How Often Should You Be Cleaning Your Smoker

Smoking meat can get messy really fast. The smoke and fat drippings create a build of creosote and grease inside your smoker that if left for too long, can cause problems. I have battled rust, mold, and excessive creosote buildup in my smokers, so I can tell you from experience, staying on top of cleaning your smoker is a must.

And while parts of your smoker don’t need to be cleaned all the time, there are parts of your smoker that should be regularly cleaned. This is especially true for electric and pellet smokers as the risk of a grease fire is a real concern.

How Often Does A Smoker Need To Be Cleaned?

The interior components of your smoker should be cleaned after every use to ensure a safe cooking environment. This includes your cooking grates or racks, your fire box, your drip pan, and your water pan. A deeper clean to remove creosote build up on the interior walls can be done once or twice a year.

Here is quick overview of which parts should be cleaned and how often.

ItemHow Often To CleanHow To Clean
Cooking GratesAfter Every UseScrub With Mild Degreaser Or Heat Up On Grill And Use A Grill Brush
Smoker Walls & Base1-2 Times Per YearScrape Of Excess Build Up And Scrub With Mild Degreaser. Rinse And Allow To Dry.
Drip PanEvery 1-3 UsesScrape Of Excess Build Up And Scrub With Mild Degreaser. Line With Aluminum Foil For Easier Clean Up
Fire BoxAfter Every UseScoop Out, Shop-Vac Excess Ash/Debris
Outside of SmokerAs NeededWipe With Mild Detergent And Rinse Off
Temerature ProbesAfter Every UseScrub Pad & Soapy Water
Water PanAfter Every UseScub With Mild Detergent And Rinse
Glass WindowAs NeededScub With Mild Detergent And Fine Grade Steel Wool

Each type of smoker will have a slightly different cleaning procedure, so it is always best to refer to your user manual for cleaning procedures specific to your model; however, the information in this article is relevant to every type of smoker and will get you started in the right direction.

In this article will look at how often you should be cleaning the different components of your smoker and answer some of the most common questions asked regarding smoker cleaning.

How To Clean A Smoker’s Cooking Grates.

This should be pretty obvious, but your cooking grates are the most important component of your smoker to keep clean. This is the one part of your smoker that your meat touches and should be cleaned before or after EVERY use!

Not cleaning these before placing your meat on the smoker, introduces bacteria to the meat. This is poor food handling safety and increase the chances of giving yourself a foodborne illness.

There are only two ways you would want to clean your smoker’s cooking grates.

Soak & Scrub

The first method is to soak and scrub. Simply fill your sink, a tub, a bucket, or anything else that will fit your grates with warm soapy water. Make sure you are using a mild detergent and avoid using any harsh chemicals.

Allow your grates to soak in the water for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the grime to loosen making it much easier to clean. Then, using a scrubbing pad, simply scrub the grates clean. Give them a final rinse and let them dry.

Now I will say, that cleaning your grates this way will make a mess. Your water will quickly turn black. That is why I prefer to use the second method.

Throw Them On The Grill

cleaning grates

A much easier and cleaner method of cleaning your grates, is to throw them on the grill. Of course, this requires you to have a grill, but most people do.

With your grill set to high, place your cooking grates on top of the grill’s grates and close the lid. Allow it 10 to 15 minutes for the grates to heat up before taking a wire brush and scaping the grime and grease off. The heat will effectively clean and kill any bacteria on the grates.

If you don’t like using wire brushes, you can crumple up some tin foil in a ball and use it as a scrubbing pad.  And as always, when working with hot surfaces, be sure to use the proper care and tools to prevent burning yourself.

clean grates

Can I Put My Smoker’s Grates In The Dishwasher?

We do not recommend putting your smoker grates in the dishwasher as the grease and creosote build up can clog your drains. It is best to hand wash your smoker’s grates by hand using a natural degreaser or let them burn off on the grill.

How To Clean An Offset or Charcoal Smoker?

Weber Smokey mountain

In terms of cleaning maintenance, charcoal and offset smokers are easy to maintain. Outside of keeping your cooking grates clean every smoke, you really only have to worry about cleaning out the fire box and water pan (if your smoker has one). A deeper more thorough clean of the interior of the smoker can be done once a year.

Fire Box

As your fire burns, the ashes will start to accumulate in the bottom of your fire box. These ashes, if left after each smoke, can capture moisture and lead to premature rusting and deterioration. Cleaning your fire box is as simple as removing the ashes.

Once your smoker has cooled and the ashes are no longer hot, simply brush or vacuum them out. This will help to keep your smoker in good condition and prepare it for the next smoke.

ashes from fire

Water Pan

This is more specific to water smokers like the Weber Smokey Mountain or any smoker that utilizes a water pan below the meat. Because the water pan sits between the meat and the fire, all the fat drippings from the meat will fall into the water pan.

If left for an extended period of time, your water pan will grow mold. Once your smoker has cooled, simply empty the water pan and give it a quick wash out. Additionally, a lot of people prefer to line their water pan with aluminum foil to make clean up much easier.

ashes from fire

Once A Year Deep Clean

Creosote, the byproduct of burning wood, creates a thick black later on this inside of your smoker. While this does add a layer of protection to your smoker preventing rust, an excessive build up of creosote can cause problems.

Deep cleaning your smoker once a year can keep your smoker in good condition. In fact, Weber recommends you thoroughly clean your smoker each year.

How To Deep Clean Your Smoker

  1. Using a plastic scraper, scrape off any grease of creosote build up off the walls of your smoker and remove the debris.
  2. Using a warm soapy water or a mild natural detergent, wipe down the interior of your smoker. You may use a light scrubbing pad to help scrub. You don’t need your smoker to be spotless, we are just looking to remove most of the buildup.
  3. Once done scrubbing, give your smoker a quick rinse and allow to dry.
  4. With your smoker clean, you need to “season” it to protect it. Simply spray everything down with oil and fire your smoker up as hot as it will go. Allow it to burn for a few hours to bake the oil into the metal.

How to Clean Pellet and Electric Smokers

Pellet and electric smokers need much more care and cleaning to keep them operating safely and well. Because of their design, they are much more prone to catching fire. Every manufacturer suggests regularly cleaning your smoker to ensure safe operation.

How Often Should You Clean A Pellet Smoker?

z grill pellet smoker

Every pellet smoker is going to have a different cleaning procedure/recommendations so it is always best to refer to your user manual for smoker specific cleaning frequency and methods; however, the following table from Pitboss gives you a great idea on how often and how to clean each component of your pellet smoker.

I think this goes without saying, but always unplug your smoker and allow it to cool down before cleaning!

ItemHow Often To Clean Cleaning Method
Bottom of Main GrillEvery 5-6 Grill SessionsScoop Out, Shop-Vac Excess Debris
Burn PotEvery 2-3 Grill SessionsScoop Out, Shop-Vac Excess Debris
Cooking GratesAfter Every Grill SessionsBurn Off Excess, Brass Wire Brush
Flame BroilerEvery 5-6 Grill SessionsScrape Main Plate with Slider, Do Not Wash Clean
Grease BucketAfter Every Grill SessionsScrub Pad & Soapy Water
Auger Feed SystemWhen Pellet Bag Is EmptyAllow Auger to Push Out Sawdust, Leaving Hopper Empty
Hopper Electric ComponentsOne A YearDust Out Interior, Wipe Fan Blades with Soapy Water
Air Intake VentEvery 5-6 Grill SessionsDust, Scrub Pad & Soapy Water
Temperature ProbesEvery 2-3 Grill SessionsScrub Pad & Soapy Water

How To Clean The Glass Window In A Smoker?

As with the rest of the smoker, you should never use chemicals to clean the glass window of a smoker. Instead use a mild, natural based degreaser such as dawn soap. If you find that is not powerful enough to remove the grime from the window, you can scrub it with fine grade steel wool.

Commonly Asked Questions About Smoker Cleaning.

Can You Pressure Wash A Smoker?

Using a pressure washer to clean your smoker can save you a lot of time and scrubbing power; however, be careful when using it near electrical components on your smoker as the high pressure can cause damage to them.

Additionally, some smokers use porcelain enamel on their walls or cooking grates as a protective barrier. Using a pressure washer on protective coatings can cause damage leaving your smoker unprotected and vulnerable to rust.

Can You Use Vinegar To Clean A Smoker?

Vinegar has a high acidity making it a great natural option for cutting through grime and grease in your smoker. Simply spray your smoker with vinegar and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. You may still need to scrub with a mild detergent, but the vinegar will help loosen up the grime.

Can You Use Oven Cleaner On A Smoker?

You should never use oven cleaner or any other chemicals to clean your smoker. While it may seem tempting, the over cleaners and other chemicals are extremely corrosive and dangerous. We don’t want any residual chemicals to cook into our food. Instead opt for natural products.

dirty smoker

What Can I Use To Clean My Smoker?

When using products to clean your smoker, we always recommend using natural products. Vinegar, Apple cider vinegar, citrus, baking soda all make great natural degreasers. Additionally, you can use an all-purpose nontoxic degreaser such as dawn soap.

Do You Need To Season A Smoker After Cleaning It?

You should always season your smoker after you deep clean it. The creosote and grease build up on your smoker act as a natural barrier for your smoker protecting it from rust. Giving your smoker a deep clean removes this natural barrier leaving your smoker vulnerable. After removing the creosote and grease from your smoker, seasoning it will help add back that protection.

Michael W.

Half of my family lives in Texas and we would visit them often. As a food lover, naturally I fell in love with smoked meat. Smoked brisket and peach cobbler is a staple around where my family grew up and quickly became a favorite of mine. Unfortunately we didn't have good BBQ where I grew up. After enough years, I finally decided to get a smoker so I didn't have to wait for good BBQ until I went to Texas. Getting into a new hobby can be overwhelming. When I first started smoking meat, there was so much conflicting information and so many different styles and techniques that I didn't know where to start. I started this website to help people BBQ better and learn the ropes by sharing my knowledge and experiences.

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