How To Use an Oklahoma Joe Smoker – The Ultimate Guide

This is our Ultimate Guide on How to Use an Oklahoma Joe Smoker. 

Find out what makes this offset barrel smoker such a classic and learn how to dial it in perfectly to make some great BBQ!

oklahoma joe smoker
Want to learn how to use an Oklahoma Joe Smoker the RIGHT way? Then read on!

Have you recently purchased or inherited an Oklahoma Joe Smoker but aren’t quite sure exactly how to use it?

Well then you have come to right place because we are going to dive deep into how to properly use this great and beloved brand of offset barrel smokers.

While there are advantages to using pellet grills, electric smokers, and vertical propane cabinet style smokers that offer a certain level of convenience and a space saving footprint, there is nothing quite like using the REAL DEAL – the classic charcoal fired offset barrel smoker.

And if you aren’t into going through the hassle of building your own, then you can’t get much better than the Oklahoma Joe Smoker.

But you WILL need to know how to use it.

So let’s dive in!


What Is An Oklahoma Joe Smoker?

Oklahoma Joe’s Smokers was founded by Joe Davidson.

He wanted to create a smoker that was the best to purchase and at the Oklahoma State Fair in 1987, his smokers quickly became a success.

From those humble beginnings, his business grew significantly and in 1994, the company moved to a bigger factory to produce more smokers per year.

In 1998, Joe Davidson sold his company to Char-Broil. This helped with the manufacturing process and the brand reached an entire  new level of nationwide popularity.

The Oklahoma Joe Smokers are made out of high-quality materials and are renowned for being great at smoking food.

Smoking, at its most basic level is a way of slow cooking food that involves using smoke and indirect heat at a consistent temperature.

A smoker typically takes longer to cook food as it remains at a lower temperature compared to a grill or oven.

a classic offset barrel smoker like the Oklahoma Joe
A classic offset barrel smoker.

The original Oklahoma Joe Smokers are a style of smoker known as an offset smoker.

An offset smoker is a very common, and classic type of charcoal smoker.

The food is placed in the larger main chamber, and the smaller offset firebox contains the charcoal or burned down wood coals along with smoking wood which then flows from one end to the other through the cooking chamber and then out the chimney, providing smoke and consistent indirect heat to slow cook anything from a brisket, to pulled pork shoulder, ribs, or even a fresh ham.

There are shelves in the main chamber placed horizontally to allow you to cook a large number of foods at one time, depending on the size of the model.

Looking for how to use an Oklahoma Joe PELLET Smoker?  Check out our overview article here on everything you need to know about using one.


Here’s a great overview from the guys over at The Barbecue Lab on how to use an Oklahoma Joe Smoker and what makes them so great:

Oklahoma Joe’s Highland Offset Smoker


oklahoma joe smoker
Click to see current price on Amazon


What Will I Need To Use An Oklahoma Joe Smoker?

Here is a handy list of items you will need when using your Oklahoma Joe Smoker:

How To Properly Use An Oklahoma Joe Smoker

Step One – Building Your Fire

Filling The Charcoal Bucket

One of the most important parts of the smoking process is correctly building your fire. Your fire is what will produce the consistent heat and smoke used to cook and flavor your food.

You will want to ensure it is built to a good standard and that the fire is maintained throughout cooking.

Take your charcoal and place it in the charcoal chimney. 

If you don’t own a charcoal chimney, we have a great article showing you how to make your own in a pinch here, however, you really should purchase one if you plan do do any regular cooking with charcoal.


Determining How Much Charcoal to Use and How Much to Light

Lighting a charcoal chimney starter
A charcoal chimney is the BEST way to get your charcoal fully lit

For most smoking recipes, you are going to be aiming for a temperature around 225-275 deg F. Maybe a little higher for skin-on chicken in order to crisp the skin. 

But if you light an ENTIRE chimney full of charcoal, especially a large chimney, your temperature is going to quickly rise up much higher than this ideal range, even with the dampers mostly closed.

You are better off adding a decent sized load of UNLIT charcoal to the offset firebox, and making a small well or depression in the center of the coals.

Then light about 1/4 to 1/2 a filled  chimney of coals.  Once they are lit, add them to that depression of unlit coals in the firebox.

Lump charcoal makes it easier to control the heat of your smoker as it responds well to oxygen. It tends to hold its heat for a longer period too.


Bring the Oklahoma Joe Smoker up to Temperature

After you have placed your lit charcoal in the firebox, close the lid and leave the damper open about 3/4 of the way, watching the temperature of the cooking chamber rise.

Also check that your exhaust chimney lid is open 1/2 to all the way open.

This is what causes the heat and smoke to be dragged through the smoker, so it will not work if this is closed.

To adjust your temperature throughout the cook, it is better to adjust the dampers on the firebox rather than the chimney lid.  Leave the chimney open about half way for now and then leave it alone.

Think of it now as bringing a car up to certain speed by adding gas (oxygen) and then decelerating the car (closing the dampers down gradually from about 3/4 to 1/4 open) as the car comes up to your desired speed (or in this case, the desired temperature range of 225 deg F.)

If you keep the dampers open 100% until the temperature gets to 225 deg F. you will most certainly overshoot your temperature by a lot and bing the grill up to 300 deg or higher, even after you close down the vents.


Managing your Dampers and your Charcoal

coals lit in a oklahoma joe smoker
Controlling your oxygen controls your temperature, and allows the wood you add to smoke rather than ignite.

After around fifteen to twenty minutes, the temperature in your firebox should be where you want it and you can now mostly leave it alone other than controlling the dampers.

Now managing the dampers on a charcoal fueled smoker is not the same as adjusting a burner on a gas grill.

Think of managing the dampers like turning a large ship.  You can’t expect to turn the wheel and have the ship instantly turn on a dime, or in our case, have the temperature change. 

You need to adjust the opening of your dampers based on which direction you want to temperature to go and where you want it ot be in about 10-15 minutes.

Over time, you will get to know your smoker and learn how closed the dampers need to be to start bringing the temperature DOWN, and how much to open them to bring the temperature UP. This will change from day to day and season to season depending how hot or cold it is outside and how windy it is too.

For now, once the temperature of the smoker is where you want it, use about 1/3 open as steady middle ground you can work around.


What to do if your Temperature Drops TOO much

Now, the whole idea here is controlling how much oxygen gets to our coals and how fast the coals we lit burn and how fast they light the unlit adjacent coals around them.

Sometimes you will dampen the oxygen TOO much and then begin to watch your temperature continue to drop even AFTER opening the dampers back up all the way.

If this happens, open up the firebox and stir the charcoal around with a long handled fire poker.

It is very unlikely you will need to relight your charcoal unless you REALLY snuffed it out for a long time.  In which case light another small bath of charcoal in your chimney and toss it in there.

Most of the time, the coals just need a little vigorous stirring to get a large amount of oxygen working again. Then close the lid and manage your dampers as needed.


If you Need to Add More Charcoal

You may need to add more charcoal 4-5 hours into a long cook.  Large pork shoulders and beef briskets can take 12 hours or more to smoke at 225 deg F and you WILL need to add more charcoal throughout the cook.

For dishes like ribs and chicken that have shorter cook times, this should not be necessary,


Step Two – Adding Your Wood

After your charcoal has been burning for around twenty minutes, and you have your damper dialed in to keep the cooking chamber at a constant temperature, you can add your smoking wood.

The wood you choose to add to your fire is what will partially flavor your food, and different types of woods can impart very different flavors.

There is no ONE wood that is particularly recommended, you can use whichever wood you prefer, and that is part of the fun of experimenting with BBQ.

However, if this is your first time smoking food, we recommend using a mild fruitwood such as cherry, peach, or apple.  Oak is ok to use as well. 

Hickory works well in small amounts but can impart too much smoky flavor if overused.

Mesquite has a VERY distinct flavor and is best left for short bouts of smoking, like 10-15 minutes of exposure for fish and chicken, not as much for a “long haul” smoking wood when doing an all day cook of pork, ribs, or brisket.  You can easily end up with very acrid tasting meat if you smoke with Mesquite.

Keep in mind fish and poultry will absorb smoke flavor MUCH faster than pork and beef, so they will not need nearly as much smoking wood to impart a smoky flavor before overdoing it.

In the Oklahoma Joe smoker, the best thing to use are small wood chunks added directly on top of the lit coals.

Zorestar Oak and Apple Smoker Wood Chunks


oak and apple bbq wood chunks for smoking on an oklahoma joe smoker
Click to see Current Price on Amazon.

Try not to use wood pellets or chips.

If you only have chips, you can place them in a smoker box or foil pouch as described in THIS article.  This will keep the from igniting when they touch the charcoal.

Also, no need to soak them in water.  The smoke comes from the restricted oxygen in the firebox, NOT from the wood being wet.  Wet wood will only slow down how long they take to start smoking.

Place 1-2 medium sized wood chunks in the firebox and close the lid.

In about 3-4 minutes, you should see a decent amount of smoke starting to come out your exhaust chimney.  At this point, you can add your food to the cooking chamber.


Step Three – Cook your Food

a fully lit and smoking oklahoma joe smoker, ready for meat to be added
Come to Papa…

At this point, the smoker SHOULD do most of the work cooking your food for you!

Try to dial in that temperature suing your dampers and then resist the urge to mess with it too much or open the firebox or cooking chamber to look inside.

If you open the firebox to look at your coals, you will only add more oxygen to the environment and  RAISE your temperature.

Opening the cooking chamber to have unnecessary looks will only cause you to LOSE heat and prolong your cooking time by having to raise the temperature back up everything you close the lid back down.

Of course it’s ok to flip your food or season it more or baste it with a mop sauce, just keep in mind all these things this will prolong your cook.

Your best bet is to us ea good quality dual probe meat thermometer set to monitor not only the internal temperature of the food, but also the temperature of the cooking chamber.


Step Four – Snuff out your Coals

Once your food has finished cooking, close your dampers and exhaust chimney lid completely and make sure the firebox and cooking chamber lids are closed as well.

This will not extinguish your coals by completely restricting their oxygen.

THIS is the safest and most correct way to ever put out lit charcoal.  Do not EVER pour water on lit charcoal as it can instantly vaporize and cause severe burns to your hands or face.

Even if that doesn’t happen, you don’t want to be putting water in your Oklahoma Joe smoker.  This will quickly lead to rust and unnecessary wear and damage.


Oklahoma Joe Smoker Recipes to Get you Started

Looking for some more smoky inspiration?

Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!

Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours!  You’ve got to check it out!


oklahoma joe smoker

How to Use an Oklahoma Joe Smoker

Learn how to properly use an Oklahoma Joe Smoker to make some great BBQ!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 6 hrs
Total Time 7 hrs
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 12 Servings


  • Oklahoma Joe's Offset Barrel Smoker
  • Charcoal Chimney
  • Lighter
  • Ash Bucket
  • Fire Poker
  • BBQ Tools and Gloves
  • Dual Probe BBQ Thermometer Set


  • 1 Bag Charcoal
  • 1-2 Chunks Smoking Wood
  • 1 Paraffin Fire Starter Cube
  • Food to Cook!


Light your Charcoal

  • Fill a charcoal chimney ¼ to ½ full with unlit charcoal. Light a paraffin cube placed below the chimney.
  • While the charcoal is lighting, fill your Oklahoma Joe offset firebox about ½ full with unlit coals for a 6 hour cook. Less if necessary, but not more than ½ full.
  • Make a small well or depression in the unlit coals in your firebox.

Add Lit Charcoal to Firebox

  • Once your charcoal chimney charcoal is fully lit, after about 10-20 minutes, carefully pour it into the well you made in the unlit coals in the firebox.
  • Do not stir these coals into the unlit ones, you want them to slowly spread and burn the other ones throughout the long cook. Close the lid.

Adjust Damper to Control Temperature

  • Open the chimney exhaust lid at least ½ to fully open and open your damper on the side of the fire box all the way as well.
  • For most BBQ you will be aiming for a cooking chamber temperature of 225°F to 275°F. When the temperature of the cooking chamber approaches 175°F begin to close the damper to ½ way open or even less to keep the temperature steady at this level.
  • Do not adjust the chimney exhaust lid.

Add Smoking Wood

  • Once the cooking chamber is up to temperature, open the firebox and add 1 or 2 medium chunks, or 1 Large chunk of your preferred smoking wood.
  • Close the lid of the firebox and after about 3-5 minutes you should begin to see smoke coming out of the chimney.

Put your Food in the Cooking Chamber

  • When the temperature is where you want it and smoke is being produced, place your food in the cooking chamber.
  • Use a good dual probe BBQ thermometer to monitor both the temperature of the cooking chamber as well as the internal temperature of the meat.

Adjust Dampers and add Charcoal as Needed

  • Adjust your dampers as needed to control the flow of oxygen to the coals and therefore the temperature of your cooking chamber.
  • If the temperature drops too much, even with the dampers mostly open, you may need to add more lit or unlit coals and/or stir the coals around to get more oxygen to the coals in the firebox.

Remove Food and Snuff Coals

  • When your food has come up to temperature, remove from the smoker.
  • Close the chimney exhaust lid completely as well as the damper and the lids to the firebox and cooking chamber. This will snuff out your coals over the next few hours.

Cleaning the Oklahoma Joe Smoker

  • The next day, when the coals are completely cooled, you can clean out the ash in the bottom of your firebox. You can leave any unlit or mostly intact coals for the next cook.
  • Clean your BBQ grates from the cooking chamber by placing them over a gas grill on HIGH heat for 8-12 minutes and then scrubbing with a bristle free grill bursk. Then place them back in the smoker when cooled.


Always wear protective BBQ gloves when touching any part of the Oklahoma Joe Smoker or Charcoal Chimney.  Never touch lit coals with ANY BBQ gloves but instead use long handled tongs or a fire poker.  Always have a fire extinguisher nearby.
Keyword bbq, Charcoal, Grilling, Oklahoma Joe, Setting up a Smoker, Smoking, Wood chips, Woodsmoke
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