New makes and models of wood pellet grills/smokers are popping up like weeds at the moment. When I first got into wood pellets over a decade ago it was pretty much just Traeger. Now, there seems to be a new pellet grill coming on to the market every month! In this post, we are going to look at another new player in the pellet grill game, Oklahoma Joe’s. Not a new name to the BBQ scene by any means, but new to making pellet grills. So how have they faired, are they offering pellet grills/smokers with some new and interesting ideas? Well yes, I believe Oklahoma Joe’s are coming in strong with a range of grills under $1,000 with some unique features/capabilities.
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The entire range of Rider pellet grills from Oklahoma Joe’s is under $1,000, the base model (600) and mid-range unit (900) are actually both under $500. These pellet grills/smokers, therefore, come under the Economy and Practical Classes. If you are unclear on the different pellet grills classes and their features please check out my post on how to find the best pellet grill/smoker for your needs/budget.
Introduction To Oklahoma Joe’s Pellet Grill Range
So a little background first if you are not familiar with the Oklahoma Joe’s brand (I wasn’t until recently) it was started by Joe Davidson in the 1980s in you guessed it, Oklahoma, USA. However, I should make it clear Oklahoma Joe’s grills are no longer made in the USA. The company was purchased by Char-Broil in 1998. Now, if you are looking for a US-made pellet grill/smoker they are available, just click the link above to my associated post. And while its good to support domestic manufacturing jobs you do have to pay for it. A USA made pellet grill will cost you at least double-triple what these Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grills retail for.
As stated above, Oklahoma Joe’s with this Rider range of pellet grills are competing with budget/economy models. Examples of competing products include Z Grills, Camp Chef SmokePro, Pit Boss budget grills and the Cuisinart Woodcreek and Twin Oaks. Traeger with their new Pro Series is now focusing on a higher price point with their D2 Direct Drive, PID controllers and WiFire/WiFi integration. These Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grills do not use a PID temperature controller (I’ll explain more about that below) or feature WiFi integration. Though at this price point I wouldn’t expect them to, and that’s in-line with their direct competition.
The Rider Pellet Grill Range
The three models that make up the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grill range are the 600 (smallest unit), the 900 (mid-range unit) and the DLX (largest unit with the best features). Below I’ll provide some specific details on each grill and later on I’ll discuss why if your budget will allow you may want to consider the DLX over the 600 or 900. First, here is a quick video from Oklahoma Joe’s discussing the features of the Rider pellet grill range.
The Rider 600 Pellet Grill/Smoker
The 600 is the smallest grill in the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider range, while being a very compact grill its not really a portable pellet grill due to the large legs. 617 square inches of cooking space is provided divided between the primary cooking surface (380″) and the second cooking surface the upper rack (237″). Below is an excellent walkthrough video from Oklahoma Joe’s discussing the features of the Rider 600 pellet grill.
What I think is important to note with the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grill range is the different specifications/features between the 600, 900 and DLX. For instance, there are certain shared features such as the same ‘Pit Contol System’ which is fitted to all three models. The temperature range therefore on all three pellet grills you may think would be the same. However, you will get different performance from the 600, 900 and DLX due to the different heat deflector designs.
The 600 just has a solid heat deflector/grease tray. However, the 900 and DLX provide you with the ability to let flame through from the pellet firepot below to come into direct contact with the food/cast-iron grate. Therefore, the 900 and DLX cast-iron grates will have a much easier time getting up to searing temperatures past 450 degrees. Now, on the 600 a set of GrillGrates would definitely help with that. However, the Rider 900 and DLX are still better suited to high-temperature grilling/searing than the Rider 600.
Furthermore, Its also important to note this small 600 Rider pellet grill while it benefits from cast-iron grates which are better for searing/grilling than thin wire racks they are not the same design as those featured on the 900 and DLX. The 600s cast-iron grates do not have the circular removable section found on the 900 and DLX. Therefore, the 600 is not compatible with the full range of Flex Accessories which I actually think are a big selling point for these pellet grills. The 600 is not designed to take the griddle or deep pan dish which are part of the Flex Accessories range. Hence, the Rider 600 is not your best option to take unless your budget is extremely limited. If you can stretch up to the 900 for the additional hundred dollars you not only have the benefit of a larger cooking surface but you can use the full range of Flex Accessories.
The Rider 900 Pellet Grill/Smoker
The Rider 900 as its name implies offers 900 square inches of cooking space, hence an additional 300 square inches over the Rider 600. What you should also notice comparing the images of the 300 above to the 600 below is the change from a single to a dual chimney design. The benefit with a dual chimney design on the larger grill is draft for the heat/smoke is dividend equally over the left and right sides of the grill. Below is another excellent walk-through video by Oklahoma Joe’s on the Rider 900.
So there are a couple of notable differences between the Rider 600 and 900 besides the additional 300 square inches of cooking space referenced above. First, as also referenced above, the Rider 900 benefits from the three-piece cast-iron grate. Therefore it can properly use all of the Flex Accessories shown below. Specifically the griddle or deep pan dish. Another important difference between the Rider 600 and 900 is the ability is access to direct heat/flames from the pellet fire through the sliding grease tray/heat deflector as shown in the video above. Therefore, the Rider 900 will benefit from improved grilling/searing performance.
The Rider DLX Pellet Grill/Smoker
When you compare the dimensions of the Rider 900 and DLX you will notice there isn’t really a significant difference in their size. Yes, the DLX is slightly wider, but its less than an inch. However, what is important to note is the DLX is significantly taller than the Rider 900. Therefore, its going to be much easier to use in general if you are above average height, but also it will be much easier and to cook things like a beer can chicken. The additional height of the Rider DLX means its possible to fit in another upper cooking rack. Therefore, the Rider DLX provides a total of 1,234 square inches of cooking space.
Besides the taller body of the DLX providing more cooking space over the Rider 900 the other notable difference is in how the sear functionality works. While the Rider 900 does have a sliding heat/deflector grease tray to let the flames and direct heat through when you want to use it you first have to take out the cast-iron centre grate and use the metal tool to open the slide valve. However, on the DLX you have a slide handle on the front of the grill where you can select Smoke or Sear. A different heat deflector design is used within the DLX which is like a rotating off-set fan design. I’m actually very impressed with this heat deflector design to provide the option to quickly choose between indirect and direct heat.
With the handle on the front of the Rider DLX set to Sear direct heat temperatures can apparently exceed 650 degrees, hence hot enough for proper grilling, searing and broiling. So the last thing I want to discuss about the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grill range is their hopper. Now its not the size of the hopper that particularly interests me, its more about how you can empty the hopper and store the pellet grill wood pellets.
Rider Pellet Grill Hoppers and Dry Pellet Storage
So all three versions of the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grills feature the same size of hopper with a 20lb capacity. This size of hopper has become pretty typically in the industry now. Not only for the fact that with low-temperature cooking/smoking it should last over 24 hours, but it can also take a full 20lb bag of wood pellets in one go.
Emptying chutes on pellet grill hoppers have only recently become commonplace within the last couple of years. Its mainly promoted as a quick and easy means to change pellet flavours, which is it. But for me, someone who has worked with wood pellets for over a decade it serves an even more important purpose. Pellets absorb moisture easily, its why they make excellent animal bedding. However, its not a great feature as fuel as wood pellets can go bad, hence we have to protect them from moisture. That not only includes liquid moisture, it includes moisture from the air (humidity). Hence, you should never really leave wood pellets in the hopper of your pellet grill when its not in use. Otherwise, if moisture gets to those pellets it could lead to an auger blockage.
The QuickDraw release valve on the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grills is one of the best designs I’ve seen for being able to empty a pellet grill hopper quickly. Furthermore, Oklahoma Joe has properly addressed the issue of protecting the pellets from moisture by providing a plastic tub to collect the pellets with a lid. It really is simple stuff, its so important to keep wood pellets dry and not enough pellet grill/smoker manufacturers properly emphasize it to their customers. Hence, when I saw the QuickDraw release hopper with included plastic bucket/lid included with the Oklahoma Joe pellet grills I was like ‘finally!’. I just hope more pellet grill manufacturers start to emphasize more to their customers just how important it is to keep pellets dry.
Flex Accessories Range
Oklahoma Joe provide a wide range of accessories to maximise the available cooking space within the Rider pellet grills. The video below does an excellent job demonstrating the accessories. However, its important to note as a I stated above, only the Rider 900 and DLX pellet grills can use all of the Flex Accessories.
Oklahoma Joe’s Rider Pellet Grill Reviews
Whenever I do these pellet grill/smoker analysis articles I like to add in a couple of owner reviews when I can find them. Not only to discuss features owners like about the grills but also as was the case with the Weber SmokeFire for instance, areas where there appears to be room for improvement. The first video review I want to reference is from Unbox Warehouse (Mike). In the video below he does a really good overview of the features of the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider DLX pellet grill as he cooks up a rack of ribs.
Its important to remember that several of the features seen in the video above on the DLX (smoke/sear handle) are specific to the DLX and are not found on the Rider 900 and 600. The second video I wanted to reference is from David Somerville of Be Awesome, Grill Happy. In the video below David has owned the Rider DLX for over 6 months, and he is very happy with the pellet grill in general. However, there are a few issues he’s having. Two of these issues are actually likely to do with the BBQ wood pellets David is using though which I’ll explain below.
So the issues David is having above with pellets not flowing particularly well through the hopper and lots of ash coming out the chimneys is likely due to the fact his pellets contain a lot of fines/wood dust. As I have discussed in the past with my post on if wood pellets go bad, during the pellet manufacturing process not all of the woody raw material is successfully compressed into a pellet. The reasons why are due to lots of factors, I have a post on how to make wood pellets if you are really interested. Anyway, before the pellets are packaged up into bags they pass over a sieve that removes the dust. However, roughly handling the of the bags during transportation/storage roughs up the pellets, and bits fall off, hence you have fines/wood dust in the bag.
In a previous post, I wrote on Traeger accessories I seriously encourage the use of a sieve to remove the fines from pellets before they are placed in the grills hopper. This advice is really applicable to all makes and models of pellet grills. Excessive fines/dust can lead to a couple of issues. First, it will hinder the pellets flowing through the hopper as shown in Davids video above. Fines can also lead to auger blockage problems. And finally, excessive fines can lead to ash blowing out of the chimney. As the combustion fan will lift the burnt fines out of the burn pot very easily.
Conclusions On The Oklahoma Joe’s Rider Pellet Grill Range
For a budget/economy line of pellet grills I really do think Oklahoma Joe’s have brought forward some very interesting and good design ideas. I’m particularly a fan of the hopper and integrated collection bucket as discussed above for dry pellet storage. I also think the cast-iron grates are a good feature to have on a pellet grill to improve grilling/searing performance. The ability to let direct heat/flames through on the Rider 900 and DLX is also a welcome feature. The Smoke/Sear selector on the Rider DLX is also one of the best examples I’ve seen on how to integrate this feature on any pellet grill, from any price bracket.
Unfortunately, the temperature controller is limited in how accurately it will be able to hold temperatures. Its not a PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) controller which is able to constantly monitor and adjust the process to hold temperatures within a 5-degree range. The Rider pellet grill range does also not have WiFi integration. However, few other grills do at this price point. In the future, Oklahoma Joe’s may consider offering a control panel upgrade as Camp Chef has done with their Gen 2 controller. In summary though, for the price, I’m pretty impressed with the features/design choices on these Rider pellet grills/smokers.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I how you found this analysis and the reviews of the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider pellet grill range interesting/informative. You may also be interested to read my Traeger vs Oklahoma Joe’s article. If you would like to review other makes and models of pellet grills please check out my wood pellet grills/smoker guide. 🙂