How to Clean a Smoker

Those new to BBQ cooking might be wondering the difference between a smoker and a charcoal grill. They should know that they are completely different. The former runs on a slightly lower temperature than the latter. Low and slow BBQ cooked in a smoker is the right way to get your meat done in its juicy style. For this, you need a low temperature, up to 225 F.

The high heat of a grill tends to melt off the grease and any other sticky residue. However, since a smoker runs on low heat, it creates a few unique cleaning issues. You should clean and season it after each use, including the time you set up your smoker. An early repair and repaint session should also be scheduled to make sure that rust doesn’t weaken the smoker from the inside. As for how to clean a smoker, the process is pretty simple, albeit a bit time-consuming. For a deep clean, you will need a degreaser and 3 hours of your time to make the smoker look spotless.

Following are the steps on how to clean a smoker:

How to Clean a Smoker

Things You Will Need

  • Degreaser
  • Canola Oil or Grape Seed Oil
  • Oil Brush
  • Wire Brush or Nylon Bristle Brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Metal Scraper
  • Putty Knife
  • Heat-Resistant Barbeque Paint
  • Warm Soapy Water

Deep Cleaning the Smoker

Step #1

Clean the Grill Tray

Remove the grill tray from the smoker and place it in a large pan. Cover it with the degreaser and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes. Keep in mind that degreasers often have toxic chemicals in them and leaving them on the grill for too long can compromise their quality.

Step #2

Remove the Remaining Trays and Clean Them

Remove all trays, including the drip pan, the water pan, the chip tray, and shelves. Brush off the ashes and make sure you carefully deposit them in a trash bag. Use the metal scraper to clean the drip tray. If you still see buildup on it then use a wire brush to remove the remaining residue.

*If the grease proves to be stubborn, turn on the grill on low heat for 2 to 3 hours and let it melt. You can then let it cool and clean it with the metal scraper.

Lastly, dump all the trays and shelves in a bucket filled with warm soapy water and leave them for at least half an hour.

Step #3

Clean the Entire Smoker

Grease not only drips at the bottom of the smoker but also covers the inside as well as outside walls. This condition can be dangerous when the smoker is turned on high. Use the metal scraper to remove any grit, and then, clean the entire grill using warm soapy water. Do not use the degreaser on the outside as it can damage the paint of the smoker.

Routine Maintenance

Routine maintenance should be done on the smoker after every time you use it. This will help you preserve the quality of the grill as well as the trays. Here’s how to maintain your smoker:

Step #1

Remove the Ashes

Once the smoker has cooled down, remove the ashes. The byproducts of ashes can promote rusting, which is why it’s extremely necessary that you clean the entire surface using a metal scraper and a moist cloth.

Step #2

Clean the Sticky Mess

Wipe spilled marinades and sauces using a damp cloth.

Step #3

Clean the Grates

Using a nylon bristle brush, clean the grates, and remove any lumps of grits you see.

Step #4

Clean the Cooking Chamber

Use a putty knife to remove any bits and pieces of food that are stuck to the lid and sides.

Step #5

Repair the Grill (Optional)

If you see any rust spots on the grill, use a wire brush to remove clear the surface and then rub it with sandpaper to smoothen it out. Season the area with oil that’s heated to a high temperature.


Seasoning a smoker is all about brushing the grates with oil to preserve their quality. Oiling helps prevent food from sticking on the grates. There’s no hard and fast rule on which oil should be based. You have choices between any kind of cooking oil, peanut oil, olive oil, etc. However, experts recommend that the best seasoning oil for smokers are grape seed oil and canola oil.

Following are the steps on how to season your grates:

  • Coat the entire surface of the smoker with grapeseed or canola oil. Both these oils have a high burning point, which will work well with the low heat of the smoker.
  • Once the grates and other areas are fully coated with oil, turn on the smoker. The temperature should be just right so that the oil seeps into every nook and cranny of the smoker. This will create a barrier, which will prevent water from causing any rust.
  • Use standard coals to ignite the fire and set the temperature to 275 F. Make sure that the temperature does not go any higher as this can cause damage to the smoker’s surface. If your smoker is made of cheap material, even a temperature of 300 F will melt the paint.
  • Keep the chimney wide open for good airflow. If more smoke is required for better seasoning, add the same kind of wood you plan to smoke the meat in.
  • Let the coals burn for at least 3 hours. Afterward, let the smoker cool down and cover it with a tarp or the bag your smoker came in.
  • If you plan to cook right after seasoning your smoker, let the temperature drop from 275 F to 225 F slowly, and then place your meat on the grates.

Our Final Thoughts

Check your smoker’s manual to find out if it requires seasoning. Most of them also list the cleaning steps, which you can easily follow. Each smoker’s grates are different. Some require seasoning and others don’t. However, it’s still good to season your smoker once in a while to make sure it lasts your future Sunday BBQs.

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