BBQ smokers can be a lot of fun to work with and produce some very tasty food, particularly meats. However, like any equipment, they need to be maintained for the best results. Over time, sitting outside in the elements can cause a smoker to perform worse. With a bit of elbow grease and cleanup some of the damage can be reversed for improved cooking results.
With smokers and BBQs in general, a tremendous amount of smoke and carbon gets built up over time which essentially creates a layer of crud on the inside of the BBQ smoker. Without cleaning regularly, this material can reduce the effectiveness of the smoker to heat properly. It also has the potential to eventually fall off the upper surface of the smoker and onto the new food cooking. While under the heat the residue is not likely to cause a problem due to temperature level, the food is still ending with old crud flaking onto it.
Cleaning off this carbon removes a layer that interferes with the smoker’s proper heating balance, and it avoids unnecessary food contamination. A good scraper and scrub brush will get most of the layer off when the smoker is cold, with a final wash of water to remove it completely.
The smoker’s metal grill takes a tremendous amount of abuse during the repeat cooking process. It heats up, gets food burned onto it, suffers exposure to liquids and oxidation, and then it cools down. In many cases the steel is exposed to outside which adds to the wear and tear with element exposure.
To avoid transfer of oxidation build-up to food, the grill metal should be scrubbed regularly before cooking and brushed off. To avoid using harsh cleaning chemicals, pickle juice from a pickle jar makes a good, natural cleaning agent. The scrubbing generally removes superficial oxidation residue that makes easy contact with food. The grill should also be flipped between cooking sessions to even out the wear and tear. However, at some point an old grill should be replaced with a new one completely to avoid eventual contamination.
Outside Cover Cleanup
The outside cover of a smoker also suffers over time, more due to the elements and cooking temperature changes than anything. To clean up a good repaint job solves the problem. The surface needs to be prepared first, however. This requires scrubbing off any dirt or dust so the surface is as clean as possible. A good wash removes any last bits.
Once the surface is dry, a black, hi-temp spray paint should be used. After the paint is applied and properly dried, the smoker should be heated up at least once to cure the paint and get rid of fumes. Otherwise that new paint is going off-gas right when the food is cooking, which is a bad idea.
Control the Smoke
A smoker with just the manufactured hole in the hood will lose the valuable smoke immediately as it will shoot right up the opening and outside. Instead, a flue needs to be attached on the inside, forcing the smoke to swirl around a bit before escaping. With a flue stretching downward a bit, some of the smoke will get captured in the cover. This enhances the flavor of the food being cooked as the smoke sticks around instead of disappearing too quick.