Smoker Turning Food Black – What’s Going on?


brisket with creosite

Smokers have recently made a big wake in the culinary world. Smoking food, however, is no new concept. Although you may be a smoking master, what happens when your twenty-first-century smoker starts to turn your food into an item more resembling coal?

Smoker turning food black – what’s going on? The first potential cause could be a lack of ventilation which can cause a black residue on food. Another likely cause could be a lack of care for the smoker itself. At times, oil can drip from the food itself and onto the burner of the smoker causing the oil to burn, produce more smoke than usual, and leave a black residue on your food.

This issue has a relatively easy fix, as a little clean up can go a long way in your smoker’s proper function. After all, everyone wants their food to finish in a way that leaves guests wondering how you perfected such a timeless craft and begging for a second helping. Continue reading to understand what creosote is, how you can properly identify its presence, how to rid yourself of the pesky problem, and how to identify various starting points that cause creosote. 

What is Creosote? 

There are few times one can almost guarantee a perfect outcome with food. Mistakes are made, temperatures are set too high, hosts and hostesses get busy and leave things cooking in the land of forgetfulness, and recipes fail. The beauty of smokers is that they give a nearly perfect cook every single time. Even better, they do so without you having to check on your dish over and over again.

Simply pop in, let smoke, and viola! You have the most mouth-watering pork loin on the block. What happens when you pull that beautiful pork loin out of the smoker and it is covered in a nasty black soot? 

Creosote is the ruiner of dreams, the killer of all things good when it comes to your smoker. What is creosote you ask? Creosote is a thick, oily substance left over by your smoker caused by extreme heat. Many times, this ugly creature builds up on meat or other food items within your smoker and changes the color as well as the taste of what it surrounds. You can tell the substance is present not only by the discoloration and feel of your food but also by its taste. 

Sometimes creosote can leave your mouth and tongue feeling tingly or numb, leaving a not so positive aftertaste. This substance is one that can quickly turn an outrageously high-end beef tenderloin into something only edible for dogs. It is a surefire way to ruin your favorite meal and can transform your once beloved smoker into an item you are ready to trash. However, there is a bright side to this problem. 

Solutions are available and the fixes are relatively easy as even the most inexperienced smoker chef can turn their bad luck around. Try not to get too frustrated if this issue exists, as you are more than capable of solving all your problems. All is not lost! 

How to Test for Creosote 

So you know there is a problem with your smoker. Your meat is discolored, the taste is off, and it has the wrong texture when you are eating it. There could be a few causes for your issues, but you initially suspect that creosote is present. 

Before diving straight into fixing the suspected problem of creosote, it would first be wise to test whether this is the true culprit of your meat ruins because there is nothing more discouraging than “solving” a problem that does not exist. Although some are intimidated by a do-it-yourself approach, this testing is easier than you think. 

There is a quick trick, something almost fun enough to be present in a fifth-grade science experiment, to test if creosote is a problem in your smoker. What you want to do is hold a glass of ice water above the area that smoke pours from on your smoker. Hold the glass of water in the smoke stream for one to five minutes and pay attention to any black specks that build up on the glass. 

If black specks do appear, then congratulations, you have found the source of your problem! Your smoker is in turn not getting enough ventilation and buildup is occurring within.Ventilation is a key component to properly smoked foods, so once you clear this up, your meals will follow suit. 

You can also test for creosote by using your senses. As mentioned earlier, creosote can cause the mouth and tongue to feel tingly or numb. After you have cooked an item, remove it and let a piece rest on your tongue. If after a minute your tongue or cheeks start to feel a tingling or numb sensation, creosote is the likely cause.

However, this method is less preferable because you have to ruin a perfectly good piece of food in order to identify the madness going on within your smoker. If you have an item you are willing to sacrifice though, this method will not fail you. 

How to Get Rid of Creosote 

You have now come to the conclusion that creosote is the issue with your smoker and you no longer have to blame yourself for all the bad meats coming from your iron monster. With the amount of items creosote has coated and ruined, it may seem that the problem is bigger than you are. Good for you though, there is a relatively quick solution that will have your smoker up and running like a well-oiled machine in no time. 

More than likely, your biggest contributor to the presence of creosote is a filthy smoker. Take a look inside your smoker and note what you see. Are the walls covered in crusty residue and build up? Those things are not friends to your smoker, they are enemies, and bad ones at that. Get a good scraper that can plow through the soot and remove any that you see on the walls, on the grill itself, and from the top of your smoker. 

Try to remove as much as you can without having to implement any chemicals to aid the removal. If you cannot seem to get through some tougher spots, call in some grease-cutting dish soap that can help to break down tough residue spots. 

Once you have the residue removed, your smoker may look a bit dry on the inside. If you want to re-season your smoker again, you can use a light coat of vegetable oil to moisturize the inside of your smoker. After you have the soot removed and your smoker re-oiled you should be back in action. Restart your smoker once it has been thoroughly cleaned and once again hold a glass of ice water over the smoke being produced when the smoker is well heated.

Look for any black specks appearing on the glass. If five minutes pass and no black specks are present, you have fixed the issue and are good to continue smoking to your heart’s desire. Congratulations, you are officially the master of your smoker!

Other Potential Issues Causing Creosote  

Creosote could be the issue with your smoker, but more investigation may be needed in order to rid yourself of the problem by identifying other issues outside of soot buildup. Sometimes, ventilation issues within your smoker can be a bigger challenge to tackle than simply cleaning your smoker spic and span. 

Ventilation can go deeper than cleaning, but still is not a super tedious challenge with the right amount of tinkering. Remember that your smoker can be taken apart and put back together, you just need the right tools and the right amount of confidence to investigate the issues. 

You can start by looking at the vent itself on the smoker. Yes, you cleaned out inside of your smoker to near perfection, but perhaps you missed the vent which allows proper airflow within the smoker – the reason why soot may or may not build up within the device.

If the vent is obstructed, simply clean it off as you did the other parts of the grill and watch the magic happen. Continue to check those visible parts of your smoker to ensure they are properly cleaned and make sure to maintain cleaning every few months. 

Less obvious, many smokers have a tube that leads from smoker to some type of grease catcher outside of the smoker. At times, this tube can become blocked or obstructed. This tube can be removed relatively easily, just be sure to reference your owner’s manual to ensure proper removal as different models vary. Run some water through the tube and allow it to completely dry or clean out with a tube cleaner. 

The biggest key to having your smoker run smoothly is proper ventilation. If air is not flowing on any level within the smoker, residue will build and creosote will be produced. Once you have identified the source of your ventilation problems, be sure to reward all your hard work with a mouthwatering smoked meal! 

Ann Driskill

Ann Driskill is a freelance writer with a passion for anything involving the outdoors, has an undying dedication to good food, and loves to spend any free time chatting with good friends over a great glass of wine.

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