As one of the oldest cooking techniques in the book, smoking is our favorite way to cook meat. It involves placing a piece of meat in a smoky chamber and slowly cooking it while infusing it with a deep, smoky flavor. The smoke, low heat, and long cook time give the meat a distinct flavor.
If you smoke meat regularly, cleaning your smoker is a must. Over time, smokers get covered with burned grease, soot, tar, and creosote — especially when you use them frequently. When you don’t give your smoker a good cleaning, these by-products of the smoking process can flake off onto your food, and they can give the smoke itself a less than desirable flavor.
Thankfully, cleaning your smoker is easy — you just need to know how to do it. Read on for our step-by-step guide to properly clean your smoker.
Take Care of Your Smoker for Best Results When Cooking
Smokers cook food at relatively low temperatures of around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s far lower than grills, which cook food at 300 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
The low heat and long cook time make smoking a little messy. While the blazing heat of a grill burns off most leftover grease and debris, the low temperature in a smoker leaves plenty to clean up.
In addition to grease, carbon can quickly build up on your smoker. If left for too long, carbon forms a black crust. This crust can make your meat taste unpleasant and burnt.
A buildup of grease residue and carbon can also wreak havoc on your smoker, causing it to break down or rust very quickly. Cleaning your smoker clean extends its lifespan, keeping your investment safe.
Correctly cleaning your smoker will also help keep you safe. Buildup in your smoker increases the risk of grease fires, which are especially dangerous since they’re hard to put out and spread quickly. If the fire is contained inside the smoker, your meat will be ruined. If you’re too close to your house or another building, the siding could catch on fire.
Additionally, if residual grease drips down the wire towards your propane tank, you’re at risk of a potential explosion.
How Long Does It Take To Clean a Smoker?
While it might seem like a pretty serious endeavor, as long as you’ve been keeping up with regular cleanings, the process of cleaning a home smoker should take less than an hour. It’s really not much of an undertaking.
When Should I Clean My Smoker?
If you use your smoker every week, you should clean it at least twice during the summer, as well as at the end of the grilling season. That means cleaning the smoker before putting it away for the winter for most of us.
That said, it’s unlikely that you’ll be cleaning your smoker too often. Unlike a cast iron pan, more cooks won’t build up extra seasoning and flavor. A clean smoker is a good smoker, so stay on top of it.
Hold Up — Isn’t All Smoke the Same?
Not exactly. If your smoker is filthy, it will produce dirty smoke. Grease residue and gunk can build up on your smoker. When it catches on fire, it can create a thick dirty smoke, making your beautiful cuts of meat taste so horrible that not even the best barbecue sauce on the planet could save it.
When you’re smoking meat in a clean smoker, it should produce an almost transparent blue smoke. When you’re smoking meat in a dirty smoker, on the other hand, it can create black smoke that will lead to bitter-tasting meat.
Bad smoke is something every barbecue aficionado wants to avoid — which is why keeping your smoker clean by scraping is of the utmost importance.
Tools for Cleaning Your Smoker
- A good grate brush or wire brush
- A paint scraper
- Rubber gloves
- Elbow grease — you’re going to need it
How To Clean Your Smoker Properly
Ready to learn how to clean your smoker? Follow our simple steps below:
Let your smoker cool down. Avoid cleaning your smoker immediately after use.
Unless you plan on power washing your deck or patio after you’ve cleaned your smoker, put on rubber gloves and move the grill onto a large tarp.
Take out any removable components, such as the racks, water pan, and drip tray. Lay them down on the tarp.
Brush the grates with a grill brush. Use a soft bristle brush to sweep out debris like burnt wood chips and ash.
Grab your paint scraper and scrape any buildup towards the bottom of the smoker. Sweep all residue out of the chamber.
If your smoker has a diffuser plate, scrape the gunk from this as well.
Use a stiff brush to clean the inside of the chimney.
Scrape the inside lid of the firebox and cook chamber with your paint scraper. Loosen any grease and carbonized food and finish with a paper towel or damp cloth. Scrape the bottom of the cook chamber.
Vacuum the loose ash, residue, and debris.
Now, it’s time to clean the drip pan. Wipe down what you can with a paper towel or a damp cloth.
Remove any stubborn debris using a scrubber. Wipe it all down.
With a clean rag, towel off any excess water. Leave the lids up and the vents open, allowing the smoker to air dry.
Got rust? Don’t worry — that’s nothing a little sandpaper or steel wool can’t fix. Scrap off the rust and spray it with good-quality high-temperature paint to leave it looking brand new.
Finally, scrub the smoker parts that you set aside. Reassemble your smoker, and voila — it’s clean and ready to use.
A Final Word
There you have it — a step-by-step guide to cleaning your smoker.
Here at Lillie’s Q, we’ve been serving up our unique spin on Southern BBQ for years, so you could say we know a thing or two about smoking meat.
Thanks to our founder Chef Charlie McKenna’s Grandma Lillie and a lot of hard work, we believe we’ve mastered it.