Smokers: How to Clean and Maintain
So you’ve enjoyed a summer full of brisket, Boston butt, and beer-infused smoked chicken, but now it’s time to clean your smoker. Where do you begin? This is one problem our ancient ancestors did not face after they smoked meat over a fire, but for us keeping our smokers clean is key to maintaining them, ensuring they work properly, and that they are hygienic. And how thoroughly do you need to clean it? Does cleaning interfere with the proper seasoning of your smoker? As with most things involving grilling or smoking meat, people have strong opinions about what you should and shouldn’t clean inside your smoker.
While there is a debate about how much cleaning can interfere with the proper seasoning of a smoker, most meat smoker owners concede that some cleaning is indeed necessary, but it’s best to use gentle soap or degreasers and no caustic chemicals. A natural protective smoke coating is important for optimal functioning of your smoker. Some cleaning should be done after every meat smoking session, and others should be done only occasionally.
Everyday Cleaning Tips for Your Smoker
It’s important to perform routine maintenance cleaning on your smoker after each use, being careful to retain its protective coating. Ashes, tar, grease and debris buildup should be carefully removed without cleaning down to the bare metal. If you clean immediately after your smoker cools down, you will find it’s much easier to clean than waiting until the grease and food get stuck on by time. Cleaning right after use also prevents mold from growing inside your smoker. No one wants to ruin a great smoker with mold because they didn’t bother to maintain it after use.
After your smoker has completely cooled, ashes should be removed. Leaving ashes in your smoker can cause rust to form and, like mold, rust is the enemy of every smoker.
Use a damp cloth with mild soap to wipe off any grease or sauce that has spilled or dripped on surfaces. Use a putty knife or spatula to remove debris that has adhered to the cooking chamber. If any rust spots have surfaced, rub them with steel wool and then re-season with cooking oil. Grates should be cleaned with a nylon brush, being certain to wipe away any bristles that might be left behind.
Though many people don’t clean after each use, it’s important to do so to preserve the long life of your smoker and to get consistent, delicious results.
How to End-of-Season Deep-Clean Your Pellet Smoker
While it’s best to do minimal cleaning inside your smoker chamber in order to retain seasoning, sometimes it’s necessary to give it a scrubbing and then reseason, especially if your smoker has been sitting around unused for a while. In that case, a clean burn is generally the way to go in order to get it ready for further use. Whether it’s electric, or a charcoal or pellet-burning smoker, you can get it cranking with vents open and let it burn through an entire cycle. After it’s cooled, you can wash it with warm water and a degreasing detergent. Thoroughly rinse and then allow to air dry. Use a wire brush or steel wool to remove any rust spots and then reason by rubbing with beef tallow, vegetable oil or lard. Finally, run the smoker at 350 degrees for an hour to complete the re-seasoning.
It’s also important to occasionally check the calibration of your smoker’s thermometer. You can do this by placing the stem in boiling water and checking to see if the temperature matches the temperature for boiling water at your elevation. For most this will be about 212 degrees F.
Keep in mind that the interior of your smoker will (and should) darken with use and don’t attempt to scrub it back down to the shiny metal. You want your smoker to retain its seasoning as much as possible.
Smokers are generally good for many years of use. In fact, masters of meat will tell you that smokers only improve with age and deep seasoning. With proper cleaning and general maintenance of your smoker, you will enjoy many seasons of delicious smoked meats for you and your family. You’ll be the star of the backyard barbecue!