Few culinary experiences can compare to good, old-fashioned barbecue slow-cooked in a barbecue smoker. Backyard barbecuing is a favorite warm weather pastime in America, with millions of Americans firing up the pit or a smoker every summer. To get the most out of your smoker and to enjoy the barbecuing season to its fullest potential, it is important to properly care for and maintain your barbecue smoker.

Most importantly, keep your smoker clean. With a little time and elbow grease you can keep your smoker in optimum operating condition. A clean smoker is a happy smoker, and will reward you with delicious food time after time if cleaning is done regularly and effectively. A large accumulation of grease can be prevented by using the proper drip pans for your smoker. But for best results, you should give the smoker a thorough shake-down after each use. Start by keeping these essential cleaning supplies on hand:

-steel wool pads (the variety with soap included is best)
-mild dish soap
-dry baking soda
-aluminum foil
-sponge or dish cloth
-brass wire grill brush
-spray-on cooking oil

After each use, scrub down all interior surfaces of the smoker with the brass wire brush and dish soap. Making this a habit will avoid excessive build up that would end up taking much longer to clean. The longer build-up is neglected, the harder it will be to remove. Plus, neglecting to clean can lead to deterioration and damage of your best backyard friend. Cleaning the racks well is especially important because food comes in direct contact with them while cooking. Apply the brass wire brush or steel wool pads to any residue remaining on the racks, then rinse completely before placing food on them again. When cleaning and rinsing is finished, spray down the interior surface with cooking oil to properly re-season.

Prompt removal of ashes is another important step in the maintenance of your backyard buddy. NEVER let ashes remain in the smoker. Wait until the ashes are cool and remove all of them. A vacuum hose can be used to make sure no ash is left behind. Leaving these in the smoker can have detrimental consequences. If the ashes mix with water, a nasty alkaline substance will form. When this solution reacts with the metal surface of the smoker, a lot of rust and damage can occur. The same goes for oil mixing with the water and ash.

Another important part of barbecue smoker maintenance is to check the appliance regularly for scrapes, scratches, gouges, or dings. If you venture into your backyard one day and do find your friend in need of some repairs, do not panic or feel too overwhelmed. Most smoker repairs can be done easily at home. Rusty patches are common repair issues. If you can do so safely without causing further damage to the smoker, sand the rusty area. Then apply a high temperature paint, but only on exterior surfaces. Rust areas should be removed as soon as they are spotted because they can worsen quickly and develop into holes. When carrying out your regular maintenance inspection, remember to check bolts and screws for any needed tightening. Take care of your backyard friend’s stiff joints and keep them moving freely by lubricating hinges, wheels, or doors with a small amount of WD40.

As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. It may be hard to put that cover on your smoker and admit that the barbecue season has come to an end, but at least you know it WILL come again. Until then, storing your smoker properly will protect it from the elements and harsh, cold weather. Covering your smoker in between uses and for storage until next season will extend its life and limit you to the basic upkeep listed above. Make sure you use a cover that fits the appliance properly. If your smoker did not come with a cover when it was purchased, you can easily make one out of a tarp material. Make sure the cover is tied down securely during the windy winter months. Before you know it, warm weather will be around again and your backyard friend can emerge from hibernation, preserved properly, and ready to serve you well once again.

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