Proper Meat Smoker Maintenance will not only add significant life to your smoker, it makes using the smoker more enjoyable.
Preventive maintain and minor repair of your smoker is easy to perform and pays big dividends.
Cleaning, seasoning, rust removal, and touch up painting are a few maintenance actions that every smoker chef should learn about.
Here’s an introduction to smoker maintenance. Of course follow your manufactures recommendations when cleaning and fixing your meat smoker.
Since there are many types of meat smokers it’s important to carefully read your manufactures instructions and consult with them for any major repairs of your meat smoker. Once you have that in mind it’s easy to perform smoker maintenance.
You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment, or be a mechanic to maintain your smoker. The basics and a little common sense will do. For tools I use a medium and small size Phillips or standard head screw driver as needed. Pliers, a set of open end wrenches, and a vice grips pretty much round out my smoker tool kit.
For cleaning I use a scrapper, a scrubber, dish soap, oven cleaner, hot water, and cloth rags. For touch up painting I use steel wool, a very fine grade of sand paper (such as emery cloth), and high temperature grill paint.
Seasoning or Curing
Just like a new cast iron skillet a smoker can benefit from being seasoned or “cured.” This is an area where it’s very important to see what the manufacturer recommends. A layer of oil covered with smoke residue forms a protective layer that protects the interior of the smoker from corrosion.
How and if you cure your smoker will depend on the type of smoker you have. For my electric smoker there was no seasoning recommended what so ever. For a bullet style wood burner my friends insisted I oil and season the interior. Large pit smokers are commonly cured.
To season your meat smoker simply coat the inside with cooking fat or oil such as peanut oil or vegetable oil. When ever I season any cooking gear I use a layer of generic Crisco© on it. After applying the seasoning fire up the smoker to a normal smoking temperature, say about 225 degrees.
If you are using a wood or charcoal fired smoker thats all you need. If you have a bullet style propane or electric add some smoking wood to the chip tray. Next close down the vents a bit to retain much of the smoke. Keep the temperature around 220 degrees for several hours. Thats it! The combination of oil blanketed with smoke completes the curing.
Like seasoning, cleaning your smoker will depend somewhat on what type of smoker you buy. However, no matter what type of meat smoker you purchase cleaning is pretty easy and requires no special equipment. As always consult your manufactures guidelines
For large wood or charcoal fired units with an off-set firebox cleaning out ashes and unburned fuel after a food smoking session is important. Ashes can turn into a soggy mess if they get wet, rust will soon follow if wet ashes are allowed to sit in the smoker. Bits of food and dripping can build up in the cook chamber. Make sure to remove any food that falls into the bottom of the cook chamber. If grease begins to build up make sure to scrape it out so it doesn’t turn into a fire hazard. You can clean the interior with soap and water if it gets really filthy. Just be sure to apply a coat of oil to any areas you clean to the metal.
For vertical water smokers it’s also important to remove any ashes from the smoker after it cools down. Clean out the water pan removing any food, cooked on grease, or ash. The dome and interior walls of vertical smokers can accumulate a pretty good layer of soot, carbon, and grease. Soot / carbon can be cleaned with water, or a wire brush. If it’s really caked on apply some oven cleaner, that should do the trick. Just make sure you clean out any cleaner residue. If you clean down to bare metal apply a coat of cooking oil.
On all meat smokers periodically brush down the cooking grates to remove any food or excessive ash. Try not to make them sparkling clean, if you clean them completely spray on some pam or cooking oil to prevent rust.
Dealing with Rust
An important part of meat smoker maintenance is dealing with rust. At the first sight of rust you need to deal with it. Rust can quickly spread, and anything more than minor surface rust can quickly ruin a meat smoker. When you find rust thoroughly clean the area. I then take a wire brush to the rust removing as much as possible. If needed sanding with a fine grade of sand paper is fine, just don’t remove any more of the surrounding finish than necessary. Once the rust is removed I smooth the area with steel wool.
Now repaint the area with high temperature grill paint. Buy the grill or stove paint you can afford, it pays off in the long run. If you can find it go for paint that is rated to 1000 degrees or better. Apply at least three coats allowing each one to dry overnight. After the last coat is dry fire up the smoker for an hour or so to “cure” the paint. Keep an eye on the area you repainted, it could be prone to future problems.
Getting in the habit of quickly inspecting your smoker each time you use it is a great idea. Check for any areas you neglected to clean after your last use, deal with them right away. Next check the interior, exterior, and components for rust or corrosion. Make a note to deal with it soon. Check handle(s), legs, and attached accessories for loose fastening screws.
On propane models check the gas hose and jet assembly for any damage, obstructions, or corrosion. On electric meat smokers also check the cord for holes, fraying, or melted spots.
As you can see the inspection, cleaning, and minor repair of is not hard and can be done by any adult. While it may seem inconvenient at times meat smoker maintenance can significantly extend the life of your smoker. Make sure to consult you smokers manufactures recommendations.
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