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Cleaning your offset smoker

Cleaning your offset smoker

Investing in a BBQ is a long term investment. This is why maintenance is a big factor to consider when you are acquiring a new piece of equipment.

Offset smokers are no exception to that logic. In fact, this type of smoker may very well be the one that requires the most attention in order to extend your return on investment.

There are a lot of different components that set offset smoker apart from gas grills or pellet grills. Each component will be put through the test of time under various weather conditions and different temperatures so here’s what you need to know if you want to clean your offset smoker the right way.

First and foremost, before diving into the specifics, it is important to note that a thorough cleanup should be done on a seasonal basis to the very least. That being said, it is recommended that you give a quick clean and follow this self-cleansing protocol after every use, to make it easier on you ahead of your next barbecue session.

Self-Cleansing Protocol

Cleaning an offset shouldn’t be dreadful. The good news is that it can almost clean itself if you let it.

First and foremost, once your meat is removed from the offset smoker, add 2 pieces of wood and crack the doors open. Have your offset rise in temperature to accelerate the consumption of any residual grease buildup on your grates and this will also allow your firebox to burn clean, leaving nothing but ashes behind. Keep an eye on your smoker to make sure that this is done safely and no embers fall out of the firebox.

Once you’ve let the smoker run high until your fire dies out, it’s time to give it a wipe. 

Using a non-metallic or bristle-lock brush, scrape down your grates to remove any and all remaining residue. The grates should be warm enough to keep the nasty stuff soft, but cold enough for you to remove them with fire gloves if needed for a deeper scrub.

If need be, scrape down the remaining grease deposit from the bottom of your smoker and push it into your drip pan or grease pot. If your smoker is still warm, preload a log in the firebox to help it dry out as much as possible to accelerate the lighting process on your next cook.

If you stick to this method, it should be easy to maintain a relatively clean offset year round and not smoke with risk of off flavors or old grease marks on your meat.

Now, for the seasonal thorough maintenance. As you will see, it’s not rocket science. You just have to discipline yourself into doing this routine on a quarterly basis if you are running it year-long, or at the beginning and end of summer if you’re a seasonal pit master 

Smoke Stack

Just like your household cleaning routine, you want to start from top to bottom. This is why I always start by cleaning my smoke stack. Using a chimney sweep, scrape down your smoke stack to make sure you remove any creosote buildup. While you’re at it, it may be well-advised to oil up your top vent cap if you have one. Keeping moving parts well-oiled is important and will prevent rust from building up through time. Using soapy water, you can wipe down the stack with a sponge for a clean finish inside.

Smoking chamber and Fire box

The debris from your smoke stack will inevitably fall in your smoking chamber. That’s not a problem because it’s now time to empty it out. Remove the grates and deflectors and put them in a warm soapy water container.

You will want to let them sit for a while.

In the meantime, this gives you time to scrape down the inside of your smoking chamber with a plastic putty knife to remove all the creosote build up on the walls of your smoker.

Pay attention to the door hinges and also the upper corners of your smoker. It’s not that rare that I find grease stalagmites hidden in those hard-to-get places as a result of boiling grease from pork butts and briskets. Using a BBQ degreaser should help get rid of this gunk in no time.

You also want to degrease your inbuilt thermometer probes to make sure you still have a good read on your temperatures. These should be calibrated on a yearly basis using a digital thermometer.

Once your smoker is smooth on the sides, you’ll need to clean the bottom from all the mucky stuff and residual grease left. 

There’re 2 strategies here, you can either shove as much as you can in the container, or you can push it into your firebox. I tend to find grease easier to pick up when it’s been turned into an ash paste.

You can then empty the firebox with a shovel, or with the use of a vacuum cleaner.

As with the smoke stack, once everything has been cleaned, you can clean it with soapy water and a sponge to bring it back to an almost brand-new state.

Grates and Deflectors

Now that you’ve let your deflectors and grates sit in soapy water for a couple of minutes, you’ll want to give them a good scrub using a safety-clean brush. In some instances, it may even be easier to just power wash them if you’ve been slacking on cleaning the bottom side of your grates. 

Letting your smoking chamber, deflectors and grates dry is very important. As offset smokers are made of thick steel, it’s important to take the proper measures to prevent rust from building up. Drying each part with an air compressor is a good thing as it puts no stress whatsoever on the steel.


To finish things off, give that beauty a nice detailing on the outside. We’re talking about dusting everything off, getting rid of spider webs from the wheels, wiping off any pollen build up from the past months and so forth.

If you find yourself staring down rust patches, you can also sand these and add some paint to give it a better look.

Well-oiled baby

This last step is very important as it will prevent and protect your smoker from rusting between seasons as the weather changes.

Once you’ve cleaned the inside and out of your smoker, it’s time to oil that baby up. Using spray oil or a rag with vegetable oil, you want to oil every inch of steel there is to see. Start a gentle fire afterwards to allow the steel to soak up that oil and from there, you will be able to kick back and just know that you’ve done a good job.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an offset smoker requires more time and effort but you most likely knew this coming in. The hardest part in keeping an offset smoker in great shape is to be disciplined with these routines. The steps themselves are fairly simple.

As much as it takes time, if you know what you’re doing and you’re using the smoker on a regular basis, it won’t take long for you to realize that this maintenance is worth every minute.