Mastering how to season a new smoker is not only essential, but it’s also highly recommended prior to using any smoker for the first time. Fortunately, knowing how to season a smoker properly isn’t too hard whether you have charcoal, electric or gas smoker.
Seasoning a new smoker is the key to laying the foundation for great cooking results and getting the most out of your new smoker while burning away contaminants left behind during the manufacturing process.
In this article, we are going to take you through the 7 steps on how to season your new smoker so you can start smoking some delicious food:
- Clean the Entire Unit
- Coat the Entire Interior
- The Chimney
- Use a Water Pan
- Open the Vent
- Set the Temperature
- Run for 3 Hours (or as per the User Manual)
Let’s dive in each step.
Table of Contents
- 1 7 Easy Steps to Season a New Smoker
- 2 Why season a smoker?
- 3 Does this process work for all smokers?
- 4 Conclusion
7 Easy Steps to Season a New Smoker
There are several different ways to season a new smoker and they slightly differ based on the type of smoker you own. However, we’ve tried as much as possible to keep things simple and clear.
1 – Clean the Entire Unit
New smokers often have debris and remnants left behind from the manufacturing process like solvents, uncured paint, adhesives and oils. They can add a very unpleasant flavoring to your smoked food and even worse, some of the chemicals used can be toxic.
The first step is to give your new smoker a thorough cleaning to remove those manufacturing remnants.
Start by sweeping all the debris out of the inner chamber of the smoker. Once those are out of the way, you need some warm soapy water and a soft washcloth to clean up the new smoker.
Some guides would tell you to use water alone, but we would recommend using a combination of warm water and dish soap as they are much effective at degreasing the inner surface of the smoker.
Using the soft washcloth soaked into the warm soapy water, gently clean the entire interior of your new smoker starting with the inner chamber and the other components – this includes the grates, racks and the pans.
When the interior is done, clean the exterior too. If you have an electric smoker, use a damp cloth to clean the control panel. Finally, rinse off the soapy residue both in the interior and exterior parts with water.
This will remove any grime, oil or toxic chemical or substance that the new smoker might have collected during the manufacturing process.
- Don’t use dish soap with harsh chemicals to clean the interior of the smoker. Your regular dishwashing detergent would do fine.
- Be careful not to use too much force when scratching the grates and the inner chamber of the new smoker. Use a sponge or a soft cloth like a microfiber cloth and be gentle to avoid scratching the finish.
Once you are done, leave the smoker open to expose it to the air and let it dry.
Alternatively, you can wipe it first to make it dry faster.
Tip: It’s much easier and better to clean the smoker when it’s in its constituent components before assembling into a complete unit.
2 – Coat the Entire Interior
Once it has dried, the next important step in seasoning a new smoker is applying oil to its entire interior surfaces. You can practically use any kind of vegetable or cooking oil provided it’s an oil that has a high burning point.
It can even be peanut oil, palm oil, olive oil, or sunflower oil. Some manufacturers also recommend grape seed or canola oil. Alternatively bacon grease would do fine too. You can also use lard or suet which is raw beef fat.
This will help prevent rusting plus it helps ensure food doesn’t stick to the rack and grill.
Coat the entire interior surface with the oil ensuring you work the oil into every part from the corners to the edges of the chamber. You should also cover the grates, racks, doors and every other accessory inside the smoker.
Pay attention to this step as you don’t want to put excess oil that it starts running all over the chamber of the new smoker. Remember oil is highly inflammable.
A thin, even coat of oil that lightly but thoroughly covers the entire interior walls and other components of the smoker are what you need to achieve. The quickest and easiest way to do this is using a spray can. Wiping down the oil inside the chamber is also a good way to do it.
Although some guides do not agree with it, we recommend applying some of the oil, just a little, on the outside part of the smoker itself. It might seem a little odd, but it’s a little trick that will prevent rust and prolong the life of your new smoker.
When you are done with doing this, give the smoker some time to allow the oil to settle properly onto the surface before moving on to the next step.
- Don’t apply any oil on the electric heating elements if you have an electric smoker. Likewise, if you have a gas smoker, be careful not to get any oil on its burner or gas lamps.
- Ensure to apply very thin and even layer of oil. If starts to run down the walls or drip, then there’s higher risk your smoker might catch fire. Use a cooking spray can if you can.
- Ensure your smoker is completely dry before applying the oil
Tip: Again, this step is much easier if you do it while the new smoker still unassembled. It ensures you get all the corners and edges covered plus gives you more head and elbow room.
3 – The Chimney
The next step is to fill the chimney starter with charcoal and light it using a fire starter.
Check if your smoker comes with a chimney starter if it’s a charcoal smoker. If it doesn’t, then you will probably have to get one at the nearest hardware store that deals with grilling equipment.
It’s basically a metal cylinder that allows to easily and quickly get charcoal burning before you add it to the smoker. When you’ve filled and light up your chimney, let it sit and fully heat up, which should take around 10-15 minutes.
Check this video on how to use a chimney starter.
As the charcoal in the chimney heats up, place some more charcoal inside the firebox on the smoker, but don’t light it up until the lit charcoal in the chimney fully heats up.
Once it’s ready you can pour the lit charcoal directly into the firebox up to about the middle of it. Don’t fill the firebox completely.
- Make sure to use a similar type of wood from seasoning to when you will start smoking your food. This way you are guaranteed a consistent taste.
- Confirm first if your smoker has a chimney starter or you will have to get one
4 – Put a Water Pan
Not every guide agrees on this step when it comes to whether to leave the pan empty or fill it. It may not be a key step during the seasoning process but we would recommend you fill the pan with either some water or any other liquid such as beer or a flavorful juice.
It’s a nice way to add that layer of flavor to your new smoker for the first time just after getting rid of the narky burned-off chemical smells.
5 – Open the Vent
This is another step that most people don’t agree on. Some say the vent should remain open while others say to keep them closed.
However, having the vent open facilitates enough ventilation and airflow which is very important in keeping the fire going. It’s also not advisable to use the smoker when seasoning it.
The smoke needs to escape to make sure it doesn’t create what we call a layer of creosote inside the smoker. This is a tar-like substance which is actually a by-product of the burning chemicals and incomplete burning wood.
It’s a nasty stuff that you don’t want staying inside the smoker because it’s both a fire hazard and toxic. Therefore, keep the vents open to make sure all the chemicals burn off completely. You may want to refer to your user’s manual that came with the smoker to check what they say.
6 – Set the Temperature
In this part of the process, the goal is to heat the smoker into a maximum temperature to simulate smoke and burn off any leftover chemicals and solvents from the manufacturing process. The ideal temperature that you need seek to attain should be around 250 to 275 °F.
This will give sufficient heat to allow the oil to burn and seep into every single imperfection in the surface of the smoker.
It will also help bind the oil to the metal surface of your smoker hence creating some sort of barrier which will repel water and protect your smoker from rusting.
For charcoal smokers, once you have added the lit charcoal to the firebox, close the lid and let it heat until the internal temperature reaches around 250 to 275 °F. Use a meat thermometer to gauge the temperature.
You will have to add more charcoal into the firebox to make sure the charcoal continues to burn and to also maintain that temperature range so that all toxins can burn off.
If you have an electric smoker, then plug it in and set the temperature on your unit to 275°F. Refer to the instructions in your user’s manual for specific details. If your unit is a gas smoker, hook it up to your gas tank and gradually raise its temperature until it reaches around 250 – 275 °F.
- Make sure the smoker’s temperature reaches the range between 250 to 275 °F.
- Watch out that the temperature doesn’t go past 275 °F because that may damage the finishing on your smoker as the paint will start to shed.
7 – Run for 3 hours or as per the User Manual
Leave the smoker burning for 3 hours at that maximum temperature to complete the full seasoning cycle.
The instructions on the user’s manual may recommend a different amount of time. You need to check it and if there are any suggestions, then follow them. After time has lapsed, your smoker would now be ready to use for the first time.
If you are planning to start cooking immediately, then give the unit some time to cool down to around 225 °F before adding meat or any other food. This is the ideal internal temperature for smoking.
- Check the manufacturer’s instructions to confirm how long the smoker should burn at the maximum temperature
- Make sure to use the same kind of wood you used for seasoning during your first smoking. Otherwise you may end up with harsh-flavored meat in your first cook.
Why season a smoker?
There are two key reasons why it’s important to season a new smoker before using it for the first time.
First, when smokers go through the manufacturing and shipping process, they are often left with debris inside them or get coated with solvents, oils or adhesives. The smokers also usually come with uncured paint.
All these debris and chemicals can be toxic and will add an unpleasant flavor to any food you cook. They must be removed and that’s where seasoning comes in.
What seasoning does is to provide a way of cleaning that easily and effectively removes and destroys those manufacturing contaminants and debris that were left in the smoker.
This helps prevent undesirable flavors or chemical aromas from leaking into your food and tainting its smell and taste.
If the smoker isn’t seasoned properly too, there may be glues, solvents and other chemicals that will get burned when you are cooking your food. Useless to say this can be dangerous if consumed.
Secondly, season a smoker is vital because it helps cure the paint and getting the smoker into the ideal cooking state. It helps seal the pore and binds the oil to the metal surface of your smoker. Doing so creates a barrier that acts as a safeguard against wear and tear. It reduces the chances of rust setting in. This is essential as the presence of moisture during the smoking sessions can quickly age your smoker and leave it vulnerable to rust.
Therefore, seasoning lays down some sort of a protective coating. This prevents the moisture from seeping into the metal surface of the smoker and causing it to rust.
Does this process work for all smokers?
As I mentioned earlier, there are several different ways of seasoning a new smoker. In any case the key basic steps are always the same. Therefore, although our process is mostly focused on charcoal smokers, it still works for both gas and electric smokers.
You should always check your user manual. It can tell you exactly the things you can and can’t do when seasoning your smoker. We would recommend reading that thoroughly so that you can do everything correctly.
Taking some time to season your smoker will help you have a great tasting, smoked meat or other food as well as to keep rust at bay.
With the 7 steps we’ve highlighted above, you will have a good idea of how to season a smoker properly. This will save yourself from making mistakes that you could easily avoid.
Remember that the key to making great smoked or barbecued food starts with taking care of your smoker. The better you take care of it, the better your food will taste.