How to Season a Smoker: Tips from the Pitmasters

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A chicken placed in a Smoker

Nothing tastes as good as wood-smoked meats or slow-cooked barbeque. If you’ve finally taken the plunge and purchased a new smoker, you need to know how to season a smoker.

Slow cooking for hours is great for meat, but a bit hard on your smoker. Seasoning it before you start cooking with it is the best way to ensure you enjoy it for years to come.

Why You Need to Know How to Season a Smoker

If you’ve ever used a cast-iron pan for cooking, you know how important it is to season it. On cast-iron, the process protects the metal, prepares the cooking surface, and improves the food’s flavor.

Seasoning your smoker provides many of the same benefits.

Seasoning creates a patina inside the smoker. The black coating can even add flavoring to your future meals. And some experts take advantage of this by using specific woods and even flavorings when they season.

Seasoning also removes any residues from the factory and prevents them from contaminating your dinner. Your new smoker may come with oil or dust from the factory. And in most cases, manufacturing oils are petroleum-based.

They also use solvents in manufacturing, which can leave your food with a strange flavor unless you remove them properly.

Finally, seasoning your smoker will help bake on the paint both inside and out. The seasoning process creates a baked-on layer that repels water, which makes it more resistant to rust.

You should know how to season a smoker before you assemble your brand new model.

How to Season a Smoker: Charcoal Types

The steps for how to season a smoker that uses charcoal or wood is pretty straightforward. Even so, you must perform them all in the right order.

  • If you’re starting with a brand new smoker, wash all the cooking surfaces as well as the drum, racks, and water pan with hot water, dish detergent, and a grill brush. This step ensures that all manufacturing solvents are entirely removed.
  • Allow the parts to dry completely.
  • Wipe down the whole interior and all cooking racks, and the water pan with vegetable oil. You can use any type you like, but some experts think that oils with high burning points, like grapeseed and canola oil, are best. Make sure you get into every nook and cranny.
  • Assemble your smoker according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  •  Add the water pan and open all the vents and dampers on your smoker completely, including any on the firebox.
  • Start the fire in your smoker with a full load of charcoal. Once you have it burning well, add wood chips to create smoke.
  • Once you have plenty of smoke generated, close the vents and dampers to contain it inside the smoker.
  • Let the charcoal burn for at least three hours total, adding more fuel if necessary.
  •  After three hours, let the charcoal burn to ash and then cool completely.
  • Remove the cold ashes.

How to Season a Smoker: Electric Models

If you have an electric smoker, your instruction manual should have directions for seasoning it before use. However, for most models, the process is the same as for charcoal except for the source of the heat.

  • Clean racks, grills, and interior with dishwashing detergent.
  • Air-dry your smoker parts completely.
  •  Assemble the smoker following manufacturer directions.
  • Wipe down the interior with a high burning-point oil or other vegetable oil, as well as coating the racks and water pan.
  • Plug in the electrical model (if applicable).
  • Open all the vents and dampers
  • Set to at least 275 degrees Fahrenheit
  •  Run for three hours or per manual instructions
  • Allow to cool.

Maintaining the Seasoning

If you’ve properly seasoned your smoker, you won’t need to scrub down the interior, except for the racks after cooking.

However, you can remove ash by gently wiping the inside down with a soft rag. Be careful, however, because you don’t want to remove the black smoke patina.

If you have an electric smoker with a viewing window, you can clean it when the smoker is warm by wiping it down with a damp paper towel.

Interesting Twists on How to Season a Smoker

Barbeque wouldn’t be so delicious if we didn’t experiment and play with the formula once in a while. Here are a few great tips we’ve seen from experts for how to season a smoker like a real pitmaster:

  • Use beer in the water pan during the seasoning process
  • Wipe down the interior and racks with bacon grease or lard instead of oil
  • Add fruit woods or specialty woods during the last two hours of the seasoning process
  • Add liquid smoke to the water pan while your seasoning it

Pro Tips

  • Finally, here are a few tips from the professionals:
  • Heat the smoker slowly to prevent warping the metal exterior.
  • Use a lower heat (250 to 275 degrees) for a more extended time (four to five hours).
  • Before starting the fire, rub the outside of your smoker down with oil as well to protect the exterior and prevent rust.

Will You Have to Season Your Smoker More than Once?

Every once in awhile, you may get excess grease splatters on the interior of your smoker. A messy spill might require a serious cleaning. Should this occur, you’ll want to break your smoker down and give it a good scrub.

After it’s completely dry, you’ll need to season it again. Simply repeat the process without disassembling your smoker.

Maintaining Your Seasoned Smoker

To keep the smoke coating in place, it’s essential that you take good care of your smoker. Always remove any ash or food residue from the smoker after using it. But, do it gently to preserve the coating. Don’t scrub or scrape too vigorously.

Removing the spent ash is one of the most crucial steps for keeping your smoker in good condition. The ash can absorb any humidity in the air, and when it sits, it can rust out the firebox.

Remove any large puddles of grease, which can also increase the chance of rust, as well as attracting vermin.

Smoking Hot

If you just got your first smoker, you’re probably impatient to get cooking. But, taking the time to prepare your smoker properly means that everything you cook in it after that will be smoked to perfection.

Now that you know how to season a smoker, you can look forward to years of good service and delicious barbeque.

Do you have any special tricks for how to season a smoker? What’s your favorite wood to use for smoking? Share your tips in the comments.

Featured Image via flickr

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