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Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco notes

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    Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco notes

    First a tip of the hat to Jerod Broussard for his very good, and generally enthusiastic, review of the Bronco on these pages. It was part of the impetus for me to purchase one of these.

    Those of us that enjoy outdoor cooking live in a wonderful time when we have a wealth of choices in cooking devices. If you were to believe the advertising hype each manufacturer projects their device as the “best” or “perfect” tool to reach bbq/smoking nirvana. As most here have learned……………not so much. We each have different tastes. We each have different levels of interest in the time and effort we’re willing/able to invest to achieve whatever outcome. And then there’s skill and experience levels that span a broad range. This commentary is aimed at those who have seen the Bronco and wondered what it can and can’t do. Near as I can tell it’s been on the available market for just over a year. There is a fair amount of review style commentary out there that will have a different perspective or focus from what I address here, so if you’re a researching potential buyer I encourage your seeking out those comments as well. Unfortunately some of the commentary, particularly negative stuff, is less informed than it should be and appears to be based on guessing. Some, that look at first production run units, is out of date. While I am not going to attempt an all-inclusive review, I do want to point out some of the features that, to my view, are meaningful to assessing capabilities.

    The Bronco competes directly with the smallish, barrel style cookers; e.g. the PBC (pit barrel cooker) and it’s unintended (?) cousin the BHC (barrel house cooker), the WSM (weber smokey mountain), and probably a few others. Indirectly it might compete with just about any charcoal burner, and some wood burners, at least to some degree or other. So let’s get to it.

    If you’ve done any serious research you’ve heard of the infamous air intake pipe “gap” or misalignment. This occurred because the studs that mount the upper piece to the barrel side were welded in the wrong location causing the misfit. OJ/Char Broil fixed that by making the studs mount in a pair of sliding brackets solving the issue. For those early production units replacements where sent out as customers alerted the company. Mine has a production date of 3/19 and had the sliding fasteners already mounted so current inventory no longer has that issue. Speaking of customer service, my OE thermometer was damaged out of the box. I wrote the company that first day and they shipped out a replacement the next morning. Very responsive. The next most common issue is “grease” leakage from between the two piece barrel sections. The whole unit comes brilliantly packaged in mostly individual components (the hinged lid is already mounted), and having read those same comments I just placed a bead of high temp RTV around the flange before doing the assembly. I also did a bead around the exhaust stack base as well. After a few cooks I’ve not seen any leakage at the seams. After those two items any other “complaints” seem to be more of an individual nature. For instance, I’m not real fond of the appearance of those steel spoked wheels, an OJ trademark feature it seems, they look a bit hokey to my eye, but they function well on concrete and haven’t annoyed me enough, yet, to bother replacing with “rubber” tires of some sort. FYI, the axle is 1/2:”, not the more common 5/8”.

    Last week on these boards there was some commentary in a variety of posts about the Bronco that (unintentionally I’m sure) got some details very wrong. The question was asked if more than one grate could be used at a time, the answer was no. If you look at the brackets (3) that hold both the three removable hooking rods as well as the “primary” grate position, even to the open barrel top flange, there is a corresponding tab some 5 ½” down that will support a second grate or a singular grate at that lower position. So, as a for instance, say you wanted to do a good sized pork butt feed. You could fairly easily get three butts on each level as long as the ones on the lower level were “flat” enough shaped to fit, with clearance, in that 5 ½” space. If you use deboned shoulder, or chunk up a full butt to get more surface area for delicious added bark it would be very doable. Or, imagine your tasty butts dripping their emissions onto a couple racks of ribs, automatic basting. More on ribs later. The rack is a fairly standard 18”, and a 17.5 would work too, so getting an affordable added grate is pretty easy. OJ also sells a three piece add on grate that looks a bit gimmicky, but for some folks might give a variety of holding methods they value. List on the OJ site it a staggering $50, but I’ve seen them for sale as low as $25. Though I don’t have it to try yet, I see one other possible function it might have. The support ring portion without the surface pieces could be a hook hanger too that would allow smaller hunks of protein to be hung closer to the fuel basket than the supplied hanging rods, approximately 3” closer. Might be some benefit there as well. Regarding a second grate, one of the ones that has a hinged portion of the grate for access to the fuel basket below might be a good choice for the possible need to add fuel during a cook. The Bronco shares a refuel limitation common to the PBC, though not the BHC or WSM. You need to take the food off the unit to reach down in for fuel adds. In many cases that’s not much of an issue as the Bronco may get up to 10ish hours of burn with a proper load of fuel, again, similar to the PBC. Some of the clever folks on here have noodled out ways of maximizing those factors so learning from them is a good practice. Speaking of fuel, I’m a lump guy, not much of a fan of briquettes, just a personal choice. Even in my BHC, which has a bit more tolerance than what it seems the PBC folks advise. The Bronco, because of the wide range of adjustability in air flow, thrives on lump, so suits my tastes fine.

    The simpler barrels like the PBC and BHC tend to operate in a comparatively narrow range; their “set it/forget it” feature of sorts. Typically they operate 275-350ish on briquettes, unless a clever operator does some “tricks” which can be read elsewhere. I get along with lump in my BHC mostly with the help of plugs in the upper vent holes for instance. The Bronco has a flap on each of the two vents, intake and exhaust. A small complaint you might see is the inaccuracy of the markings on the vent caps. This is both true and untrue. They are mounted on studs and are secured with an acorn nut and spring assembly. I’ve watched a couple vids where the presenter shows how much movement the pointer has rendering it “useless”. Apparently they lack the mechanical aptitude to know that tightening the acorn nut will tighten the spring thus dampening the movement. That’s about as gently as I’m able to phrase that. However, even tightened to a functional level there will be some inaccuracy/movement of the pointer. But quite frankly, you’ll likely end up visualizing the opening size for your preferred temp point anyway. The comparatively wide range of adjustment gives you a wider range of temps than the PBC/BHC, both lower and higher. All the better to widen your range of cooking options. To which I should add, the unit responds pretty quickly temperature wise to small adjustments to those flaps. In my experience so far, the exhaust flap is more effective for fine tuning than the intake. Related to this is the ability to shut down the burn cycle when the cook is done. With the extremely effective lid gasket that comes with the unit and closing both intake and exhaust, the fire gets starved for air in short order. Good for saving fuel at least.

    Another misnomer against the Bronco was “very limited room” to hang a rack of ribs, again probably a guess not based on firsthand experience. I took tape measure in hand to more accurately define the limitations, if any. I have three racks of full spare ribs in the freezer, they measure in the range of 18-19”. A St. Louis cut would be what? 4-5” less probably? BB somewhere around there as well. Part of what might distract the non-user is the deflector plate that mounts at the mid barrel joint or step. It is removable as well as reversible, which is to say it can hang below the mounting line, or above. In place it does eat up some real estate. But take it out and you’ve got a configuration very similar to a PBC/BHC. On the BHC there is 23” from the hanging rack for the hooks, to the top rim of the fuel basket. In the Bronco that same span is 21.5” without the deflector plate. The typical meat hook supplied by all three of the manufacturers in this discussion are pretty much the same dimension and are roughly 2” in drop from the hanging bar/bracket. Different folk have different styles of insertion of those hooks; single, daisy chain, first rib, third rib, whatever. So, it is imaginable that in the most extreme case where a longer than average rib rack hooked in the highest of positions, the Bronco might suffer for that 1.5” difference………………………not very likely though. Worst case, do a semi-St. Louis trim and cut off the “chef’s treat” end of the rib rack to hang separately……………you know it will never get to your guests anyway. Right? Not only does the deflector plate serve the purpose of deflecting hot spots in the lower position, as well as performing a function similar to “flavor bars:” in a more conventional grill (for whatever that’s worth), but by flipping it over you can mount the fuel basket on top of it converting the unit to a charcoal grill. This next dimension is approximate because the surface of the charcoal lumps, and the intensity of heat/fire is going to vary some but the distance to the grate bottom is around three inches when configured for grilling in this way. The other night I did salmon on the grate with the basket raise to this platform. I only loaded the fuel basket on one side to create a two zone style/formation. Worked a treat. I tossed some alder chips on the hot coals just before setting on the fish and got excellent smoke for the roast portion of the cook, then flipped the pieces onto the direct side of the grate to finish. Worked great. The BHC is set up with provided hardware to configure that cooker for a similar gril setup, the PBC requires some mods to get there. Not sure what options WSM users have in this regard. If you like a little more distance from the coals there are a couple ways to get there. Flip the deflector back down to the lower position, or mount the hook hanging rods and place a grate across them. There’s over 5” of dome space in the lid so there’s room to work with there. There’s virtually no room under the lid of either PBC or BHC with the grate at it’s upper most mounting. While we’re on the lid, the hinge seems to be substantial for the weight of the lid itself, so potential for failure is pretty darn low. The lid for the BHC is somewhat easy to hang on it’s provided cleat than the slightly more awkward twisting necessary to hook the horseshoe handle of the PBC. And the seal on the Bronco is already there not needing to be added.

    One legitimate commentary that works against the Bronco is portability. This sucker, all in as supplied is just under 150 pounds. PBC/BHC are somewhere around 50 pounds. They don’t have wheels unless modified, but are relatively easy to lift and will fit in a trunk easily, for the most part. In the Bronco’s favor from this is that it’s made of much thicker metal which might lead to a longer service life. With one exception. The Bronco is said to be painted, whereas the other two are porcelain coated, which is more durable as long as it’s not damaged. A careful Bronco owner probably won’t see much disadvantage in that as long as there is no rust allowed to prevail. As a safety matter the inside of the Bronco is not painted, it is bare carbon steel. I treated mine right after assembly and burn in with the same oil I use to season cast iron and carbon steel pans. Why treat after burn in? The point of the burn in procedure is to remove/disable any manufacturing chemicals/lubricants, and coating them with a seasoning oil before burning them away would defeat the process. After the first two cooks the seasoning had taken hold quite well, and should protect the interior from most normal moisture attacks.

    There is one odd dynamic that has human nature written all over it. It’s a market reaction to price. The PBC had been at $300 for quite a while, and just recently went to $350. Potential purchasers know that typically there is no variation from that price (with rare exceptions) and don’t often question spending that. BHC has much lower market penetration and has had some variation over time, but they recently changed their marketing strategy to only sell through Amazon at the $299 level, though there’s a $15 off coupon available right now. WSM is slotted between those two at $329 for the 18” and as is typical of Weber there are few discounts if ever. The Bronco on the other hand is in the wild, wild West by comparison. Char Broil makes a fading pass at maintaining MSLP of $299, but vendors will sweeten the pot with “free” covers, or cooking utensils, or charcoal, whatever to shade the pricing. Except for Wally World under the guise of “seasonal clearance”. Recently a member here was able to score one for $84!!! New, in the box………..could have bought 3 more at the time. That’s an absolute steal of a deal for a device with all the capabilities it possesses. I’ll risk offending those who are in the “Cult of PBC”, (and to be honest you guys have taught me a lot of nifty ideas, but gotta poke the bear a bit) and maybe others, but the Bronco will do everything the three alternatives mentioned in this write up will do, plus many more things and with more flexibility, though with probably fewer aftermarket gizmos than the WSM as a concession. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the alternatives, especially if you like to fiddle with quirks to a greater degree. But as a multi-tasker, particularly at the price point/quality level, the Bronco is tough value to beat right now.
    Last edited by Uncle Bob; February 19, 2020, 04:22 PM.

    #2
    Great write up Bob!

    My original review was way more enthusiastic and longer, however my "humor" and "sarcasm" was correctly edited out.

    Comment


    • Uncle Bob
      Uncle Bob commented
      Editing a comment
      That's because you are a professional...………………….

    #3
    Uh...

    "... imagine your tasty butts dripping their emissions.." perhaps is not the image one wants here.

    Comment


    • Uncle Bob
      Uncle Bob commented
      Editing a comment
      It's organic...……………..isn't that trendy now?

    #4
    Yep! 😎

    Comment


      #5
      Nice write up Uncle Bob. The Bronco has been on my next list for awhile and still is even though I love my PBC.

      Comment


        #6
        Originally posted by FishTalesNC View Post
        Yep! 😎
        If this thread catches on as a stimulant for interest in the Bronco I should have given you a nod as well, my apologies. You have done more demonstrative posts of actual cooks with the Bronco on this site than anyone else. And your first hand experience with a PBC gives good balance to the commentary. They are well written, with good pics, and obvious enthusiasm. I would encourage any reader with sufficient interest to check out those threads.

        Comment


        • FishTalesNC
          FishTalesNC commented
          Editing a comment
          No nod, nor apology needed. I’m just glad you had the time and inclination to write this well informed post! 👍🏻

        • Uncle Bob
          Uncle Bob commented
          Editing a comment
          Thank you, you're (no surprise) most gracious.

        #7
        Thanks for the positive review. I grabbed an Okie last year and have been experimenting (coming off of a couple of pellet grills and a Weber bullet smoker). One item I found a problem was my thermometer in the OJ was maybe 20-25 F off compared to my digital thermocouple. The video I reference below was spot on, however. I'm going to check both thermometers in boiling water and double check accuracy, but I am presuming the digitals are more accurate.

        I was a bit nervous the first time I hung ribs. I was expecting the bottoms to get excessive radiation and overcook. I had purchased the additional grill - which allows both hanging (as there are three removable sections and horizontal placement of meat. I was cooking sausage and hung ribs at the same time. I ended up taking them off the hangers and cooking horizontal the last hour or so.

        But then I looked at this video.... where the distribution plate is removed and the radiation is intensified. He also puts cans of water in the charcoal pit for added humidity.

        Next time I hang ribs, I'm going to taste both ends to see if there is indeed a problem with hanging as common sense would dictate.


        Comment


          #8
          @dlaslo, thanks for the comments and vid link (I'd seen this one while researching pre-buy and had forgotten about the Dorito fire starter thing LOL). My temp gauge is pretty much like yours, about 25 f off compared to a grate mounted probe to digital. I've come to expect that and have had worse (my original KJ one was somewhere like 60 f off). I've got a Tele Tru on a larger charcoal burner box that is likewise about 25 off, so always go with the digital. I hang it off one of the hanging arms on the Bronco when the grate is removed.

          I did a rack of spares a couple days ago, hung from the arm. I do a semi St. Louis trim and take off the small rounded end by about 1.5 ", so hanging length of this rack was around 17.5" long. I hook the second rib with a daisy chain second hook for security, hit under the 4th rib IIRC. I ran without the deflector, and after dropping on the apple and pecan flavor chunks I'd call the fire basket rim full, so the bottom of the rib rack was fairly close to the coals. They hung for 3 hours at around 275ish and the bottom was somewhat darker and slightly dryer on the outside than the top portion, but still edible. For those that really like bark that end would have been heavenly, while the whole rack was nicely surface crisped (which in part is from the Memphis Dust rub).

          I have been thinking about the package that Hunsaker offers for upgrading the 18.5 WSM, though I may only get the hanging rack (pic below), depending on how much experimentation opportunity I'm intrigued by. This is a link to their whole package here. The Vortex deflector intrigues because it may be a way to tweak the impact on the bottom of a hanging rack, though it looks like it will likely need some minor modification to clear the lifting bail on the Bronco fuel basket. The griddle might be interesting, though I've already got a few others on hand (though none are round). The hanging rack only offers a slightly different configuration for placement of the hanging pieces, but I'm thinking of it as part of a pizza oven hack. Looks and measures as if I could put one pizza stone on the grate, and a second stone on top of the round rack thus creating a roughly 4-4.5" high "oven". If I could sustain 550-600 temps to get the stones hot enough it just might work. We'll see..... Click image for larger version

Name:	hunsaker rib hang.jpg
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          Comment


            #9
            I ended up purchasing the PBC hinged grate ($23 from Ace Hardware) which fits well. 1/2” smaller than the oem 18” OKJ grate but fits fine. Been able to hang and smoke horizontally at the same time and smoke at 2 grate levels simultaneously without issue. The OKJ 3 piece grate just seemed hokey and the PBC one is stainless and sturdy.
            Attached Files

            Comment


            • HawkerXP
              HawkerXP commented
              Editing a comment
              pbc, pbc, pb…… had to slip this in here.
              Last edited by HawkerXP; March 9, 2020, 11:59 AM.

            • PNWKamado
              PNWKamado commented
              Editing a comment
              Ace does free shipping to the store.

            • Uncle Bob
              Uncle Bob commented
              Editing a comment
              @HawkerXP…………...there's gotta be one in every crowd......………….LOL

            #10
            Uncle Bob I find it interesting that with a second level grate in there, you think 6 butts would fit. The 5.5" you measure is similar to the distance between the grates on many smokers that offer a second shelf for cooking.

            Your write up makes me wish I had found one of these cookers for $84 at my local Walmart! I checked all the local stores after that special was posted some months back. They were all at or above list price. I don't think I've seen one for under $250 to $299 locally.

            Comment


            • Uncle Bob
              Uncle Bob commented
              Editing a comment
              @jfmorris,in my original post I did try to qualify that commentary re; the butts by how big and how cut, but could have been more specific. Six could be difficult if they are larger. How about if I revise that to six modest sized ones?

              Your price comment is what I didn't press and not a criticism, just observation. PBC lovers don't balk at paying "full price", but for some reason many folks can't embrace Bronco full price. I think it's well worth $299 comparatively, anything less = bonus.

            • jfmorris
              jfmorris commented
              Editing a comment
              Uncle Bob I've balked at the $299 (now $349) price on the PBC as well, haha. I don't "need" another smoker so much as want one. A low price tag would let me sneak it into the backyard a little easier...

              I agree that the OKJ Bronco seems like a good deal even at full price.

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