chose to do a 14lb brisket and a 3lb tri tip. I felt like those two cuts of meat would tell me a few things about the quality of the pit, which I will explain below.
Look, I’m a Texan and brisket is my love language. I almost always use a brisket as the first cook on a new smoker because I believe that you can tell so much about a pit from how it handles something like brisket. Brisket is a large cut of meat that takes quite a long time to smoke – this one took about 19 hours total, not including the rest.
I determined that the pit was capable of handling a longer cook, though I was a little frustrated with how quickly it burnt through wood. As I mentioned above, I needed to add a split every 30 to 45 minutes to keep the smoker running at 250°F.
I also noticed that there was a big temperature swing during the cook. As the split burned, it crept down to 225°F very quickly and every time I added a new split it spiked up to 300°F. This is not abnormal for an offset smoker, but it just seemed that the pit had trouble regulating back down to 250°F.
I got some amazing smoke flavor on this brisket through and a gorgeous smoke ring, so the pit definitely did a good job of exposing the meat to the smoke from the wood – which is important! I also was able to build a beautiful, dark bark. Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the brisket!
The tri tip
Tri Tip is another one of my favorite cuts for testing out a new smoker. It’s a smaller roast (this one was around 3lbs) and is a quick cook.
I wanted to see if the pit could get a great smoke flavor in a shorter period, so I knew that a Smoked Tri Tip would be the perfect test.
The Tri Tip smoked for about 1 hour and 10 minutes before it hit 125°F internal, at which point I pulled it off and reverse-seared it on another grill.
Though the smoking time was short, I was still able to get a really solid smoke flavor on the cut of meat. It was not overpoweringly smoky, but there was definitely a distinct smoke flavor throughout the meat – which impressed me.
The Tri Tip is also a great test for a new smoker because you want the entire roast to cook very evenly. That is not quite as important in a larger cut like a brisket or a pork butt, but you don’t want a portion of your Tri Tip to be medium while the rest is medium rare.
I situated the Tri Tip on the side of the grates closet to the fire box with the larger end facing the fire. I ended up with a very consistent cook and, again, was impressed.
The Highland smoker comes with a 2-year warranty on all parts, and I can say that Oklahoma Joe’s customer service department is top notch. Every pit is assigned a unique serial number and they keep a database of every grill built/sold.
If you do end up having an issue with your smoker, whether it be a warranty issue or if you are just struggling with performance, I highly recommend getting into contact with their customer service department.
I ran into an internal temperature gauge issue with my Oklahoma Joe’s Rider DLX pellet grill and ended up having to get in touch with customer service to resolve the issue. They stayed on the phone with me for over an hour to accurately diagnose the issue and sent me a replacement part within a couple of days.
If you end up with an issue I am confident that Oklahoma Joe’s will do what they need to do to make it right and there is something to be said for a company that is willing to stand behind their products in that way.
If you are still unsure, be sure to check out our article outlining The 6 Best Offset Smokers that will give you a deeper dive into the models available on the market and which we recommend.
Should you buy an Oklahoma Joe’s Highland?
I think the answer here is “it depends”.
If you are looking for a super affordable offset smoker or if you are shopping for your very first offset smoker, I think the Oklahoma Joe’s Highland is a fantastic choice. Oklahoma Joe’s builds a quality product at a price that almost can’t be beat.
You are going to have some struggles with air loss, seams not being sealed, and the wood in your fire boxing burning a little quicker than it would on a more high-end offset, but those are all issues that you can work through.
The fire box is easy to open when you need to add more wood, the dampers on both the fire box and on the exhaust are easy to adjust, and the shelves and grates are made of good quality materials that should last for years and years if you maintain your pit properly.
The pit is very lightweight and easy to move around, so if you have a backyard or patio area where you would like to be able to move your smoker it’s easy to do. The large wheels and sturdy handle make moving the pit around a breeze.
Honestly, when you take everything into consideration, including the price point, this smoker deserves a 4 out of 5-star rating.
It is a very affordable option that is great for beginners but also a solid choice for seasoned veterans that just want a good pit to have in the backyard.
If you choose to buy one, I would plan to seal the seams somehow or buy after-market gaskets to help with the air leakage issues – I think that would make the pit 10x more enjoyable to smoke on.
While this is an extra step that you may not need to take with other offsets on the market, I think the price point makes the little extra work more than worthwhile.
I wish Oklahoma Joe’s would address the air leakage issues at the factory, even if it meant increasing the price slightly. It would be so much easier to just have better seals on the pit straight from the factory than to have to wait for third-party parts to arrive after the fact.