How To Season A Smoker?
Seasoning a new smoker is one of the most amazing feelings you could experience as a master backyard chef. That first meal you cook on your new shiny cast iron beast will be one of the best meals of your life. The flavor that has been locked up in those chunks of steel gets released and fills your whole yard with mouth-watering aromas. And believe me, after burning a few pounds of charcoal and using 10 pounds or more of wood chips/chunks to season your smoker, it will undoubtedly fill even the hungriest stomachs. In this guide, I will cover simple ways to season your new smoker.
What is a smoker?
A smoker is a device, most commonly used by backyard cooks and chefs, to burn wood/charcoal at low temperatures to cook or smoke food. It can be made from an old refrigerator, oil drum, metal trashcan, wooden barrel, and most things that hold anything from heat to animals.
There are three main types of smokers available to the average backyard cook: offset firebox, bullet, and cabinet.
Offset firebox – A typical offset firebox smoker has an opening on one or both sides that allows you to add fuel through a door while the food is loaded into the cooking chamber through another opening. This type of smoker is usually narrow enough to fit in a garage or shed along with having a place for wood/charcoal storage. The picture below shows how I converted my old refrigerator into an offset firebox by cutting outdoors on opposite sides. From right to left is where I load the meat, where I add charcoal/wood chunks, and where I open the gas valves for temp control.
Bullet-type – The bullet-type smoker is the most widely used backyard smoker. This design allows for a large cooking chamber, a place to load wood/charcoal from the top, and access to meat through a door. They usually have one or two adjustable vent holes on the lid as well as several adjustable charcoal racks inside. These smokers are not designed for easy temperature control but they do allow you to smoke large foods with minimal tending.
Cabinet – A cabinet-style smoker has an enclosed metal body that prevents heat loss during cooking. They usually have a chimney stack at the base where the smoke rises into the cooking area above it and exits out of vents in the side of the unit near grill level. Temperature control on these things is fairly simple because of the insulated body.
What is seasoning?
Seasoning a smoker is basically coating the inside with a layer of oil to prevent rust and provide a non-stick cooking surface that will help seal in flavor from your first few meals.
Why should you season your smoker?
Like a cast iron pan, most smokers come with a protective coating that prevents rust and food from sticking during shipping. This is not enough to prevent rusting or give you a non-stick cooking surface. Most smokers also have open seams where food particles will accumulate causing an unpleasant smokey flavor to the meat cooked in the smoker. A little elbow grease and some oil will fix that right up!
The process of seasoning a smoker takes less than 2 hours and is well worth the effort because it will help you get the most out of your time spent cooking on any new piece of equipment.
If you’re not going to season a new smoker before using it, then I would advise against burning wood/charcoal in that unit until you do. You can burn off old paint/cosmetic coatings either by heating up with a torch or running the item through a self-cleaning oven cycle several times.
You can remove any remaining oil residue from your smoker’s interior after cooking by simply wiping down whatever surfaces have been touched while handling hot food or by running it through several self-clean cycles in an oven if there are no convenient surfaces to wipe.
What can I season my smoker with?
There are many different things that you can use to season your smoker. However, it’s generally a good idea to stick with either refined cooking oils or water-based substances so as not to create a lot of smoke indoors. This is the safest way to ensure that everyone remains safe and healthy while seasoning your cooker – especially if there are children living in the home.
If you’re going to use oil then make sure that it is something that’s safe for high heat applications like safflower/sunflower/grape-seed/peanut (canola blend can work too). If you don’t want to deal with using any kind of oil at all then plain water will also work fine but may take twice as long as some types of oils (which produce smoke on the oil-less surface quicker) to completely seal your smoker.
Wood chips, pellets, sawdust, and wood dust/shavings can also be used but should NOT be your first choice as they require a lot of attention to detail in order to avoid creating any kind of harmful smoke indoors. In fact, it’s best if you avoid them entirely if possible.
How do you prepare your smoker for seasoning?
There are a few steps that you can take to make it easier and more convenient for yourself when seasoning your smoker:
1) Remove the thermometer(s) from inside the unit. (You won’t be needing these until after you’ve completed seasoning and they may interfere with oil/water absorption during the process.)
2) Turn knobs on the gas unit to the “off” position to eliminate any residual gas in the lines. If there is a flame, then turn it down low enough that it will go out when you open up the lid to add wood/charcoal after putting oil in it. This just reduces your chances of blowing up anything if there happens to be any unburned gas in any connected parts of your smoker’s fuel system.
NOTE: Removing the thermometer(s) is not necessary when seasoning a charcoal/wood smoker, but it’s still a good idea to turn off your unit’s gas supply in case there are any residual fumes that could cause an explosion if the lid isn’t left open for at least several minutes after adding fuel to your smoker before turning on the gas supply.
3) Remove grates and smoke generators from inside your smoker, if possible. If not then just leave them in place so they don’t get damaged while you’re coating everything with oil or water. You can always remove them once you’ve completed the initial oil application to make wiping down the interior of your cooker easier. This also reduces potential damage to food surfaces while cooking without the grates in place on your new smoker.
4) Plug up any air leaks or gaps around doors and windows that may allow sparks, smoke, or fumes to enter into the rest of your home while you’re seasoning your smoker outside. An easy way to do this is with a roll of aluminum foil and some scotch tape. Be sure not to burn yourself if you use foil – it gets very hot when you’re firing up a new smoker!
5) Prepare for extended cooking sessions if possible by getting all of your fuel, food, water, plates/utensils/napkins, etc. lined up ahead of time so that once the process has been completed – everything is ready for action right away rather than everything being all over the place for several minutes while you’re cooking.
6) If you have a charcoal smoker then just follow the instructions above using your preferred fuel source(s). If there’s no way to go 100% charcoal on your smoker then just use whatever combination of fuels that you can. A lot of people still think that only “wood smokers” are any good, but this is simply not true. Any horizontal offset or water/tube-style cooker made for low and slow cooking can produce amazing barbecue so don’t be afraid to try something new!
How to season a smoker?
The process of seasoning a smoker is fairly simple. The first thing you want to do is pour enough oil onto the inside surfaces of your smoker’s interior until they’re just lightly coated – not soaked, just covered. Then light the “pre-heat” burner (if applicable) and set it to high heat while closing all other openings/venting in order to build up internal steam pressure at a fast rate.
When this has been done, open the top vent slightly and allow any smoke that was produced during this period to escape along with much of the steam that had built up within your smoker. This step basically clears out whatever oil residue remains in there from previous use or factory testing and creates a lot of smoke in the process.
This step should be repeated 2-3 times until most of the steam has stopped coming out and only smoke is escaping. Then shut off the “pre-heat” burner and open all vents/doors to release most of the smoke inside.
Close all windows/openings in your home or business completely – basically block up any draft that could cause air to circulate around your smoker if it is still smoking after completing this step (if there’s anything left in there anyways, sometimes oil residue doesn’t produce any visible smoke when burned).
After doing this, wait 10 minutes for all of the oil coatings on your smoker to solidify before wiping out its interior with paper towels or a cotton cloth. This process is complete when you can run your fingers along the insides without feeling any oil residue.
For additional protection, you may want to repeat this “seasoning” process one more time (especially if your smoker has visible paint coatings). However, sometimes these can end up reacting poorly with each other so do this at your own risk. Always make sure that nobody is inside during this process though – it creates a lot of smoke and should not be attempted indoors under any circumstances.
The entire purpose behind seasoning your smoker is simple – create an impenetrable bond between the outer surfaces of whatever you’re smoking and whatever oil or water-based substance that you’ll be using to impart flavor upon the finished product. This process makes it very difficult for anything to simply fall right off your food or drip away into other parts of your unit that could contaminate them.
Your “seasoning” layer will be visible on the inside walls of your smoker for as long as it lasts (normally 1+ years) – this is perfectly normal and to be expected. Some people are disappointed when they first see this but trust me – it’s doing its job by repelling anything you pour onto its exterior so just smile and let it happen.
What kind of oil should I use to season my smoker?
The answer here really depends upon what type of cooking you’ll be doing with it other than just smoking meats/fish – baking, deep-frying, stir-frying, etc. It can get tricky to answer this question correctly so keep in mind that the oil you use inside your smoker for initial seasoning should always be something that’s safe to use with high heat.
Safflower, sunflower, grape-seed, peanut, safflower/canola blend, and pure vegetable oil are all good choices here. Avoid using extra virgin or cold-pressed olive oil if you’ll be baking/deep-frying/stir-frying – it’s designed for drizzling over cooked foods after they’re removed from heat. If nothing else is available other than refined olive oil then it should only be used on low heat settings (no more than 325 degrees). Otherwise, other types of cooking oils are completely fine.
How much oil should I use?
This will vary depending upon the size of your smoker. I use about 1/2 teaspoon inside my smoker for “pre-heat” seasoning – after that, I use only water before putting food on so as to not create any kind of off-flavors in my meats. Again, you’ll have to determine what works best for your own unit but I recommend starting with just a few drops and then adding more if necessary while monitoring the results over time.
Just remember that too much oil can leave an unwanted film or residue that could contaminate your meat (or even give it an odd taste). Some people like to wipe out their smoker completely with paper towels while it’s very warm (and wet) from the initial seasoning process and then dump out all of the excess oil. Others will simply wipe out excess accumulations from time to time after it has cooled down a bit.
It’s up to you so just be sure that your food isn’t getting weird tasting by using too much or too little in terms of oil application. There is no right answer here – it’s all going to depend upon what type of smoker you have, what kind of flavors you enjoy, etc.
How long does it take to season a smoker?
It depends. The time required to season your smoker can vary greatly depending upon how much effort you put towards the process and what type of oil you use. For example, if you simply pour refined olive oil inside (no heating necessary) and coat it very lightly with a paper towel then the entire process could be completed in as little as 10 minutes or less for some types of smokers. Others may require more attention to detail, however – especially smokers that are made out of thicker metals which take longer to heat up during pre-heating steps (usually 30+ minutes).
What does a properly seasoned/oiled smoker look like?
A properly pre-seasoned/oiled smoker should have a deep black finish with a high sheen when looking at its exterior metal surfaces from above. With gas grills, this usually means that the entire cooking area is covered in a uniform layer of oil whereas electric/charcoal smokers may require more attention to detail depending upon the heat settings used during pre-heating steps.
How often should I re-season my smoker?
This answer really depends upon how much cooking you’re doing in your smoker at one time. If you’re cooking something in it daily then a monthly seasoning cycle is probably fine with most units (this includes fish, poultry, beef, pork, etc.). This might seem like an excessive amount of time between necessary oiling sessions but remember that excess oil can build up fast inside smokers which will cause all sorts of problems with heat efficiency.
Each seasoning cycle will help ensure your cooking efforts are successful since less stress/energy will go into maintaining and balancing the temperature and you’ll get a much richer flavor as well (especially true for those who like grilling).
On other hand, if you’re using your smoker only on occasion then every 3-6 months should be enough time to re-season it properly. When done properly you should notice that each subsequent seasoning cycle takes less and less time though the results will not exactly be the same as when it was brand new (this is normal).
What can I cook inside my smoker after it’s fully seasoned?
Any meat or vegetables of your choice – basically anything you want! Keep in mind that cooking times might appear to be quite long once your smoker has been thoroughly treated way (it’s always best to start with something that takes less time to cook during the first few sessions).
Just remember that there are no short-cuts when it comes to getting your smoker to perform as well as you need it to (seasoning will take a little while but there’s no better way to do it). Keep in mind that some smokers require food-grade mineral oil or even flaxseed oil – always check what type of oil is required for each unit before choosing one.
What are some tools that I’ll need?
There are several tools that are commonly used during the seasoning process which are listed below:
Cleaning supplies – using the right cleaning supplies is vital to get started with this process since you’ll want to avoid metal spoons, sharp knives, and other items that might tear up the internal components of your smoker. For larger units, it’s best to use a synthetic bristle brush which will be able to dislodge any build-ups stuck on the grates without damaging them or allowing pieces of scrap metal inside.
A stirring tool – this is commonly used for larger smokers which have internal parts that are difficult to access otherwise. It should have enough space between its bristles so you can reach anything in there but it shouldn’t be too long or else you risk pushing debris deep into crevices where they won’t easily be cleared up.
Cheesecloth or paint strainers – when seasoning any type of smoker, it’s vital that you avoid using things like paper towels and other similar disposable products. These will leave behind debris in the unit and can create dangerously large flames if enough oil is left on them before inserting into the smoker itself.
A long-handled spoon – for smaller smokers this is usually more than enough to stir around anything inside without worrying about how easy it is to reach past your hand (since your hand won’t fit). Larger units that have heat sources located deep inside often require a longer-handled tool so nothing gets burned during this process.
Safety goggles – there are several parts of every smoker where the metal powder will fly off during the seasoning process and if you’re not careful, this can lead to eye injuries. Wearing safety goggles is extremely important for this reason (and others) since it’s an obvious sign that you take your own safety seriously.
Flammable liquid – there’s no safer way to start a fire in your smoker than by using something like extra-virgin olive oil or alcohol which will light up instantly when ignited. This should be added sparingly unless you want to use paper towels to get it started (which isn’t recommended).
Protective gloves – these are vital whenever handling cast iron components that might still be hot after coming out of the oven or grill itself. Using potholders or oven mitts will make it much easier to keep your fingers far away from any heat source which could cause burns if you’re not careful.
Common mistakes when seasoning a smoker:
As with any task that requires special attention to detail, it’s important that you avoid making the most common mistakes which are listed below:
Choosing the wrong type of oil – if your smoker is clearly labeled as requiring flaxseed oil then use only this one. Mineral oil will work in a pinch but not nearly as well. Also, make sure whatever you choose has gone through an intense filtration process so that there are no contaminants left behind when it reaches your smoking unit itself.
Not letting excess oil drip off before turning on the heat source – some people get into a hurry when they’re seasoning their new or used smoker and fail to let the residual cooking oil drip off completely before applying heat to the device itself. This will cause smoke and soot to build up inside and stick to the cooking grates as well as the powerful mechanisms which control temperature.
Using too much oil – it’s very easy for newcomers to accidentally use too much oil during the seasoning process only to wipe most of it off before turning on the heat source. This can cause some issues with fuel consumption since excess oil will cling to the heating elements instead of dripping down into the drip pan. Always make sure you’re using just enough oil by checking if it’s totally absorbed by letting a small amount drip between your fingers. If there are any visible droplets then you should start over completely since too much is being used each time.
Using long-lasting heat sources that emit smoke on their own – many of the most popular heating elements for smokers (such as propane and ceramic) will emit smoke even without cooking anything inside of them. This can lead to a horribly stained interior and harmful build-up of soot in the grates themselves if enough time passes between uses.
Ignoring all safety precautions – when seasoning any type of smoker, always make sure you’ve got adequate ventilation in the room where it’s being used in addition to proper fire/smoke detectors. If something goes wrong with either your meat or smoker itself then there’s no better way to prevent an injury than by taking every possible precaution before getting started with this process.
How do I clean my smoker after using oil to season it?
Simple water and baking soda are normally enough to cut through the oil residue left behind from seasoning your smoker. Make sure that you put a good amount inside before turning on the heat so as not to cause a fire – this is fairly common with people who attempt to “quick-start” their cookers without using anything at all other than an open flame or burner which heats up the inside very quickly.
If you used a liquid oil to season your smoker then there’s nothing else that needs to be done unless you used something other than refined cooking oil or water – in which case, the entire interior may need to be replaced if it comes into contact with anything other than these two substances before being cleaned off completely.
How do I clean my smoker after using water to season it?
This is the easiest method of all and should never result in any kind of damage from residual smoke contaminants. Just use a damp rag or paper towel along with some salt and baking soda if necessary and then wipe everything down before letting air dry completely. If your smoker isn’t hot enough for this process to work properly then just wait until it is – then follows the instructions above to ensure that it’s completely sealed and safe for use.
Is there anything else I should know about seasoning my smoker?
Yes, always make sure you’ve got proper ventilation (such as turning on the exhaust fan over your stove) when using any heating element – even if it’s for a short period of time.
What happens if you don’t season your smoker?
Seasoning a smoker isn’t necessary for it to work properly but it’s essential to make sure that the cooking grates are coated with oil before adding meat or even fish to prevent foods from sticking. If you don’t season your smoker then food will bridge every time and not come off easily – this also means that there’s a chance of rust occurring if too much heat is applied without any protective oils on the exterior itself.
What happens if you season your smoker too much?
Too much seasoning can cause a lot of problems in smokers including rusting which could lead to less than desirable performance when cooking. This is rare unless someone insists on using any oil other than the one that’s meant for this purpose like refined olive or vegetable oil (most use something like Crisco, lard, or solid grease instead).
If you do choose to use any type of liquid to stimulate smoking in your smoker then make sure it’s distilled water only – never pour anything else inside since its fumes will leave soot-like deposits behind even after multiple cleanings. It’s also easy to see why there are many misconceptions about the types of oils used for so always try to research what works best for your smoker before getting started with this process.
What temp do you season a smoker at??
Some insist upon keeping the heat at a constant 250 degrees Fahrenheit (which would never result in anything more than mildly warm smoke) while others like to crank it up as high as possible for maximum penetration of oil into all grates and crevices.
As a general rule, this process should be done on low heat whenever possible – keep everything beneath 200-250 if you can manage that before applying any cooking fats or oils. Again, always research what works best for your smoker type before starting anything new!
Do gas smokers need to be seasoned?
Gas smokers do need to be seasoned like any other type even though it’s propane rather than charcoal because this process requires refined cooking oil (or water) without burning anything inside. Just follow the same steps outlined above before using your smoker for the very first time after cleaning since this will make it nonstick almost instantly while preventing rusting issues from occurring over time. It’s also important to note that most gas smokers come pre-seasoned but storing improperly could affect how well this works so always double-check before using them again!
Can I reuse lighter fluid to season a smoker?
No, never reuse lighter fluid to season a smoker! Other lighter fluids might be suitable for this purpose but only if there’s no other choice since they’re highly flammable and far from safe over time. They can often leave off-flavors on food as well which makes them even worse of an option than normal refined cooking oil – make sure you buy an appropriate type of new lighter fluid meant specifically for smokers or it won’t work properly at all.
Can I season a smoker over a heat source?
A heat source can be used to season a smoker if it’s properly vented and the flame is much smaller than the overall cooking chamber. Again, this is much different from using gas or charcoal since these aren’t as expensive as propane so there’s no problem with doing this – just make sure everything is cool enough before touching anything inside afterward or before removing all of the ashes from inside.
Do you have any other tips for seasoning a smoker grate?
Yes! Try coating your cooking grates in oil before doing anything else since it will prevent sticking once food gets added later on. Even though there are many great techniques to coat the exterior thoroughly then use refined oils that have a very high smoke point so that it never gets too hot. There are also techniques out there like using vinegar brush bristles instead of wire to coat the exterior but it’s not always necessary for this process.
Is there any way to speed up the seasoning of a smoker grate?
Yes, one of the best ways to speed up this process is to use a thick layer of lard or solid grease – it may be too difficult for some people to apply properly but there are others who will find this quite simple. This might leave a residue behind afterward but many choose to wipe it off with a rag soaked in refined oil instead since there’s no way to avoid those types of side effects from occurring otherwise.
How do you care for your smoker after seasoning?
First, make sure your smoker is cool to the touch before doing anything else – removing hot ashes with bare hands isn’t always safe so following this step could prevent serious burns from occurring. After this, you should keep your smoker covered whenever it’s not in use so that humidity doesn’t affect the wood or metal parts inside. You can also apply a thick layer of lard or solid grease over the entire cooking grate much like how you would during the seasoning process – just be careful not to damage it while doing so! Just because your smoker can now be used safely doesn’t mean that rust won’t continue to accumulate over time if you don’t maintain it well enough!
What can I do if my smoker isn’t seasoned enough?
The best thing to do in this situation is season it with refined oil just like before but try not to add too much at once – use small amounts over multiple heating sessions and allow everything to cool down after each one. Make sure to wipe off any excess grease or oil from the cooking grate before continuing to since it will affect how well your food cooks over time if you don’t!
Are smokers pre-seasoned?
Some smokers are pre-seasoned while others aren’t – it completely depends on the brand and model of smoker you choose to buy. If yours isn’t pre-seasoned then make sure to follow the tips mentioned above for how to properly season a smoker grate!
Do you clean your seasoned smoker after every use?
Some choose to do this but it’s not exactly necessary for everyone – especially if your smoker only produces very light white smoke after use. It usually isn’t too difficult to clean off leftover ash or grease quickly with refined oil and a rag before putting everything away, though! If you want to avoid the hassle of dealing with ashes and grease altogether then try using a dedicated cooking area throughout each session or getting some sort of ash tool like the one mentioned earlier.
Can you use your smoker right after seasoning it?
Technically, you can use your smoker right after seasoning it but it’s usually recommended to leave it alone for at least 24 hours beforehand since the oil layer will probably still be pretty thin. You want this layer to become much thicker before using your smoker without adding extra grease or risk whatever you cook over the next coming sessions tasting like excess smoke!
Is there anything you shouldn’t use your seasoned smoker for?
Smoking cheese, cured meats, and other delicate foods are some things that are best cooked using different techniques anyway. If you want to cook these types of items then try grilling them instead since they can be very difficult to cook properly over low temperatures without burning! Just keep in mind that if you don’t remove excess grease or lard then these types of foods might absorb more smoke than you’d like and taste too strong as a result.
Do wood chips require pre-seasoning?
Wood chips don’t necessarily need to be seasoned like a cooking grate does but many choose to do so anyway – especially because there’s no real downside and you’ll only end up with extra flavor from whichever type of wood you decide to burn over time. Just apply refined oil and heat slowly until everything turns black – this is when they’re properly seasoned!
Seasoning your smoker is usually pretty straightforward so long as you follow the steps above! If you’re not sure if your smoker is pre-seasoned or not, though, take a look at the manufacturer’s website to see if they have any tips for this – especially since there are so many different types of smokers out there. Hopefully, this article helps you properly season your smoker! All the best!