When it comes to consistency and quality, a pellet smoker is hard to beat. But, for those looking to get into smoking, the cost of a good quality pellet smoker can seem a little steep. One concern I often see among aspiring smokers is whether or not pellet smokers are worth the investment. Just how long will a pellet smoker last anyway?
On average, you can expect a quality pellet smoker to last anywhere from 6 to 10 years with regular use. Less sturdy models may only last 2-3 years, however with proper care and maintenance, your pellet smoker is able to last even longer than 10 years.
But there are no guarantees when it comes to your pellet smoker’s longevity. Without showing your smoker a little TLC now and then, its condition could go downhill fast. If you’d like to know what I do to keep my pellet smoker in top shape, keep reading!
Choosing a Trusted Brand of Smoker
You can give your pellet smoker all the care in the world, but it won’t make much difference if it isn’t well-built in the first place. I’m not suggesting that you need to empty your bank account to buy your smoker. There are plenty of more affordable pellet smokers out there that are great starter smokers for folks just getting into smoking. Just remember, if you’re going with a more affordable model smoker, it’s best to stick with trusted brands. Here are a few brands making reliable smokers, from hobby-grade to professional:
- Pit Boss
- Z Grills
- Camp Chef
Stick with these guys, and no matter the level of smoker you decide on, you can be sure that, with the proper care, it’ll last for years.
Using the Right Pellets for Your Smoker
Here is where I see many first-time smokers mess up. They’ve got their brand new, high-quality pellet smoker, and they’re excited to slap that first slab of ribs on the rack. So, they rush out and grab the first bag of pellets they see, thinking it doesn’t really matter what kind of pellet you use, as long as it makes smoke when you light it. Think again!
The quality of your pellets is almost as important as the smoker itself– not only in terms of flavor but the overall well-being of your smoker as well.
The first thing you need to do before purchasing smoking pellets is to make sure the pellets are for smoking and not for heating. Pellet smokers aren’t the only things that use wood pellets; pellet furnaces use them as well. But, because furnace pellets aren’t intended for cooking, they’re often made with woods that you don’t want to put inside your smoker.
Resinous woods, like pine and cedar, are sometimes used in furnace pellets. The smoke from these woods is acrid and sooty. This smoke will not only ruin the taste of your meats but, over time, can do real damage to the inside of your smoker. The soot buildup can make cleaning your smoker a challenge too.
The next mistake I see smokers make when choosing pellets is going with the cheapest option. After all, a pellet is a pellet, right? What’s the difference? Well, there’s a big difference.
Low-quality pellets tend to contain less actual wood and more bark and random filler stuff. Because there is less wood in these pellets, they burn quicker, meaning you use more pellets to smoke your meat than you would if you were using premium-grade pellets. Why is this a problem?
Well, imagine if you had a car that you drove as fast as you possibly could everywhere you went. You would get to the places you wanted to go, but at the expense of a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on your engine, ultimately resulting in your car breaking down sooner. The same concept applies to your smoker; the more pellets you burn, the quicker the smoker wears down. The object is to burn the smallest amount of pellets possible to achieve your ideal smoke.
Premium-grade pellets contain only wood, meaning they burn the longest and you use less of them on average. So, if you want to make sure your smoker stays smoking for years to come, don’t skimp on the pellets!
Cleaning and Maintaining Your Smoker
Another crucial part of ensuring your pellet smoker’s longevity is keeping it cleaned and well-maintained. When I tell people this, the first thing they often want to know is, how often they should clean their smoker. They may not like my answer, but it’s the truth; I recommend cleaning your smoker after every use.
That’s right; cleaning your smoker after each use is the only way to stay 100% certain that you’re keeping your smoker as clean as possible. Am I saying you have to make it spotless? No. But you’ll be amazed how clean you’re smoker stays just by giving it a quick wipe-down after each smoke session. Consistently cleaning your smoker will also save you a major headache in the future. Ask anyone who’s ever scraped baked-on grease off of the inside of a smoker and they’ll tell you what I mean.
So what should you use to clean your smoker?
Well, not just water, for one. Water may remove some surface-level soot, but it won’t penetrate the grease that builds upon the inside of your smoker. You also want to avoid abrasives. Don’t go spraying any old chemicals inside your smoker. You cook food in there, after all. It’s best to stick with the stuff that’s intended specifically for smokers. Several grill manufacturers sell degreasers chemically formulated for this task. All you have to do is spray it on, let it set in, and rinse it off. Easy! Just make sure to dry off all the water after rinsing. Sitting water will rust the inside of your smoker in no time.
Oh, and one other thing; you need to do a burnoff.
What a Burnoff is and How to Do it
A burnoff is simply the process of heating the inside of your smoker to the point where any excess grease, bits of food, or other debris are “burned off” and turned to ash. Performing a proper burnoff ensures that your smoker stays clean and functional between uses.
How often should you perform a burnoff? Smoker manufacturers recommend that you perform a burnoff after each use. This may sound like a chore, but there isn’t much to it.
To perform a burnoff, you simply close the door of your smoker and turn the cooking temperature to the highest possible setting. After about 5 to 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the smoker burn until all the pellets in the firepot have burned out. Then you’re good to go! After the smoker has cooled down, you might want to hit it with a vacuum to collect any ashes that have settled on the bottom.
Deep Cleaning Your Pellet Smoker
Unfortunately, wiping down and burning off your smoker is not a replacement for a good, thorough deep-cleaning.
Yes, if you want to keep your smoker in optimal condition for as long as possible, an occasional deep-cleaning is necessary. The good news is that if you’re diligent about burning off your smoker, you’ll only need to deep clean it 2 or 3 times a year. This will require taking out the racks, scouring them with abrasive pads, and cleaning every nook and cranny of the smoker with a degreaser. However, if you’ve taken care to wipe down and burn off your smoker between each use, deep-cleaning shouldn’t be much of a hassle at all!