Charred residue on a pellet smoker isn’t a good look but does it need to be removed, or does it add authentic flavor to the meat? The general consensus is that you do not need burnt leftovers in order to make the smoked meat taste or smell authentic, which means you should remove such deposits from the pellet smoker as soon as there is a buildup. And how often is that
You should clean a pellet smoker after every 50 hours of use if it is used semi-regularly and after each session, if it is used daily. In all other cases, the smoker must be cleaned before being put away so that it doesn’t get infected or there’s no odor where it is stored.
In this article, you will learn more about cleaning your pellet smoker, including what items how need and the steps you need to take to clean the device. You will also discover the signs that indicate that the smoker needs to be cleaned and what happens if you don’t clean it at the right time. But first, let’s look at how often you need to clean the smoker in different situations. It’s the above answer but with more nuance.
Cleaning Frequency For Regular Use
If you use your pellet smoker daily, you should clean it before and after every cooking session. Pellet smokers are used regularly at grills and BBQ houses, where the machines work overtime. If the smoker keeps running up until the shift ends and no one has time to clean, the smoker does not get cleaned. This can lead to health problems with old food residue contaminating new meat. There is a noticeable difference in taste, with fresh cuts starting to smell old.
While surface-level cleaning is required after every shift, deep cleaning is needed when the smoker has run for 50 hours. That’s once a week for most restaurants and BBQ joints. But if you use the smoker only a few hours every day, you might get away with only surface-level cleaning for a few weeks. Most people who own a smoker and use it a few times every month don’t have to worry about deep cleaning.
But if you use yours a few times within a week, you fall into the regular use category and should probably time the smoker usage so you know when your grill is due for a deep cleanse. You can err on the side of more frequent cleaning than doing it less regularly than required.
Cleaning Frequency For Occasional Use
If you use a pellet smoker occasionally, then you can’t go by the 50-hour rule simply because time isn’t kind to the cooking residue in the smoker. When a smoker is run regularly, it can be left without deep cleaning because the residue gets heated more frequently, which reduces the chances of microbes thriving inside it.
Suppose you operate your smoker once a month and run it for 20 hours. Going by the 50-hour rule, it would not be cleaned for at least 2.5 months. During this period, the residue might get infested or may collect a lot of dust.
In case you use the smoker once a month or once every few months, you should deep clean it right after you finish using it. This way, you leave as little cooking residue as possible and minimize the chances of time being unkind to the utensil. For regular users like smokehouse staff, surface cleaning is advisable after each use, and deep cleaning happens once a week.
For occasional users, surface cleaning is recommended before use. This gets rid of the dust that the pellet smoker can accumulate while sitting unused. That said, you need to ensure that the smoker doesn’t get dirty when not being used. Otherwise, you’ll waste more time cleaning than you’ll spend smoking the meats of your choice.
How To Keep My Pellet Smoker From Getting Dirty?
Whether you want to reduce the time it takes to clean your smoker or simply want to avoid the contamination risk that accompanies a residue-rich smoking surface, you have to start with preventing buildup. To prevent your smoker from getting dirtier than usual, you have to use more oil when you apply the initial layer. High burn-point oil like canola or grapeseed oil can do the job.
The high burn point reduces the chances of charred meat sticking to the interior. This not only keeps the smoker from getting too dirty but it also keeps residue of the first batch from interfering with the next one. Oiling the smoker and using it at the right temperature are the only things you can do to keep it from getting dirty while the device is in use.
However, when the smoker is in storage, you can do a lot more to keep the pellet smoker from getting dirty.
- Make sure the smoker is dry – Since it is better to clean the smoker before storing it, you might use water and soap. Please dry the smoker to prevent rust.
- Keep it away from wet pellets – If there are wet pellets in the smoker, there could be mold in it by the time you take it out for the next use. Ensure that the smoker is free from unused wet pellets.
- Do not use steel wool – The smoker you use might have a porcelain coat, which can get damaged if you use steel wool and scrub too harshly. Clean the smoker with a sponge or rag that is kinder to its coat.
How To Know If My Pellet Smoker Is Dirty?
For regular users, it can be hard to tell if the smoker is dirty or it is simply in use. That’s because when smokers are used frequently, they’re not expected to be squeaky clean. But a shining residue-free smoker isn’t the only standard of cleanliness. Here are the signs that your smoker needs a deep cleaning.
- The pellet smoker has a strange smell – If you can smell anything other than the aroma of the meat being smoked, the pellet smoker has residue either in the pellet-holding area or at the top tray.
- There are red patches on the smoker – This could be because of rust and can be fixed by having the exterior recoated.
- There are signs of molding – Even though smokers can kill mold at high temperatures, meat that has come in contact with mold is still unsafe to consume. If there is residue from previous batches or obvious mold, you need to deep clean the smoker’s interior.
When a smoker is left unclean, everyone who uses it or consumes food that has been cooked in it is at risk of food poisoning. An unclean smoker also creates an unpleasant vibe, especially when used at home. Restaurants and smokehouses need to keep their smokers clean in order to avoid fines and penalties. And home users need to keep theirs clean so that cookouts don’t lead to disgust and judgment from the guests.
An unclean smoker is also hard to re-sell. The longer it remains unclean, the tougher time you will have cleaning it. More importantly, you might have second thoughts when using it as an extra step; deep cleaning would be required before putting the smoker to use. A dirty smoker is used less often and isn’t easy to sell, making it nothing but an unused item taking up space in your garage. Above all, it creates an unpleasant environment wherever it sits.
Some drawbacks of a dirty smoker do not require the item to be filthy. Even “acceptable” levels of residue can reduce the degree to which you control the smoker’s temperature. With enough buildup, the grill might become unfunctional altogether. To keep the meat clean and the temperature at the right level, you have to clean the smoker even if it isn’t visibly dirty.
Best Products To Clean A Pellet Smoker
Now that you know how often you should clean your pellet smoker and what happens if you don’t, it is time to look at what you need to clean it. Below are the products we recommend for cleaning a pellet smoker.
You need a grill scraper to get rid of previous residue, especially stubborn meat that clings to the grill and the deposits on the smokestack. A wooden grill scraper doesn’t get burned as easily, but that’s not why a wooden item is required here.
You can clean the smoker when it is cold, so the conductivity matters tangentially only. The fact that this scraper leaves your grill bristle-free is what makes it the best choice for deep cleaning your pellet smoker. It has over 1,700+ reviews and ratings that come to a collective average of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Even though you can use the wooden scraper to get rid of grease in the grease bucket and the drainpipe, we would recommend using a nylon brush as grease can be quite tough to remove with a wooden scraper. This brush has a high surface area and features bristles that can get rid of a grease layer much quicker.
More importantly, it does not come in contact with the area where food is meant to be placed later, which means you don’t risk ingesting nylon fibers. That said, please keep this brush away from the tray as any stray fibers can pose a serious health hazard. It is good for cleaning every area of the grill that isn’t touched by food. With over 2000 reviews that average a 4.6-star aggregate rating, one can see why it is amazon’s product of choice for the nylon brush category.
Finally, you need a BBQ cleaner so the areas that require a better detergent than soap can be free of grate and residue. This product will help clean most of the smoker and, given that it comes in a 2-pack, lasts a long time. It has over 5000 reviews, with some customers having uploaded pictures showing results. Its global average rating is 4.4 out of 5 stars, making it one of the highest-rated products of its kind.
How To Clean A Pellet Smoker?
To clean a pellet smoker, you need to pull it into an appropriate area, use a wooden scraper to get rid of stubborn residue on the grill, remove grease from the grease bucket with a nylon brush, and use a BBQ degreaser to speed up the process. Use soap, water, and a cloth, for the final cleanse.
Please note that you need to clean a pellet smoker while it is cold, but the wooden brush has to be used on the hot grill once. Before you do any of the steps mentioned above, you should turn up the heat on your smoker and use the wooden scraper to brush the grill.
The heat will impress the grill pattern into the thicker wood extensions of the scraper. Once the scraper is prepared, you’ll be able to use it on a cold smoker. This is required only if the scraper comb doesn’t align with the smoker grill pattern.
Finally, there is the question of duration. How long should one clean a pellet smoker? As long as you have to. Generally, when you reach a point of diminishing returns, it is okay to stop. If five minutes of cleaning and scrubbing barely moves the needle on the smoker’s cleanliness, you should stop cleaning. More importantly, if you genuinely feel like the smoker is clean enough, you can stop. We are naturally quite intuitive when it comes to the cleanliness of things that are related to our food and diet.
Cleaning a pellet smoker can be time-consuming, which is the only reason one would want to clean it less often. However, the frequency of cleaning the smoker has more to do with how often you use the smoker than how interested you are in cleaning. Daily users should clean their equipment daily, semi-regular users should not cross 50 hours of smoking without cleaning the smoker, and occasional users should deep clean the grill after every use.
Also read: How To Clean A Flat Top Grill [Guide]
Scot has loved smoking food in his free time for the last few years. Each major holiday or off-weekend, Scot spends days testing and prepping new recipes for perfection.