How To Control The Heat On An Oklahoma Joe Smoker [A Complete Guide]

If you don’t know how to manage the temperature of an offset smoker properly, it can cause a lot of problems. If you don’t follow the basics correctly, you can waste a lot of fuel. To make matters worse, your cooks can also taste bitter. So, how do you control heat on an Oklahoma Joe smoker?

It’s all about ensuring proper airflow, using the right type of fuel, and having an adequate amount of fuel. Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through how you can do that in this guide. I’ll make sure that it becomes clear and easy for you to manage the fire in your Oklahoma Joe smoker. So, let’s dive in!

how to control heat on oklahoma joe smoker

How To Control The Heat On An Oklahoma Joe Smoker [Complete Guide]

Offset smokers are different from pellet grills or other electric smokers as they’re meant to be used by small fires that burn real wood. The pieces of wood you put in the firebox get hot, send the air through the cooking chamber, and exit through the exhaust.

During this time, a convection current is created and that creates a consistent flow of hot air. That’s what gives your barbecues the awesome smoky flavor and it can’t be replicated with other types of smokers.

I’ve explained how offset smokers work for a reason. Now, you can have a proper idea of what you’ll be doing as a pitmaster. Your main job will be to make sure that you control the draft.

Secondly, you also have to make sure that the firebox is always lit and there’s sufficient wood in there. If the smoker runs out of wood to burn, it can ruin the smokiness of the barbecue. You surely don’t want that to happen.

Controlling the heat on an Oklahoma Joe speaker is a combination of all these factors. You’d have to do the basics right so that you can have an easier time maintaining the temperature later on.

You have to start by preheating the smoker and setting up the firebox correctly. Then, you have to make sure you have the right type of fuel and set up the cooking chamber properly.

Only then would you be able to easily control the temperature in your smoker. I’ve talked about all these steps in detail in this guide. So, let’s go through them one by one.

How To Control The Draft On The Oklahoma Joe Smoker

You have to make sure that the flow of air is in the right direction if you want great cooks. That is the main way to ensure that the smoker has a clean burning heat. Firstly, you have to open the exhaust of the smoker so that the smoke isn’t trapped and can easily exit.

Secondly, keep in mind that it’s always ideal to use clean, dry-burning wood for your cooks. If you use charcoal by itself or something else instead, it won’t reach the temperature needed for low and slow cooks.

The temperature you want would be ideally more than 220 degrees Fahrenheit for your cooks. But with other types of fuel, they may be lower than 200 degrees. So, it’s better to use hardwood than charcoal.

Once you’re happy with the type of fuel you’re using, the next thing to do is to close the firebox. Again, double-check that the vents and exhaust are open so that the grill has proper airflow.

Finally, you have to make sure that the firebox never goes out on fire. If it were out of wire, it’d produce a thick smoke that’d ruin the flavor of your barbecue. You always want thin smoke to come out of the exhaust. If you see thick smoke, your firebox has likely run out of fire.

open the exhaust of oklahoma joe smoker

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that the more smoke that comes out of the exhaust, the better the barbecue will taste. But trust me, that’s not the case at all. More smoke means your barbecue will taste acrid. Ideally, it should be next to invisible, and you’d barely be able to see it.

How To Set Up The Firebox Of Your Smoker

When it comes to making the heat on the firebox, one option that you can go for is building a fire at the bottom of it. But I don’t recommend it, as it doesn’t leave any space for airflow under the fire. On top of that, it can also damage the steel in the firebox and make it rusty.

Another way you can go about it is to place a grate at the bottom of the firebox. If you do that, there’ll be enough room for proper airflow. Moreover, the steel of the firebox will no longer be damaged if you’re careful when placing the hardwood for your cooks.

one method of setting up firebox

I would advise you to follow this second option, as it’s much better, in my opinion. Not only will it make your food taste better, but it’ll also ensure that your smoker lasts longer.

However, there’s a third way to do it that’s superior to both of the above methods. It takes a little bit more work. But personally, I like it the most, and that’s how I set up a firebox when using my smoker. I call it the V-shaped method. It looks something like this:

So, how do you set it up? I just use the grates that came with my Oklahoma Joe smoker. You have to place one grate at the bottom. Then, you’ll use two other grates to make the V-shape. Take a look at the picture above to see if there’s any more confusion in setting it up. Hopefully, that’ll clarify your doubts.

Now, why do I like this method the most? Firstly, the airflow you get from this method is the highest. There’s plenty of room for air to travel in all directions. Secondly, remember how I talked about offset smokers being meant to run on a small but intense fire over a long time?

That’s exactly what you get with this method. The fire gets smaller because the V-shape limits the area where the charcoal or the fuel can be. The fuel was funneled down to the same area.

As you keep burning the hardwood, it doesn’t spread in all directions. It gradually falls to the bottom of the V-shape, and the fire only intensifies with time.

How To Start Oklahoma Joe Pellet Smoker

An important thing you have to do if you want to get great cooks from your smoker is to preheat it properly. In my opinion, you have to preheat the smoker for at least one hour before you cook.

Keep in mind that all the components are made of metal. The cooking chamber is a big area, and it needs adequate time to be ready for the cook and maintain consistent temperatures. Preheating the smoker also puts you at a very good start for easy fire management for the rest of your cooks.

I like to use charcoal to preheat my smoker. Fill up a charcoal chimney with natural lumps of charcoal. Don’t hesitate to throw big pieces in there. In the case of charcoal, the bigger the better. That’s because it’ll burn longer and help maintain constant temperatures.

heating up the charcoal of oklahoma foe firebox

To create a heat source, you can use a paper towel and drizzle some oil on it so that it can burn well. Then, place it under the charcoal chimney and light it with a torch. I like it when I leave it for at least 15-20 minutes until it gets white hot before doing anything else.

Before you put the burning charcoal into the firebox, make sure you close the vents. Otherwise, the charcoal pieces can fall from the firebox. You can place all the charcoal at once in the firebox.

However, I usually place about two-thirds of all the charcoal into the firebox the first time. I keep the remaining one-third in the chimney. Then, I fill up the charcoal chimney again, wait for it to get heated, and place it in the firebox.

The advantage of leaving some of the charcoal in the chimney instead of dumping it all in the firebox is that you won’t have to relight it. As it saves me a bit of work, I am all for it.

Then, you can reopen the air intake vent all the way. I am not talking about the small vent, as it doesn’t let in enough air for a clean fire. You have to clean the exhaust the whole time and not shut it down at any time.

It’s a good practice to control the smoke by adding wood in the correct quantity at the right time rather than relying on the vents. Then, you can add a fresh piece of hardwood to the firebox. Here’s what it looks like:

starting the fire of oklahoma foe firebox

If it’s a piece that has been properly dried, it’ll easily catch fire. After nearly 10 minutes, the piece of hardwood should be completely back with white edges. That’s your indication that the fire has started, and you can close the firebox lid at that point.

It also marks the end of the preheating process. After that, you can add the meat to your smoker and expect great results. Before diving into how you should set up the cooking chamber, let’s talk about the correct choice of hardwood for you.

What Type Of Hardwood Should You Use For Your Cooks?

Using the right type of hardwood for your offset smoker is a topic that’s often overlooked. But I am speaking from personal experience and letting you know that it can make all the difference in the world.

A piece of hardwood that’s been dried properly and has low moisture content will easily catch fire. It’ll burn cleaner and lead to your food tasting better. On the other hand, a piece of hardwood that hasn’t been dried properly won’t burn clean and will make your food taste bad.

I recommend getting kiln-dried hardwood that has a moisture level lower than 10%. If you don’t know what a kiln is, just think of it as something like an oven that’s used to take the moisture out of wood.

As long as the moisture level of the hardwood is less than 20%, you can use it. But if you want to get the most out of your cooks, go for a hardwood that’s at less than 10% moisture.

So, how can you tell the moisture of the hardwood? If you’re nerdy like me, you can get a moisture meter. It’ll tell you how much moisture there is in the pieces of hardwood you want to burn.

One thing that you should take away from this is that you shouldn’t use green wood under any circumstances. At the very least, you should go for hardwood that’s been seasoned for 1-2 years. But ideally, kiln-dried hardwood is the way to go for the most delicious cooks.

That covers the type of hardwood you should use. Now, let’s talk a little about the size of the wood that would be ideal for your cooks. I like to use hardwood splits that are about 8 inches, as you can easily insert them into the firebox.

It’s my ideal choice when the smoker is already operating and cooking. I put it in when the fire is getting lower so that the proper temperature can be maintained. However, I use hardwood splits that are about 11 inches when it comes to starting the fire.

Normally, the hardwood splits that you’ll get when you purchase them will be around 12 inches. So, you’d have to cut them down to put them in the firebox. I use an axe and table saw to cut them to the size I like.

When it comes to charcoal, I prefer to use natural lump charcoal. It’s okay to use charcoal briquettes, but I like the natural ones better as they burn hotter. If you also use natural lump charcoal or plan to use them, make sure you get it from a brand that makes them big. The bigger they are, the longer they burn.

As I showed you in the section on preheating, I mainly use charcoal to start the fire. Then, I only use hardwood splits to control the cook. But for cooks that are really long, all the charcoal can get used up.

In those cases, you’ll have to light up the charcoal again to refill that charcoal bed. Now, I’ve noticed that cooks that take longer than 5–6 hours for me require that extra addition of charcoal. So, I prepare accordingly and add the charcoal before it gets completely consumed by the fire.

How To Set Up Your Cooking Chamber

I like my cooking chamber set up a particular way so that most of the hot air from the firebox goes through the meat. First of all, I have a baffle plate set up against the firebox.

This baffle plate is designed to deflect the air downward. I’ve just covered a grate in aluminum foil to create this plate. Even though it’s a quick DIY thing to create, it can help a lot in controlling the temperature.

baffle plate of oklahoma foe firebox

As it makes sure that the air goes downward, there’s a guarantee that the hot air will touch the meat. As you probably know, hot air automatically goes upward. So without it, there’s a chance that the hot air never even touches the meat. I recommend you use that.

Secondly, I also use some bricks wrapped up in aluminum foil and place them at the bottom of the cooking chamber. It also helps maintain the temperature.

When it comes to monitoring the cooking chamber, you can use the default thermometers. But they’re far from accurate, as they usually record the highest temperature. As hot air rises, it picks up the highest value. But when it comes to the food itself, the temperature down there may be different.

You can counter this by using a meter probe. The way that it works is that you can put it inside the cooking chamber, and it’ll automatically tell you what the temperature is. The result from this will be much more accurate.

How To Control The Temp On An Oklahoma Joe Smoker

The level of effort it’ll take to maintain your desired temperature depends on the wiggle room you have. For example, if you want the temperature to be within 10 degrees + or -, then you have about 20 degrees of wiggle room.

As the allowed fluctuation here is really low, you’ll have to monitor the fire closely and spend a lot of time looking after it. I’ve found my sweet spot at about 25 degrees of + and -.

That leaves me with nearly 50 degrees of wiggle room. So, I don’t have to be so invested in the fire that it takes up a lot of my time. Depending on what I am cooking, I usually like the internal temperature of the cooking chamber to be within 200–250 degrees or 250–300 degrees.

I go about this by having my phone near me so that I can constantly check the internal temperature from the meter probe. I also keep the hardwood splits close so that I can add them whenever I need them.

A little hack you can use to observe the fire better is to create a makeshift mirror. It’s hard to see what the fire is doing unless you get your hand in there. So, making a mirror like this helps you take a good look at the fire at all times without putting yourself in harm’s way.

On top of that, you won’t have to open the lid of the firebox often and disturb the cook if you have a mirror set up. I also preheat a piece of hardwood inside the cooking chamber.

preheating the hardwood of oklahoma foe firebox

From the picture above, hopefully, you can tell where I placed it. Because of the V-shape setup of my grates, there’s a perfect spot to preheat that hardwood. I place it inside the main burning area around 10 minutes before the temperature is about to drop.

So, the new hardwood has 10 minutes to catch fire. When the old hardwood is about to be consumed and the temperature drops, the new hardwood comes into action. By placing a new piece of hardwood every time at the right intervals, you can maintain the temperature.

How To Know When To Add Hardwood To The Firebox

Adding a new piece of hardwood is a very important skill that you need to master to make sure that the temperature is maintained. Honestly, this is something that takes a bit of time to learn.

It comes down to your own experience with previous cooks and knowing your unit well. But don’t worry, I’ll share some tips that you’ll find helpful, even if it’s your first time using Oklahoma Joe.

You have to be able to anticipate when the fire is about to burn out. Starting out with the first split, you can measure the amount of time your piece of hardwood burns out. Once you go through a few of them, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how long they burn.

Let’s say you’ve noticed that each split lasts for nearly 35–40 minutes. In that case, you’ll have to put the new piece of hardwood at the 25–30 minute mark. If you do that, the temperature will be nicely maintained.

But that only works after a few cooks. You may be wondering how you can get it right, starting with your first split. The way to do that is to look at the split that’s currently burning and inspect its condition.

When the split starts to look black and gets cracking, you can tell that it’s close to being fully burned out. So, that’d be a good time to add your fresh split.

Keep in mind that even with the tips I gave you, it’ll take some time to get used to it. The size of splits you use, the type of splits, the type of fuel, and your knowledge of your unit all play a critical role in this process.

That’s why I strongly recommend using kiln-dried hardwood, as it has very low moisture. It’d also be helpful for you if the size, shape, and weight of the pieces of hardwood are very similar to each other.

Why Is The Oklahoma Joe Smoker Not Getting Hot Enough?

Your smoker may not be getting hot if you avoid any of the steps I’ve talked about. All of them are essential to getting the perfect smoke. In most cases, the smoker doesn’t get hot enough due to not fully opening the air vents.

Make sure that both the air vents and exhaust are fully open. The draft has to be perfect to reach the desired temperature. If you’re still not getting a temperature that’s hot enough to your liking, you can use more pieces of hardwood to increase the temperature.

Now, you know how to increase heat on an Oklahoma Joe smoker. I always recommend that you keep the airways fully open and only play with the pieces of hardwood. Over time, that’ll lead to a better grasp of your cooks and more consistent flavors.

How To Use The Oklahoma Joe Barrel Smoker

The tips that I shared with you are pretty universal. They’ll not only work for all Oklahoma Joe heaters but even all other offset smokers in general. So, rest assured that you’ve learned something valuable.

When it comes to the OJ vertical barrel smoker, I like the fact that you have a lot of control over the air intake damper. You can set it up with precise measurements, and that can be useful in controlling the temperature.

Everything else pretty much remains the same. There’s not a big difference in the operation of one OJ smoker from the other. Even if you want to know how to use an Oklahoma Joe Highland smoker, the process remains the same.

How To Use The Oklahoma Joe Smoker To Grill

Using your smoker as a grill can be challenging as the cooking style is different. While smokers are used for lower temperatures and longer cooks, grills are used for the exact opposite reason.

However, you can use some workarounds to use your Oklahoma Joe as a grill. The process of preheating the charcoal will stay the same. The difference is that you’ll place more pieces of hardwood at the same time to increase the temperature than what it’d normally be in a smoker.

I use the meter probe to monitor the internal temperature. Once it gets to your desired temperature, you can start cooking. The grate needs to be placed directly above the fire, as that’s how typical grilling is done.

When using your smoker to smoke the food, I recommend opening all the vents and airways all the way through. However, the exhaust should only be able to slightly open when you’re looking to grill. That way, most of the heat will stay, but yet enough exhaust will get out not to ruin the cook.

A common mistake some novices make is to try and flip the meat too soon. You need to give it some time so that you can easily flip it. Otherwise, it’ll stick to the grate, and it’ll be harder to flip the meat.

That’s all you need to know about “converting” your smoker into a grill. Once you understand the basics well, you’ll need some practice to get a good grasp of them. With time, it’ll be plug-and-play for you. Enjoy your cooks!


Why am I getting too much smoke from the exhaust?

The most likely reason behind getting thick smoke from the exhaust is due to using wet that’s too wet. So, you need to use kiln-dried wood to solve this problem and control the smoke properly.

How to adjust the temp on an Oklahoma Joe Smoker

Most people adjust the temperature by opening or closing the air intake damper further. If you want to increase the temperature, you’ll open it more. If you want it to go down, you’ll close the damper more.

What should I do if the hardwood splits in the firebox are burned out?

You’d be able to tell when that happens as you’d see thick white smoke coming from the exhaust. You should open the lid of the firebox and make sure the vents are open. Add a fresh split and wait until it catches on fire.

How do I change the Oklahoma Joe pellet smoker settings?

Unlike Oklahoma Joe pellet grills, the smokers don’t have a lot of settings that you’d need to know about. Most of the work has to be done manually. You can’t just turn a knob to adjust the temperature in the smoker like a pellet grill.

What should you do if the temperature inside the cooking chamber gets too high?

If you’re worried about the temperature being so high that it’ll burn down your food, just open the lid of the firebox. That’ll let some of the hot air go out and drop the temperature of the cooking chamber by a few degrees.

What should I do if there is dirty smoke inside the cooking chamber?

You’d have to open the cooking chamber and let that bad smoke go out. Then, you’ll have to shut everything down and start maintaining the temperature like you normally would.

What should you do if the fire goes out completely in your Oklahoma Joe smoker?

If the fire goes out because you had to attend to an emergency or fell asleep, you’d have to restart the entire cooking process. You’d begin by preheating the smoker using charcoal and then complete your cook.


How to control heat on Oklahoma Joe smoker? Hopefully, you’re an expert on this topic by now, because I’ve tried to share everything I’ve learned from my years of cooking and grilling experience in this guide.

Remember that maintaining the smoke can be a tricky thing at first. But as you continue to get more experience, it’ll become easier for you. So, don’t be too stressed about it if you don’t get it right the first time. Check out my guide on troubleshooting an Oklahoma Joe pellet grill if you’re having any issues.

About William

William is the founder of He has real life practical skills in fixing smoker & heating appliance issues. He loves to share his knowledge & helps others in fixing their appliances & saving their money. William firmly believes that anyone can repair his or her unit with the correct guidance & knowledge. See more at about us.

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