When it comes to seasoning and barbecue, it isn’t all about salt and pepper. Some folks season their smokers like you would a cast iron skillet, and others use the term “seasoning” as an excuse for never cleaning the inside of their smoker. We covered that dichotomy between the two meanings of the same term in our article about filthy smokers. But how exactly should you treat a smoker that’s seen a few too many briskets between scrubbings? We asked someone who might know a thing or two, Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin, to steer you in the right direction.
The interior of any well-used smoker is going to gather some grease and soot. That charred, craggy surface shouldn’t be treated as an asset but rather as a potential fire hazard that could also taint the flavor of your barbecue. Early in his career, Franklin was once chastised by a barbecue joint owner for slamming a smoker door. Too much black stuff was falling onto the meat. “Well, why don’t you clean it?” Franklin wondered.
Now that Franklin has a few smokers of his own, he demands a strict cleaning regimen at Franklin Barbecue. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, so after the last smokers are emptied on Sunday, the staff cleans them. The grates are removed and set aside to be rinsed with a hose (throughout the week, the grates are spot-cleaned wherever there’s gunk buildup). While the grates are gone, workers smooth out the interior surface with a metal scraper and wipe away any particularly greasy spots with a towel.
Franklin is known for providing plenty of lessons for smoking meat, but he says learning how to clean the pit is just as important. When his backyard smokers start rolling off the production line in May, they will all come with detailed cleaning instructions. He recommends treating a smoker as you might treat a cast-iron skillet: once the cleaning is done, he says, “Wipe down the inside with [beef] tallow or oil, and build a fire to get it hot again.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “How to Clean Your Smoker.” Subscribe today.