They promise a lot with precision control, versatile smoking and a grill setup too.
But, have Oklahoma Joe really nailed adapting a standard drum smoker to all that plus more?
In this Oklahoma Joe Bronco review, we’ll share our experience using this all-in-one barbecue that topped our list of the best drum smokers.
Is it set and forget? How much control do you have over the temperature? What’s the quality like?And, is the grill setup easy and effective to use?
We answer these questions and more to help you decide if the Bronco’s going to be sitting in your backyard soon.
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Table of Contents
The Quick Version of our Oklahoma Joe Bronco Review
Stepping things up a notch, Oklahoma Joe have taken the basic drum smoker and added features to give you temperature control and versatility.
And, they’ve done a great job of it.
The 18″ Bronco is easy to use and keeps a fairly steady temperature to turn out delicious smoked meats. But, with the ability to move the charcoal basket and cooking grate up, the grilling on the Bronco is just as good as the smoking.
Set it up with the regular 284 square inch grate. Or, load it to the max using the 9 stainless steel hooks that are included. The charcoal basket will give you about 10 hours of low and slow before you need to think about adding more fuel.
Simple, versatile and not bad quality for the price, the Bronco is a great barbecue for anyone looking for a charcoal-based do-it-all solution.
Features of the Oklahoma Joe Bronco
- Painted steel drum barrel
- Gasket seal on lid
- Porcelain-coated steel grate, charcoal basket and ash pan
- Stainless steel meat hooks
Ease of use:
- Vents give you control over air intake which changes temperature
- Built-in temperature gauge
- Customizable setup
- Oversized charcoal basket allows for about 10 hours of low and slow smoking
- 6 hooks plus hanger setup
- Hook remover tool
- Heat diffuser to block flare-ups when smoking
- Charcoal basket with ash pan for easy clean-up
A Bit About the Oklahoma Joe Bronco
The Oklahoma Joe company was founded by Joe Davidson in 1987 when he brought affordable offset smokers to the market.
After a couple of decades of huge success in competition and in growing popularity, OKJ was bought by competitor, Char-Broil.
With the larger backing of Char-Broil, the Oklahoma Joe brand has been able to continue innovating and developing their range. With it, they’ve brought the Bronco Drum Smoker to the market, improving on the standard drum smoker style to give users control and even more versatility out of this popular, space-saving design.
Now there’s 2 versions of the Oklahoma Joe Bronco; the standard and the Bronco Pro.
The difference between the two?
The Bronco Pro is larger with a 21.5″ rack instead of the standard 18″. It’s also got a larger fuel basket that can smoke up to 15 hours over the 10 hours of the Bronco.
Unboxing and Set Up
It is a drum smoker. But, there’s quite a lot of parts to the OKJ Bronco.
In saying that, putting it together isn’t difficult and can easily be done by one person.
It took me less than an hour. Everything fit together well and there were no issues with misalignment or anything else.
Once it’s set up, it’s time to do the burn in.
To do so you’re going to coat it with a fine spray of high-heat oil like canola.
Cover everything including the inside of the lid, racks and the walls.
Then, light a chimney’s worth of charcoal, add it to the charcoal basket and let it burn.
You want to leave the Bronco going for about 2-3 hours at 275-300°F. This will make sure you get rid of any unwanted residue left on the smoker from production as well as protecting the interior from rust.
Check out Oklahoma Joe’s guide if you want a more detailed process.
Oklahoma Joe’s are typically known for having a decent design but a pretty average build.
But, out of the box, I was really impressed by the quality of the Bronco!
It’s not made from the thickest metal. And, it’d be nice if it was porcelain-enameled to give it more durability like the Pit Barrel.
But, the parts fit together well. OKJ have added quality where it’s most important (gasket, porcelain-coated heat deflector, stainless steel hooks, thick rubber handle) and saved costs where they could (basic paint finish with raw interior).
Overall, the quality of the Bronco is better than I’d expect for it’s price.
The temperature gauge reads fairly accurately. And, We’ve been using it for a while now and there’s so far, no quality-related issues.
The Oklahoma Joe Bronco fits an 18″ grate across.
That’ll give you a modest 284 square inches of grilling space. Enough to fit 10 or so burgers.
But, when you’re smoking, you’re not limited to using the grate.
Yes, you can smoke 2 pork butts on it. Or, a rack of ribs and a couple of pork butts.
But, if you want to smoke a lot, the Bronco also comes with stainless steel hooks so you can hang meat too.
There’s 3 hanging rods included plus 9 hooks (3 for each). So, you can hang up to 9 racks of ribs. The rods are moveable too so you’ve got a bit of flexiblity to shuffle them around where you want if you’re doing a mix of ribs and larger cuts too.
Smoking on the OKJ Bronco is really all-round great.
The dampers make it easy to control the temperature, the heat deflector evens the temperature out and prevents charred ends when you’re hanging your meat.
Smoke rings? Nice and thick.
Smoky flavor? Strong and smoky as you’d expect from a charcoal smoker.
Moisture content? Nice and juicy. Definitely no need for a water pan.
If you’re a newbie, the learning curve on the Bronco isn’t huge. With any new smoker, it’ll take you a few smokes to work out how to use it best. But, after that you’ll be away and turning out some great meat.
Now, unlike the Pit Barrel Cooker, the Bronco isn’t set and forget.
You will need to adjust the air intake valve while you’re cooking keep a steady temperature.
But, you’re probably looking at going out there a couple of times during your cook to do so.
You don’t need to check on it every half an hour. You won’d need to refill the charocal or wood. The Bronco will keep things going fairly steadily on it’s own. We’ve even used it in not so flash hot weather and it runs pretty smoothly, especially considering there’s no insulation.
I do use the Bronco with a MEATER Plus though.
It’s not essential. But, the ambient temperature reading sends an alert to my phone when the temperature dips too low so I can go out an adjust the vent.
You could set up any other wireless meat probe inside the Bronco as well. But, the MEATER means you won’t be feeding wires through the gasket.
It’s easy. And, in addition to keeping an eye on your drum temeprture, it’ll also tell you exactly when your meat’s cooked to perfection so you’ll never over or under-do it again.
You can check out our full MEATER review here if you want more info.
Grilling is where the Bronco really shines over the competition because nothing is compromised with the grill setup.
Simply flip the heat diffuser plate to form a higher base for the charcoal basket and place the grate on the top level supports.
This will give you a standard height for grilling so you don’t burn yourself trying to bend down. And, the coals are at the ideal height for maximum heat.
Is it effective?
Definitely. Just like any other charcoal grill, you can’t really go wrong.
Once the setup is there, you can grill anything and do a great job of it.
Can you do a reverse sear on the OKJ Bronco?
Moving the meat, lit coals and hot grates is going to be a bit of a mission. But, with some high heat gloves and somewhere to safely place the hot things, you could flip the setup mid-cook to reverse sear.
Included and Optional Extras
The Oklahoma Joe Bronco comes with everything you need for smoking and grilling.
You’ll have the charcoal basket to keep the coals tight, ash pan for easy cleanup, heat diffuser plate, standard grate, hanging rods, hooks and a hook lifter for getting things in and out when it’s hot.
It also comes with the small but handy side table. You can hang tools off it too.
In terms of add-ons, if you want to hang meat and use the standard grate, you’ll need to grab a triple grate. And, there’s heavier duty skewers that are designed for smoking whole turkeys.
The Oklahoma Joe Bronco is covered by a 2 year warranty.
Not bad, not great.
In our opinion, it’s not a bad warranty period for the price of the smoker. There’s nothing electronic to break. Just follow the standard advice for maintenance and keep it out of the rain.
Cleaning the Bronco
To keep your Bronco in tip-top shape, make sure you’re regularly cleaning it.
The hooks are dishwasher safe. Scrape down the grate if you’ve used that and give the heat diffuser a wipe down too.
Lift out the charcoal basket and ash pan and tip the COLD ashes into the bin. You can also use a wet/dry vacuum to clean them out. We then use ours to vacuum any stray ashes out of the bottom of the drum.
You can season with canola oil inside and out to protect the surface more if needed too.
Watch the video below for a full walk-through.
Pros and Cons of the Oklahoma Joe Bronco
What We Like About the Bronco
- It’s easy to control and maintain your desired temperature
- Great setup for both smoking and grilling
- Heat diffuser plate prevents the bottom rib from drying out
- Gives you flexibility in what you want to cook and how you cook it
- Can hold a huge capacity by hanging meat
- Gasket seal on lid gives it a tight fit
- Comes with the ash pan which makes cleaning up faster and easier
- Durable build where it’s really needed – stainless steel hooks, porcelain-coated heat diffuser, charcoal basket and ash pan
What We Don't Like About the Bronco
- It’d be nice if exterior was powder or porcelain-coated for extra rust-resistance
- Air intake leaks small amounts of grease underneath the drum
Should I Buy the Oklahoma Joe Bronco?
Big and versatile for a very reasonable price, the Oklahoma Joe Bronco really steps drum smoking up a notch or two.
The Bronco is ideal for anyone who’s looking for:
- More control over the temperature than other drum smokers provide
- Good grilling as well as smoking
- That extra large cooking capacity
- The extras included
- An affordable price
If those things are you, the Bronco is a great all-round barbecue. No, it’s not the best quality out there. But, follow the maintenance guidelines and it should bring years of good food to your plate.
FAQs About the Oklahoma Joe Bronco
Q. Can I use lump charcoal in the Bronco?
Yes. OKJ recommend using briquettes because they burn more steadily. We use lump in it most of the time. The temperature can vary more with lump instead of briquettes but is still easy to control. Read more on the lump charcoal vs briquette debate.
Q. Is the Bronco for grilling as well?
You can grill on the Bronco by simply moving the charcoal basket and cooking grate up to the grill setup. The results are great and what you’d expect from a charcoal grill.
Q. What’s the difference between the Bronco and Bronco Pro?
It sounds like the Pro is more advanced than the other but the Pro is just larger. It’s grate is 21.5″ across while the standard Bronco is 18″. The Pro also has a larger charcoal basket so can smoke for longer without needing to refill.
Q. Can I use wood in the Bronco?
To get that wood-smoked flavor, you can add wood chunks to the Bronco’s charcoal basket. If you don’t, you’ll end up with more of a charcoal smoked flavor.
Q. Is the Oklahoma Joe Bronco better than the Pit Barrel Cooker?
We like the Oklahoma Joe Bronco because it’s more versatile than the Pit Barrel Cooker. It comes with a whole heap of accessories. And, it’s not a fixed temperature smoker so you’ve got control.
In saying that, some people want the ease of the set and forget Pit Barrel experience.
So, there’s good and bad about both. Which is best depends on what you’re after.
Read our Pit Barrel Cooker vs OKJ Bronco comparison for more details.
Specs for the Oklahoma Joe Bronco
Barbecue type: Charcoal drum cooker
Barbecue material: Painted steel
Grate material: Porcelain-coated steel
Cooking capacity: 284 square inches or 9 hooks
Fuel type: Charcoal
Price guide: $$
Assembled size (in): 30″ W x 43″ H x 25″ D
Weight: 137 lbs
Warranty: 2 years