Cleaning and maintaining a food smoker

Cleaning and maintaining a food smoker

This is an article from one of our Guest Writers on – Devin Harper whose writings frequently appear on the Bradley Smoker blog

Attention grill meisters and backyard chefs!

If you want to continue to enjoy that savory food that comes only from your food smoker and avoid equipment failures and health hazards, then proper maintenance is a must.
There are all kinds of food smoker designs and models out there, so a one-size-fits-all maintenance strategy can’t really be used across the board.
Having said that, I’d like to offer a few cleaning tips and techniques that have worked well for me. I use an electric Bradley smoker, but many of these suggestions can certainly be applied to other types of smokers as well – propane, charcoal or digital.

Initial Seasoning

Before you start cooking away in your brand new smoker, it’s important to season it first to remove any impartial smells from your smoker. The smell of your factory-new food smoker isn’t necessarily how you want your food to taste. Basically, seasoning is an ongoing process. The more you smoke and cook in your smoker, the better tasting the foods will be.
To do this, quickly wipe down the inside parts of the smoker. Fill your drip bowl about half-full of water and open the damper on top of your unit. Preheat your smoker to 150°F. Add wood and let smoke fill the tower for one hour. Doing this will give you a chance to become more familiar with the unit, its controls and the smoking process. Moreover, the smoke will create somewhat of a protective surface that repels water and prevents rust.


All food smokers should be maintained and cleaned after each use. To clean your smoker, remove any internal parts that are easily accessible for cleaning and wash them off with a damp cloth. If they are stainless steel parts, clean them with dish soap or throw them in the dishwasher.
One of the easiest ways to clean your smoker racks is by removing them and using a stainless steel wire brush to clean off the rack and other parts. You can use baking soda and vinegar to help you remove sticky residue.

Remember, good smoke residue in the tower (seasoning) takes time to create. The more residue, the better! It only takes a couple of minutes to mess that up, so carefully consider the following:

  • Do NOT immerse smoker in water. The quickest and easiest cleaning method is simply taking a damp towel and wiping away food particles and grease inside of your smoker. Grease build-up may cause a fire if neglected over time, so pay particular attention to that.
  • Do NOT spray the inside of your smoker with appliance cleaner. Strong cleaners have a tendency to linger around in the inner parts of your unit and can contaminate your food. Remember, you want to leave that smoke or black residue on the tower walls for best food taste.
  • Do NOT cover your racks with aluminum foil. This will seal the racks and can cause damage to your unit.

I've heard some say that it doesn't matter what your smoker looks like as long as the food tastes good, but a poorly maintained smoker can cause equipment failures and can be hazardous.
For food smokers that use charcoal, it's important to remove the ashes from the bottom of the grill. These ashes, if left for long periods of time, will trap oil and moisture and can lead to rust forming on the bottom of your unit. This may not apply to your food smoker.

In Summary

Cleaning and maintaining a food smoker is easy when it comes down to it. Following these suggestions will enable you to keep producing great-tasting food and enjoy your food smoker for a lifetime!

About the author: Devin Harper is a writer and smoked meat fanatic. He first got into food smoking in Juneau, AK where he caught and cooked his own salmon regularly. He’s an avid outdoorsman and specializes in wild game recipes that can be found on the Bradley Smoker blog.