The Oklahoma Joe’s Bandera Smoker is a monster of an offset vertical smoker, the question is, is it worth the price tag?
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This unit is a vertical offset smoker priced in the $500-$600 range for most people in the United States.
This grill was made to be stocked in big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes with the goal of maintaining features for the consumer while keeping the price in a range most Americans can afford. I mean, just shy of 1,000 sq. in. of cooking area in a 200lb grill for less than $500 is a pretty amazing feat.
Our goal today is to uncover if the right features were left in and the right corners cut to deliver a grill we should buy at this price point.
How Big is the Oklahoma Joe’s Bandera?
We’re going to start with the basics. Just how big is this behemoth of a smoker?
We’re talking about a unit that’s 40 inches wide including both the smoking chamber and the firebox.
It’s 28 inches deep, so deep enough to cook racks of ribs or your favorite whole packer brisket.
Last but not least, this beast is 63 inches tall. If you can find a rack of ribs with 13-16 bones (which is rare), you’ll be able to hang 6 or more of them in the vertical smoking chamber and still have room for the water pan and probably a pork butt or four.
Yes, this smoker has that much cooking surface area.
It’s not only the physical size of the smoker that looms large, it’s also the sheer weight of the unit.
Weighing in at just shy of 200 lbs, this isn’t the little 3 burner forty-pound gas grill that I grew up with as a kid.
It’s a good thing that there’s a handle included on the fire box side opposite the wheels, or this grill would never move from where you assemble it.
By lifting up on the provided handle, the grill moves around pretty easily as long as you keep it on flat and even surfaces.
The Bandera has 744 sq. in. of cooking space across 3 primary grates in the cooking chamber.
If you add the direct grill grate from the firebox to one of the additional shelf brackets, you’ll increase to 992 sq in. of cooking surface inside the vertical cooking chamber.
The 4th cooking grate does dual duty as it also enables cooking directly over the fire.
There is 248 sq. inches of cooking space available for direct grilling with adjustable levels of height above the fire.
What is the Bandera Made Of?
One of the ways that manufacturers keep prices down is to use thinner metal to save on cost to meet consumer demand.
The Oklahoma Joe Bandera smoker uses 2mm cold rolled steel on their firebox and 2.5mm cold rolled steel on the cooking chamber.
The grill is painted with high temp paint, but there isn’t much documentation on anything other than it being of the high temp variety.
This is one of the complaints that you’ll hear around Oklahoma Joe’s grills around this price range.
No matter the quality of the paint used to paint this grill, the lack of thickness in the metal on the firebox means that this grill will expand and contract significantly as it heats and cools. This means that it’s quite common to find the paint gone from the firebox after just a few cooks.
It’s a good idea to keep a spray can of high temperature paint around so that you can combat rust on the unit.
One feature that I really enjoy on any smoker or grill is cool touch handles. On the Bandera, there’s a spring type material around the metal handles that won’t heat up during a cook. This means that you can grab the handles mid cook and not worry about them being incredibly hot.
The legs and stand on the Bandera are made of 1 and a half inch square tube legs are upon assembly were quite sturdy.
The Bandera has a storage shelf built into the cart that’s made of expanded metal. If you’re not going to be moving the grill around the patio or driveway, it’s a perfect place to store wood or accessories to keep things close for ease of access.
The front shelf is removable and made of expanded metal just like the cart shelf.
The cooking chamber door is a metal on metal seal, so you can expect smoke to leak out all around the doors when you cook.
If you’d like to see a video of us adding Permatex and Gasket Seal to this grill, just head over here to view our Oklahoma Joe’s Bandera assembly and smoker mods video.
The smokestack on the unit comes with a damper to control the amount of airflow coming through your pit. The exhaust damper is secured by 1 screw and a spring that allows it to swivel between fully closed, fully open and any setting in between that you might desire.
The Bandera comes with a temperature gauge to install in the middle of the cooking chamber door. This gauge reads the temperature at the location of the gauge and can help you understand how your offset cooking chamber is doing anytime during the cook.
Most pitmasters will want to run additional meat thermometers through the door to directly assess the temperature of the food that they’re cooking, and there’s room between the cooking chamber side wall and the door to fit temp probe wires.
Some owners of this grill will want to add 1 or two additional temperature gauges to assess the top and bottom of the large vertical cooking chamber when the unit is filled to capacity.
The Bandera comes with a porcelain coated water pan to keep moisture levels up inside the vertical cooking chamber. The water pan allows a reservoir of water to be kept at the bottom of the vertical chamber where the heat and smoke enter the chamber. Some cooks like to even fill their water pan with beer or other liquids to infuse their food with additional flavors. With the Bandera, there’s no need to buy this separately, it’s included in the box.
Utilizing the Cooking Space in Your Bandera
There are so many ways that you can set up the smoke chamber on this offset smoker grill. With 14 different brackets that you can utilize to set up your cook, you could hang ribs on the top and cook a brisket on the bottom without any smoke box space challenges.
You could load every cooking grate into the vertical chamber at any height you want to maximize your cooking area based on the food that you’re cooking.
Need extra height for a pork shoulder? No problem, just lower the grate a bracket. Need extra room for a couple of turkeys? Just position each cooking grate to the height you need and fill the vertical smoke chamber to capacity.
This unit is built so that everything fits, and options abound to anyone who owns the smoker.
Two rib racks are included that fit right into the brackets on each side of the cooking chamber. They’re built to accommodate 5 racks of ribs at any given time, which helps you take advantage of the depth of the smoke chamber by keeping the ribs in a vertical orientation instead of laying flat on the cooking grate.
There are two included hanging hooks that are designed with sausages and ribs in mind. Hang sausages over the hooks and let them smoke or use your rib hooks to hang ribs vertically in the chamber to maximize your smoke box cooking area.
The Bandera Firebox
The Bandera firebox comes with an included fire grate to build your fires directly on. This keeps the fire suspended in the air rather than resting on the bottom of your firebox, which allows more air to get around the fire and not just over the fire.
An ash pan is included that is just a smidge wider than the fire grate, which is meant to collect all of the ash from either the wood or charcoal that you’re using to heat your smoker.
The firebox handle is a cool touch handle even though it’s just inches away from the fire itself.
If you’re building a raging fire in your firebox for direct grilling, we recommend that you use caution and common sense before you grab even a cool touch handle that’s directly connected to where your fire is located.
How Mobile is the Bandera?
The 10 inch metal wagon wheels on this unit do not have the ability to be locked down like you might be able to on a pellet or kamado style cooker. The sheer weight of this unit should give you the stability that you need in order to keep the grill in place.
Like you might see on an airplane, you could always block the wheels so that it can’t move, but we find that unnecessary on a unit of this size.
I wouldn’t want to take this grill offroad though, due to the almost 200lbs of weight that’s over 5ft. tall. That much height can easily become ungainly over rough terrain.
Pulling this grill around the driveway or in and out of the garage should be fine. Walking it around the backyard though, you might find that the grill tilts and falls over, which has the potential of 200lbs of metal coming down on something or someone.
The Bandera was a beast to load into the SUV at the time of purchase. Weighing in at around 200 pounds, it took two men and a boy to get this smoker from a flat dolly into the back of the truck.
If I were to do it again, I’d find a good deal on shipping and let someone else deliver it to my door.
I keep a wheeled dolly handy for moving big things around the garage, and it’s perfect for when a grill arrives on the doorstep that I didn’t have to pick up in store and lug home in my car.
Then there’s asking friends to come help unload and all the scheduling hassle. This grill stayed in the back of my SUV for 4 days after I loaded it up at the store until I could schedule friends to come over and help me lift it out.
If you’d like to see how this grill was assembled, check out the Bandera grill assembly video that we filmed where we take this unit from box to built.
The Bandera has an air damper system on the size of the firebox to control the amount of air that can get into the firebox. It’s a simple slide handle that opens multiple baffles along the entire depth of the grill to allow additional air inside.
This unit doesn’t need massive adjustments though, and a simple bump of the control handle can cause a major temperature shift in your firebox.
The handle is rather tight to move, and that’s the way I would want it. I wouldn’t want an accidental bump of this handle resulting in the 250 degree low and slow smoke that I had going on to turn into a 350 degree offset grilling session.
Cleaning the Bandera Smoker
Cleaning the Bandera isn’t too complicated. There are two primary points of cleaning that need to be tackled.
- The first is the cooking chamber. Even with the provided water pan, grease and other food drippings are going to find their way to the bottom of the vertical chamber, and cleaning them out is a must. A great way to start a grease fire is to leave all of your drippings in the bottom of your vertical chamber and then let the fire get a little too hot. Just grab a few paper towels every now and then to give the bottom of the vertical chamber a quick clean.
- With the included fire grate and ash pan combo, cleaning out the fire box at the end of a cook is a breeze. The entire ash pan can be taken out of the grill and emptied into an appropriate disposal container. We love this feature on the Bandera smoker. We’ll often close the dampers on the air intake and chimney so that we shut off all oxygen to the fire. This will allow the fire to die down and whatever charcoal is left over can be used again for the next cooking session. Oftentimes we’ll leave the grill overnight to cool down and then clean up the firebox the next day to ensure that everything is cool enough to handle.
Is the Oklahoma Joe’s Bandera the Right Smoker for Me?
For a grill that hovers in price around the $400-$500 mark, there’s a lot of value here. Comparable grills from other manufacturers are going to be listed at close to the same price, but don’t deliver on the features that you’ll find in the Bandera.
Customer service is provided by Char-Broil, who purchased the Oklahoma Joe’s brand back in 1998. The unit comes with a 90 day limited warranty, and they’ll cover any parts you need, but shipping costs are transferred to the customer.
I’ve purchased this grill, and I’d purchase it again if I was looking for a solid vertical offset smoker around the $500 mark. There are certainly larger and smaller smokers on the market, but when looking at a budget of $500 or less, this unit is very hard to beat.
The Bandera offers the versatility of direct grilling, offset smoking and a huge vertical cabinet, which you aren’t going to find hardly anywhere else.