How to Clean Your Smoker

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You might think that cleaning your smoker is something that is just common sense but this question gets asked a lot and I figured now is a great time to go over my process for cleaning the ash, grease and other gunk out of the smoker.

I also have a video below where you can see me cleaning a pellet smoker.

This will be particularly important for those who use pellet smokers/grill but the same concepts will apply to most other smokers and grills including gas, electric, charcoal and wood smokers.

How Often to Clean Your Smoker

There is no hard and fast rules about cleaning but like most other things, this is determined by how often you cook, what you cook, and whether you use methods that help to keep your smoker or grill clean such as pans, foil, etc.

I do basic cleaning on my smoker or grill after every cook such as removing any food from the cooking grates and removing the (cooled down) ash from the firebox since that is corrosive, especially if it gets wet or damp.

I also do a couple of things right before I cook such as oiling the grates which is not really cleaning per se but I think it's relevant.

Here's my basic cleaning schedule:

Before every use:

  • Clean outside of lid or door to make sure dirt/debris does not fall on food during cooking.
  • Oil grates to prevent food from sticking.
  • If pellet smoker, make sure burn pot is free of ashes.

After every use:

  • Clean cooking grates with grill scraper or ball of foil to knock off large food.
  • Wipe rubber gasket/seal around door with damp cloth to remove smoke residue and/or food. Universal cleaner can be used if necessary.
  • Dishwash cooking grates if they are stainless steel or dishwasher safe. Otherwise hand wash them.
  • Remove ash from firebox to prevent corrosion*. When ashes get wet or damp, it is corrosive to metal and will cause your firebox to deteriorate faster than it would otherwise.

*The ashes are very hot so it is best to wait until the next day after use to remove them from the smoker. The only safe option for removing them right when you get done cooking, while they are still hot, is to move them to a metal container with a tight fitting lid.

I often use a small dedicated shop vac to remove ash and other debris once it is completely cool.

After every 25 hours of cooking:

  • Scrape lid with plastic putty knife to knock off creosote and burnt buildup to prevent it falling on food during cooking.
  • If pellet grill, this is a good time to clean ash from body of the smoke chamber.*

*Note: ash can be allowed to build up in the body of the smoke chamber to help insulate the smoker and hold in more heat during the cold season.

Before storing your smoker or grill (those of you who don't cook outdoors all year):

  • Remove all ash from the firebox and/or body of the smoker
  • Make sure cooking grates are clean.
  • Scrape walls of smoker with plastic putty knife to knock off any creosote, food or burnt on debris. (I prefer a plastic putty knife so as to not scratch the metal.)
  • Clean inside light/lens (if any).
  • Clean glass windows (if any)
  • Clean chimney with bottle brush, plastic putty knife or other long-handled device to remove loose debris and creosote.
  • Wipe down outside of smoker with all purpose cleaner.
  • Remove all pellets from hopper (pellet smokers)
  • Cover smoker or grill with grill/smoker cover or an appropriately sized tarp and bungee cords.

After getting your smoker or grill out of storage (those of you who don't cook outdoors all year):

  • Remove cover
  • Wipe down outside of smoker with all purpose cleaner.
  • It's a great idea to wash the grates with soap but if they look okay and the smoker was stored in a clean environment, you can also just wipe the grates with a damp cloth to remove any dust that may have settled during storage.
  • Look for and remove any spider eggs, dirt dauber nests, wasp nests, etc. that may have showed up during the long storage.
  • Look for any rust spots and buff those out with a stainless steel pad. If the rust was on the outside, spot-coat with high temperature pain. If the rust was on the inside, the re-seasoning process will take care of it.
  • Re-season the smoker (instructions below)

Methods to Keep Your Smoker or Grill Cleaner

  • Use foil on the drip pans, heat deflectors, etc. to help aid in cleanup.
  • Use foil liners in drip buckets (pellet smokers)
  • Smoke on pans with a rack to contain food and grease and keep the smoker clean during the cooking process.
  • You can also smoke food down in foil pans. I often cook pork butts and briskets in foil pans and not only do they end up perfectly smoky, the fat renders in the pan and helps to keep the meat juicy during the cook.

How to Season or Re-Season a Smoker

When you purchase a new smoker, you will want to do a burn in to remove any oils that may still be present from the manufacturing process. At the same time, the metal walls, lid, etc. is coated with cooking oil and with the high heat, seals the metal inside the smoker to prevent it from rusting.

After a long storage or deep cleaning of the smoker or grill, this process will need to repeated.

Follow these instructions or the instructions in your smoker manual:

  • Make sure the inside walls and cooking grates of the smoker are clean.
  • Spray a light coat of cooking oil onto the walls, lid, floor, etc. of the smoker. I use the cheapest spray oil I can find but some folks use lard, tallow or other oils.
  • Light or start up the smoker and set the heat to about 350°F (177°C). If your smoker only goes up to 275°F (135°C), then that will also work.
  • Let the smoker run for a couple of hours with smoke to burn off any manufacturing oils and allow the cooking oil to seal the metal on the inside of the smoker.
  • Once the seasoning process is finished, you are free to cook in the smoker as you see fit.

⚠️Wire Brush Warning

Do not use a wire brush on or anywhere near the cooking grates!

It is possible for a small piece of wire to break off and stick to the grate where it later becomes attached to the food. This can cause severe issues in the gastrointestinal system and is extremely dangerous.

Use a balled up piece of foil or grill scraper to remove stuck on material from the cooking grates.

Do you have cleaning products that you like to use, special methods for cleaning your smoker, etc.? Post those in the comments area below!

Here's the video that I created a while back showing how I clean my pellet smoker

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  1. I use coarse nylon pads to scrub the grates after cooking. When I wash the grates I spray them with DAWN Power Wash dish soap, let them soak, then wash with a nylon wash pad and warm water. Once clean, rinse with hot water then towel dry and store inside until the next cook. I also rinse the entire exterior before/after every cook. I use a Pit Boss cover made for the PB850PS2 smoker. The fire pot gets vacuumed after every use when the pellets are cool, usually the next day and I empty the pellet supply bin after every use. Almost two years in and no problems. Oh, cleaned the barrel temp probe with vinegar and one of the coarse nylon scrubber and I was surprised to see the amount of build up that was removed, the probe looks brand new!

  2. Thanks Jeff, for the video. If the smokers are to be left outdoors in a MN type winter, I would recommend an additional step or two. The pellets should be removed from the hopper and using the vac, the auger cleaned out as well. Failure to do so might allow moisture from winter storms to turn that feed tube into a concrete like mess. I also take all removable parts inside and put the cleaned grates in a plastic trash bag for winter storage.
    I have followed your advice and used foil lined baking pans with grills. It truly makes at great difference in clean-up with out much change in smoke quality or cooking. Thanks again!

  3. In your smoker cleaning video you didn’t mention wiping down with vinegar the antenna like device that measure temperature that is located on the left hand wall inside the smoker . Camp Chef suggest doing this.

  4. Jeff. I clean my pellet grill grates by placing them in my big gas Weber that goes up to 700 degrees. Burning off any organic material seems like it works great. Your thoughts?

  5. All good.
    Isee no one talks about GrillGrates and cleaning the back of them.
    I find after 3-4 cooks that i get that gassy smell form the wood even after cleaning the rails,fire pot,hopper and inside the smoker itself(lid, body ect.

  6. Thank you for the cleaning information.. I used Dawn deterrent to soak all the removable parts.. it worked great in cleaning…..

    1. I generally clean the interiror of my electric smoker once or twice a season with a mixture of apple cider. vinegar and water…..let it soak in for a while and it works great. If really stubbirn youmay have to do a second coating.

  7. Great article. Followed you for 5+ years. Always good stuff!
    on another note. Do you have any tricks for reading the older CampChef blue flat led display…way too low and flat on the hopper.


  8. Hi Jeff, thanks for all the good stuff you post. I must apologize for a comment I made to you years back about your rub. I liked it but didn’t think it was bold enough as I like my rub more. I must say over the years, I have found your rub to be a great second rub and I don’t need to tone it down as I do mine on smaller pieces of meat. (I still like mine better even toned down but, of course I biased…) anyway I really like your original rub. Your BBQ sauce is the bomb!
    I do have a question: What do you recommend for how to dispose of the grease drippings and the water container that also gets grease in it from the meat? I live in a city and don’t have a grease trap at my house, nor do I want to run it down the drain, plus the city will fine if they find out I put grease in the trash, in the amount I would put in from my smoker. I have poured grease into kitty litter and pitched it but I don’t have a cat (other than the mountain lion in my freezer) and was told the city still has an issue with that. Any recommendations?

    1. Buchanan, it’s important to love your own homemade rub. If you don’t love it, it may need more tweaking😉

      I appreciate the kind words!

      Regarding grease disposal, I have a couple of methods that I use. My favorite method is to pour it over my in-ground fire pit and burn it.

      Another option, is to save already used paper towels and soak up the grease that way. I can’t imagine local ordinance having an issue with paper towels as those tend to get greasy anyway with basic cleanup and use. Once the paper towels have completely absorbed the grease, they go into the trash.

  9. Hello,Thank you for this information about cleaning smokers. I’ve received your smoking recipes for many years which I enjoyed also. When I first signed up to receive the recipes, you offered Ad-free recipes if we purchased the recipes for Jeff’s rub and BBQ sauce. Does that purchase no longer apply? Or is the Newsletter something different?

    1. Carol, I offered full recipes without ads in the email newsletter for years and years, but in the last year or two, they’ve been hitting the spam/junk folders way too often.

      As a result I had to shorten my emails greatly and remove a lot of the images.

      I had to change to sending everyone the same email, however, I had a lot of people wanting the ad-free experience. It’s not free, but I did make it a really great price at only $19/year, and that removes all of the popups and third party ads/videos on the entire website.

      Let me know if you have further questions about this.

  10. I have the Recteq 340 since it is my wife and i at home, to keep my Recteq clean I wrap the heat shield in heavy duty aluminum foil, wash the SS grates in the dishwasher, I shop vac all the ash out and will also handwash the burn box cover, I will do this when the foil on the heat shield looks bad usually between 2-3 cooks short cooks, or after a long cook, always use pam on grates before cooking they clean up sooo easy.
    Keep your grill clean no one likes to eat the last cook on their present cook

  11. I use a spray oven cleaner on the grates before putting them in the dishwasher. Then when I put them back into the smoker I run the heat up to 500 degrees to burn off any residue that might remain. I does an amazing job on them and they still look like new after 5 years.

  12. I usually deep clean my pellet smoker twice a year – once in the fall (in preparation for my fall-winter grilling season) and again in the spring (for my spring-fall grilling season). I use an old toothbrush to remove any buildup of creosote and/or grease/soot from the vents inside the grill leading to the chimney. Do this BEFORE taking off your chimney so that any particles fall into the chimney and can then be cleaned out while the chimney is pre-soaking before cleaning it out. Also, I use a hand-held vacuum to clean out the ash from the smoker after several cooks – works like a charm!

  13. A couple years ago I purchased a Snow Joe Ash Vacuum. It’s been an amazing tool for cleaning out all the ash inside my Yoder and other grills. I’ve also found that Zip 505 Fast Degreaser works very well on the grates. I let the spray sit on the grates for a few minutes to do its thing. I wear rubber gloves when cleaning the grates which keeps the grease off my hands making cleanup much easier.

  14. I clean several commercial smokers and have found a couple of tablespoons of lye (household drain cleaner)desolved in a 1/2 gallon of water in a pump up sprayer works best. Spray on leave sit 10 minutes and rinse with water.

  15. I would like to know how to clean up the creosote at the top of my Masterbuilt gravity smoker. I’ve tried: WD-40 degreaser, paint thinner, acetone and pure grain alcohol. Nothing, nada. These items either don’t work or they make a sticky gooey mess that even a putty knife can’t handle. I know a stem cleaner would work but I’m concerned about the electronics below, i.e. the fan. I hate to keep spending 10 bucks here and there on products that don’t work. Thanks!!!

  16. Doesn’t covering the drip pan and all the vents in it with foil adversely effect the amount of smoke getting to the meat?

    I also have Camp Chief Woodwind pellet smoker. I love it! Never fails to produce fantastic smoked food.

  17. I just got a Char-Cgriller Gravity fed 980 and my 1st cook was not that great. Any hints would be good help. I have been smoking on a offset stick pit for over 35 + years, and that is what I have been use to.

    Thank you
    John from Texas

    1. To comment I suggest a bit more info than “not that great”. What meat, how long, cook temp, meat temp when pulled…was it tough, not done, burnt? Anything like that would help.

      1. Sorry, Cook was beef country style ribs, 5 hours long, pit temp 225*, meat temp about 145* to 150*, and was very tough and bad taste.

        1. John, Not nearly high enough finish temp. I would suggest some sort of wrap and take it to around 200* to fully render fat and dissolve collagen and connective tissue

          1. John treat the ribs like brisket, slow to 150*, then wrap in foil or butcher paper and bring up to 200* or 205*. Will be pull-apart tender and still juicy. PS: A little trick that you can do (and this works for any meat that you finish off wrapped) is to slather it with herb-butter before wrapping. My grand-daddy once told me the proof of GOOD BBQ or smoked meat is. If it ain’t from chin to forehead, and finger-tip to elbow, something ain’t right. LOL. He had a BBQ restaurant in Mississippi for over 30 years, and had a bunch of Wet-Nap packs on every table. And I used many of them every time I went to visit.

  18. Thanks for the info, Jeff. Do you ever clean the chimney? It seems like there’s a build up in mine. Hasn’t affected the cooking yet, though.

    1. I don’t clean the chimney as often as I do other parts of the smoker but it does need to be cleaned now and then. For smaller, shorter chimneys, a bottle brush will knock off the main stuff and that’s usually good enough. If the chimney is longer than 6 or 8 inches, you can wrap a shop towel real tight around a piece of broom handle or something similar and give it a few swiped up and down with that to knock off the creosote.

      I also like to do this if the smoker has not been used for a while in case there are critters up in there. Beware of wasps, hornets, etc.!

  19. One recommendation… hit the internal temperature probe with a fine steel wool to knock off any smoke and ash debris to keep the probe reading correctly.

  20. Simply Green makes a spray grill cleaner. Spray on wipe off. Works great on lids and sides. Q-swipe pads are excellent for stainless grates, not good on cast iron grates. Thanks for all your great tips!

  21. Good words Jeff! Some common sense and some good pointers as well. My smoker lives outside so I bought a cover for it. Did not know about the caustic effects of wet ash. Good to know!

  22. Thank for the cleaning help. This is really so helpful! I enjoy your recipes and ideas . Thank you for all the info you send out. I for one really appreciate you!

  23. I use my propane torch to start my fires and clean my cooking surfaces,,, This carbonizes the left over cooking debris and makes for easy removal with a brush. I then give a good coating of spray Canola oil and start the fire…

    BEWARE of shedding wire brushes… I ingested a “hair” that attached itself to the meat and ended up with a major operation to remove it. The hair penetrated the stomach walls and produced what appeared to be a tumor.

    1. Joe, thank you for the suggestion on using the propane torch to help remove debris. I’ll have to try that.

      I have updated the page to include a warning about wire brushes.

      1. I do not know where my brother got it, but he uses a piece of brass plate shaped like a octagon on a handle. The brass has one flat side, and several different sizes of notches and grooves in it for different grills. It works great on both his grill and his smoker.

  24. To clean the grates I have found that Easy-Off non fuming oven cleaner (blue can) works great. Just spray it on both sides of the grate, let it sit for a few hours then use a sponge and warm water to breakaway all the particles, smoke residue, etc. Low effort and it works every time!