How To Clean A Smoker: Step By Step Guide

Last Updated on November 21, 2022

How to clean a smoker, article is a step-by-step guide about how to keep your smoker clean and well-maintained, dramatically improving its overall longevity and its cooking performance.

Although it is unlikely that you will be able to get it back to its original state every time, you will be able to lift grease and debris so that it is hygienic and smooth running, and it produces clean smoke that imbues your food with delicious flavor.

In this article, we take you through a step-by-step guide on how to effectively and efficiently deep clean your smoker. The cleaning method will differ slightly depending on the type of smoker that you own, with gas, electric, wood pellet, and combo grills all posing slightly different challenges.

We will focus on charcoal offset smokers in this article, but make reference to the other styles along the way. Let’s go!

Cleaning Supplies You Will Need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic putty knife / plastic scraper
  • Steel grill brush/steel wool
  • Bucket of warm soapy water
  • Soft sponge/scouring sponge
  • Damp cloth
  • Paper towels
  • Vacuum cleaner

How To Clean Your Grill Grates

The first thing to do when deep cleaning your smoker is to remove all the racks and grates from both the cook chamber and the firebox.

There may be multiple grates depending on the size and cooking surface of your smoker, with most off-set smokers having multiple cooking racks, as well as grates in the firebox for housing coals, and grates in the base of the cook chamber for your drip tray and water pan.

Step 1 

Remove all cooking racks and grates from your offset smoker and place them inside your gas grill if you have one. Turn on the grill and gently heat the grates so that the grease buildup and food residue on the bars softens and loosens.

This will make cleaning them much easier, however, if you don’t have a gas grill you can proceed to Step 2 (you just might need to use a little more elbow grease!).

Step 2

Using your grill brush, scrub the bars of your grates until the built-up grease and bits of food fall away. Metal bristle brushes work best on most metal grates, although we advise using a soft bristle brush if your smoker has cast iron grates.

Step 3

Add some caustic cleaner to warm water and wash the grates with a damp sponge until all the grease buildup is cleared.

Step 4

Rinse the grates with clean, hot water thoroughly, so that all soap residue is removed. 

Step 5

Leave to air-dry in the sun.

How To Clean A Smoker Fire Box

The firebox on your off-set smoker will most likely be filled with leftover ash and charcoal from your last cook, and it is vitally important that you clean out this ash regularly to avoid it gathering moisture and encouraging rusting to occur.

The same applies if you have a pellet smoker, except there will not be any charcoal to clean out.

If you have an electric smoker or a gas smoker, you will most likely have a smoker box that contains your wood chips. This smoker box will need to be emptied and cleaned after each use to prevent rust from developing.

Step 1

Most charcoal offset smokers have a removable ash drawer located at the bottom of the firebox. This drawer will contain the majority of the ash, charcoal, and burnt wood left over from your last cooking session.

Wearing your rubber gloves, remove this drawer and dispose of the ash by carefully pouring it out.

Step 2

Take your vacuum cleaner and use it to suck up any ash residue and dirt particles that may be left inside the firebox. Remember to vacuum the ash drawer too to ensure that it is completely clean.

Step 3

As the firebox is separate from the cook chamber on an off-set smoker, there should be no need to scrub the interior walls as grease and food particles should not build up in this area.

However, if you notice any rust or dirt that you wish to remove, now is the time to wipe down the walls with a damp cloth and soapy water (normal dish soap is fine).

How To Clean A Smoker Cooking Chamber

Now it is time for the messy bit! When using a smoker the cooking chamber is where your meat and food are placed. For this reason, this smoking chamber will experience a significant buildup of grease through juices and drippings and through grease smoke.

If you leave this grease for too long it will collect moisture and encourage rust to develop. Having a dirty smoker will also affect the flavor of future cooks.

TOP TIP: We recommend performing routine maintenance and cleaning of this area after every use, with the easiest option being to wipe down the entire smoker whilst it is still warm from being used.

Grease and drippings can be easily wiped away with a damp paper towel when the unit is still warm, however, they become more tricky to remove once they have cooled and solidified.

Step 1

Begin by removing the drip tray from the bottom of the cooking chamber. Most off-set smokers have a grease chute system that encourages drippings and juices to collect in this grease bucket. Both the grease chute and bucket can be emptied and scraped out with a metal scraper.

Step 2

Soak the drip tray and grease chute in warm soapy water until all the drippings are lifted, then dry with a paper towel.

Step 3

Although most of the grease drippings should have been contained in the grease tray, some will remain on the interior walls, lid, and base of the cooking chamber.

This chamber will most likely have a protective coating that you don’t want to scratch, so you should use a plastic scraper rather than a metal scraper at this stage. Scrape the inside of the smoke chamber (including the grill lid) to get rid of baked-on grease and food particle buildup.

Step 4

Using hot water, soap, and a damp sponge, wash the interior of your smoker to loosen and lift any remaining baked-on residue and tough stains. It is important to do this thoroughly because rancid grease can not only affect the flavor of your smoke but can also cause grease fires in the future.

Step 5

Use clean water to thoroughly rinse the inside of the cook chamber so that no soap residue lingers. Then use paper towels to mop up any excess water at the bottom of the chamber.

Step 6

Finally, leave your smoker open and position it in the sun to completely air dry.

Final Thoughts

Performing quick and easy cleaning after each use will help to maintain your smoker grill and will allow you to achieve a clean burn and a delicious smoky flavor every time.

However, we recommend that you perform a deep clean once every 4-5 uses to really look after your smoker. Following these simple steps will help you get the most out of the smoking process.

Video: How to Clean a Smoker