Thursday, September 26, 2019

Product Review: Oklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker

[FTC Standard Disclosure]  I received an Oklahoma Joe Bronco as part of a paid project I worked on; however, this project was entirely unrelated for Nibble Me This.  I have not received any compensation nor have I been asked to promote Oklahoma Joe products on this website or any of my social media channels. 

In the past few weeks, I have seen pictures of ridiculous close-out prices on the new Oklahoma Joe's Bronco drum smoker.  Most of the ones I've seen have been Wal-Mart or other big box stores. I guess that they are just closing them out because they are seasonal inventory items for them. 

I thought I would share my experience with the Bronco, for anyone who is considering buying one.

Review of Oklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker

The Bronco entered Oklahoma Joe's line up of smokers in the past year.  This smoker is a drum smoker, and drum smokers have been a proven design for years. Back then, they were mostly homemade models made out of used 55-gallon drums affectionately called UDS or Ugly Drum Smokers.  The beauty of a UDS was that for $100 you could build a UDS with long burn times and quality smoke.  Drum smokers have seen a surge in popularity because companies are now offering well-designed and well-built commercial options for those of us who have neither the inclination nor the mechanical ability to build our own.

The arrival of the Bronco was a bit of a shakeup to Oklahoma Joe's offerings, which have traditionally been offset smokers.  This year, Oklahoma Joe also added two charcoal grills in the Judge and his little cousin, the Rambler.

Assembly

The unboxing and assembly of the Bronco were straightforward and simple.

  • The instructions are clear,
  • The parts are well-identified,
  • Only a limited number of standard tools are needed, and
  • There are only a handful of steps to take.


The assembly of the Bronco took less than 30 minutes at a leisurely pace.  

Features

The Bronco is designed with the average backyard user in mind and is packed with features. 



The charcoal basket and ash pan are quite similar to the CharBroil Kamander.  The ash pan is porcelain coated metal and rests beneath the charcoal basket.  This makes sure you can cook a long brisket cook without having the ashes impede your airflow.

The charcoal basket is a porcelain ring with grates on the bottom, ensuring steady airflow.  The basket holds 8 pounds of charcoal.  The notched handle makes it simple to handle the charcoal basket with the tool that Oklahoma Joe provides with it. 
Looking down at the empty charcoal basket on top of the ash pan.  This design gives the lower half of the drum double-wall insulation.  That buffer makes for more even and steady cooking temperatures.


The Bronco comes with a metal deflector plate.  This isn't required for drum smokers, but I sure prefer it.  It makes sure that you are using indirect heat.  The air holes let some of the heat come through to allow for even flow of heat and air.  
You can also flip the heat deflector and put the charcoal basket on top of the deflector, converting your smoker into a grill!  I love that feature.


The Bronco comes with a porcelain coated 18" grate, which is the same size as a standard kettle or kamado grill.  But that's not the only option for cooking set ups.

Did you notice the three notched brackets?

In depth review of Oklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker
The brackets are for a series of meat hangers instead of using the grates.  This replicates old-school smokehouses which hung meat in the smoke.  It also gives a lot more room.  You can get 2-3 racks of ribs on an 18" grate, but you can fit 9 racks of ribs using the hangers.

The Bronco comes with the classic Oklahoma Joe's wagon wheels.  This makes it easy to wheel the Bronco around as needed.
The tube on the side is the air intake.  Sure, it is nice that the control is located so that you don't have to bend over to adjust the heat.  But it is more than just a matter of convenience.  The tube size and length is calculated and designed to provide the optimum draw, ensuring proper airflow.

Both the intake and exhaust have graduated dampers.  It isn't as simple as saying "To cook at 250, set the intake at 1 and the exhaust at 2." because outdoor cooking has a ton of variables.  But the markings will make it quicker to learn the best settings for your use.

If you have seen the Rutland gaskets that I have installed on all of my Big Green Eggs, then you know that I am a huge proponent of woven fiber gaskets for smokers.  The Bronco delivers in that area too, no aftermarket gasket needed.  This provides a tight seal between the lid and base, eliminating air leaks.

The hinge is sturdy and has no alignment issues.

The metal shelf is sturdy enough to hold a couple of pork butts and provides ample room for your tools or accessories.

Speaking of accessories, this is the Drum Triple Grate.  It has a section for grilling, holding things like jalapeno poppers, and a veggie basket.

You can mix and match that grate with the hangers, so you could have a few racks of ribs hanging while you smoke other foods on the grates.


The thermometer is mounted near the level of the cooking grate, always a good thing for a smoker.

Performance

I have used the Bronco all summer, mostly with low and slow cooks but some grilling.  I've done ribs, brisket, chuck roast, wings, pork butts, and more on it. 

Smoking a Certified Angus Beef® Brand chuck roast on the Bronco.

My general thoughts on the Bronco's performance are positive.

  • Smoke quality - It is easy to get the Bronco dialed in with a clean, moderate level of smoke.  
  • Smoke times - Depending on the cooking temperature, I usually can run the Bronco between 6 and 10 hours on a single load of coal.  A kamado will smoke much longer, but these are decent cook times, especially compared to an offset smoker.
  • Durability - I've kept the smoker outside on my deck for most of the Summer.  So far I haven't had any rust spots or durability issues.
  • Temperature control - Once I have the Bronco preheated and dialed in for smoking, it has done well at holding consistent temperatures.  To be honest, I haven't cooked on it in cold, windy weather yet but I don't anticipate any significant issues.  When it comes to grilling, you will have better than average temperature control but not as tight as you would expect from a kamado grill.
  • Food - The food I have cooked on the Bronco has turned out as good as I would expect.  The level of smoke is less than offsets but more noticeable than kamado grills.  The exterior color is darker and the smoke rings more defined than smoking on a kamado grill.  This smoker puts out great food.


Pineapple Habenero Wings smoked on the Bronco.

Based on my use, I would enthusiastically recommend the Bronco at full price. It is ideal for the backyard grillers, from beginner level to advanced.  If you can get one for the ridiculous close-out prices I have seen, my recommendation is upgraded to  "Heck yes"! 

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