BBQ FAQ Section 7.3


7.3 Smoker maintenance


[I just got a new off-set-firebox type smoker. How do I condition it?]

David Klose--

A new barbecue smoker should be cured like a new iron skillet. You may chose to rub the inside of the smoker with Pam, peanut oil, cooking oils, or even bacon grease. Light the smoker with a medium fire using lump charcoal or seasoned wood, say to 220F.

Choke the smokestack control about 1/2 way closed and let it smoke heavily. A few hours is good--the longer the better. A smoker will cure without oils, but the build-up of the resin base on the doors etc., doesn't seem to hold very well over the years without using oil. I have made maybe 100,000 barbecue pits. I have noted that pits cured with oils seem to produce better end product.


[Do I need to clean my barbecue smoker? And if so, how do I do it and how often?]

Lloyd Carver--

The type cleanup required is partly determined by your type of equipment. If you have a vertical water smoker, there is very little to clean up. In the water smoker of course you need to dump the ashes each time the smoker is used. Next you will need to clean the water pan. Each time you use the water smoker grease drips into the water pan and is cooked down. This needs to be cleaned out before using again. If soap and water will not break this down, a little oven cleaner will take care of it. Lastly, when you take the last of the meat out of the smoker, you should brush down the grills. If you clean them with anything else you will need to re-season them before using again.

In a horizontal unit (off-set firebox type), the ashes will need to be cleaned out of the firebox or wherever the fire is built. The ashes can adsorb water and speed up the rusting process of the firebox floor. The horizontal unit could have a special problem not usually found in water smokers. Often there is no drip pan under the meat. This means rendered fat will accumulate in bottom of the smoke chamber. This could cause health problems, flavor problems, and even, if it got warm enough in the smoke chamber, possibly a fire or an explosion. This grease must periodically be cleaned out. Scraping followed by soap and hot water should get rid of the grease. This would be followed by re-curing as done when you first started. The last would be cleaning the grills/grates. This would be accomplished as in the water smoker.

After many uses or at least once per year you should check for buildup of carbon in the lid and smoke chamber. A wire brush should be used to clean this out. If you take it down to metal, re-season the inside.

Rust spots should be wire brushed, sanded and re-painted with high temperature grill or stove paint.


R. W. Ramsey--

Well, last night I thought I'd be a smartypants and clean the excess goo off the inside of the smoker, so I heated that sucker up to about 450F and sprayed it out real good with the water hose. Worked real well. All the goo was gone. Trouble is, it was starting to rust by this evening, so I have coated the interior with cooking spray and am sacrificing a perfectly good chicken to build up the goo again.


Harry Jiles--

I clean mine the same way. The steam produced when you spray in the water really cleans things up. I brush the whole inside down with soy oil as soon as it dries, which is only about 5 minutes after spraying, and have no problem with rust.



Some List members report that an easy way to clean your grill racks is to put them into an electric self-cleaning oven and start the cleaning cycle. They come out clean as a whistle.


Rodney Leist--

I just wanted to thank the list of a really good 'solution' to a nasty problem. I've listened to several of you talking about using "Simple Green" for cleanup for a long time and am just now trying it. It does work better than anything else I've ever used. Spray it on and hose it off.


[What's the best way to repaint my smoker?]

David Klose--

If the paint is peeling from the exterior of a barbeque smoker, I recommend going to a large hardware store, and buying the best heat paint you can get. Try for Rust-o-leum 1000F, or 1300F paints if you can find them. When heated, epoxy paints are TOXIC and cannot and should not be used on food equipment like barbecue pits. The paint breaks down when heated and gets inhaled, so to speak. Not real good for you. You might not die right away, but it may be harmful to you.

Most commercial smoker manufacturers usually use 500F or 700F paint. As I understand it, charcoal burns at 700-959F. Hardwoods burn at roughly 1050-1180F. Due to the expansion and contraction of the surfaces of barbecue pits made from sheet metal and steel to 1/2" thick, I have found that the metal can move as much as 1/8" during the heating and cooling process. The heat oxidizes and embrittles the paint, and the repeated expansions tear it, causing it to flake.

Start with the best paint you can find. I use 1300F paint on my barbecue pits. I give them five coats, painted over a three day period and dried a week before I will let a customer touch them. Smoking out (curing) the smoker should also help set the paint just like you would a new skillet. Wire brush the bad areas well and then wipe down with water and allow that to dry. You can even light the smoker with a LOW FIRE, say 200F, to help expand the metal so the paint will penetrate deeply into the pores. Then spray or wipe the paint on while the smoker is warm. This helps bake it on. Apply a few coats, with an hour in between. Let the smoker cool naturally. Cold water or high humidity at this point only counteracts the steps taken. Be sure there is a 70% humidity or less for the application of the base coat of paint if possible.

Your smoker will probably peel again as there are very few paints of the quality needed for this application that the average person could afford. You can also apply Pam or peanut oil to the outside of the firebox after it has cooled when you finish cooking, as this will help keep the paint pliable, thus inhibiting cracking of the paint to a small degree.

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BBQ FAQ Ver 1.0, 2.0 1997, 1998 William W. Wight. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 25, 1999
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