Complete step-by-step guide on seasoning a smoker | Don’t skip this!

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  July 15, 2021

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So, you’ve got a brand new smoker, and you can’t wait to start cooking delicious meat. But, you know that you have to season it first.

If you’re unsure about why you need to season it and how to do it, let me help you with my complete BBQ smoker seasoning guide.

Complete step-by-step guide on seasoning a smoker | Don't skip this!

The main reason you need to season a smoker before use is because it burns off any potentially dangerous contaminants left over from the manufacturing process. Then, after use, seasoning prevents rusting. Seasoning is done with any cooking spray like canola or vegetable oil.

Seasoning a smoker is also known as curing or pre-seasoning and it’s an essential step in setting up your cooker before use. A smoker is seasoned with cooking oil.

Looking for a how-to on seasoning your grill instead? Check out this post

Should you season a smoker before use?

The overwhelming response is that yes, you should season a smoker before the first use. But, you should also season the smoker occasionally to prevent rusting and keep it in optimal condition.

Most smokers aren’t treated with special rust-proof materials, so it’s up to you to keep the unit in good condition. This process extends the life of your unit, and you can use the smoker for many more years.

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How to buy a bbq smoker video

Here’s the thing, if you season your smoker, you can:

The seasoning process takes several hours, but you don’t need to do it often.

Also read: How Does a BBQ Smoker Work, what is a smoker & what does it do?

Manufacturing contaminants

You can’t see what goes on in a factory. Smoker manufacturers are making hundreds, if not thousands of units, and they don’t take the time to season the smoker for you.

Seasoning a new smoker is an easy process, but it’s not done in the factory.

The truth is that when the new smoker is packaged, it goes into the box with all of the remaining contaminants from the manufacturing process. Grease, oil, paints, and other remnants are covering your new smoker.

The debris is dangerous, sometimes toxic, and can give your food a bad taste.

What contaminants?

There are several contaminants or chemicals that may linger on the smoker’s surfaces and cause health problems. So, before you add wood and meat and turn the smoker on, you need to remove all dangerous particles.

Things like solvents, uncured paint, oil, dirt, adhesives, dust, and metal shavings can remain on the smoker. Offset smokers and pellet grills are especially susceptible to this debris because they’re mostly made of metal.

So, to avoid toxins and awful taste, you need to season a new smoker to remove them and then to protect the new unit from damage.

How to season a new smoker

The seasoning process is fairly similar for offset, pellet, and propane grills. But, with charcoal, you need to use the coals too. But don’t worry, I have a step-by-step guide to help you out.

The process is similar for electric and gas or charcoal smokers. However, the latter requires that you light the fire and let the heat react with the oil.

Step 1: Cleaning

When seasoning a smoker, the first step involves cleaning the unit.

Take the racks and grill grates out and clean them with water, dish soap, or a special grill cleaning solution. If you’re using a cleaning spray, try to make sure it’s not full of chemicals, but there is a benefit to using it.

It can get rid of stuck-on chemicals and grease (when re-seasoning). Cast iron grill grates and steel grates are easy to clean, though, with or without a special solvent.

Simple dish soap is an excellent degreaser and removes oils, grime, and contaminants. Use a sponge or soft cloth to ensure you don’t scratch the finish.

Then proceed to clean the whole interior of the grill and then let all the components air dry. Once dry, assemble your smoker.

Step 2: Wipe down the smoker with cooking oil

Seasoning essentially means wiping down or spraying the smoker with cooking oil. You don’t have to use a large quantity of oil, just a thin coat to cover the metal components.

The best way to apply the oil is with a spray can while the smoker is unassembled. This means you can cover the edges and corners properly.

You’ll need some elbow room to get into the cooking chamber and other parts without damaging the smoker, so don’t try to do this when it’s fully assembled.

Be careful not to cover the exterior of the smoker in oil. You must only season the interior parts. When you re-assemble the grill, then make sure not to remove this protective coating.

If, however, you really make a mistake and get oil on the outside of the smoker, you can rub it in with a non-abrasive cloth. It will create a waterproof barrier.

Best cooking oil for seasoning a smoker

Now, I just mentioned that my favorite oil for seasoning is canned because it’s easy to spray on. But you can use a cooking oil brush, paper towel, or cloth to cover the smoker in oil.

The top pick is Kirkland Signature Canola Oil Cooking Spray

Best cooking oil for seasoning a smoker- Kirkland Signature Canola Oil Cooking Spray

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Here are the top oils you can use to season a new smoker:

The best oil for seasoning cast iron is grapeseed oil spray because it has about 16% monosaturated fat and wipes down grease and contaminant in one swipe. Also, grapeseed oil is quite affordable.

Alternatively, you can also use bacon grease or lard in case you don’t like using oil. Animal fat works just like oil.

Don’t worry; the oils aren’t going to affect your barbecue in a negative way. They make it tastier, and you won’t feel any strange aftertaste.

Can I season my smoker with olive oil?

You’ve probably noticed I didn’t put olive oil on the list of the best oils for seasoning. But, technically, yes, you can use olive oil to coat the inside of your smoker. It’s not the best oil though because it doesn’t react well to high temperatures.

Since you’re cooking at high temperatures, you need an oil with a high burning temperature and olive oil is not one of those oils. Therefore, it’s best to skip olive oil in my opinion. Besides, canola or soybean oil is much cheaper anyway.

Step 3: For electric smokers

If you don’t have an electric smoker, skip to step 4 or 5.

This is an optional step, but most electric smoker seasoning guides will tell you to do these steps. After all, the new water pan and wood chip tray need a good clean too.

Place the water pan into the special slot but LEAVE THE WATER PAN EMPTY.

Add the wood chip tray, too, and LEAVE IT EMPTY.

When you season a smoker for the first time, there is no need to add water, wood, or food.

Open the smoker’s vent, and set the temperature to maximum then let the smoker run for a full cooking cycle. Usually, this is about 3 hours or so, but it depends on your smoker.

The key here is to run the smoker empty at a high temperature. The oil coating will sink into the metals and create the perfect barrier for your bbq smoker.

Step 4: For charcoal and gas grills

For your charcoal grill, after you’ve seasoned the smoker with oil, you need to add heated charcoal to the firebox. This is an extra step in the process, but the food will have a super delicious flavor.

Then, simply let the charcoal burn to ash. This might take a while.

What temperature should I season my smoker?

It depends on the type of smoker and the specific model. But, as a general rule, you need to heat the smoker between 225 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

After you’ve heated it for several hours, it has to cool down. Once the ash cools down, throw it out.

But, again, make sure you don’t add any food the first time you season a new smoker.

Some people close the vent, some leave them open, but you should check the user manual or instructions for your specific smoker brand. I think opening the vents is best to get more airflow.

Extra tips

Just know that once you smoke for the first time, the meat will have some delicious wood smoke aroma depending on what type of wood you use.

If you don’t season the smoker, you will have a barbecue full of contaminants.

Step 5: For pellet smokers

The pellet smoker has to be heated for a full cooking cycle. So, fill up the hopper with wood pellets (like these choices).

Oil the inside of the smoker and all the grates.

Then, choose the high heat setting and let it run for about 4 hours or until the wood pellets are burned up completely. Once you’re out of pellets, the seasoning process is finished.

How long does seasoning take?

Seasoning a smoker takes some time, so it’s not something you can do quickly in a few minutes.

The whole process of seasoning a new smoker takes a few hours. It can take anywhere from 2-5 hours for an electric smoker, including cleaning, oiling, and running a full cooking cycle.

For a propane smoker, charcoal smoker, and pellet smoker, it can take just as long or less if you don’t burn a lot of charcoal and wood.

Generally, seasoning a gas or charcoal smoker takes 2-4 hours.

There are many tips and tricks, but I recommend that you don’t cut the whole seasoning process short.

How often should you season a smoker?

There is no exact number of months or uses as to when you need to re-season a smoker.

There is some conflicting information going around. The instructions for Charbroil electric smokers, for example, claim that after you season your smoker once, you don’t need to go through the seasoning process again.

However, many users will tell you that there are many benefits to seasoning your smoker every once in a while. The truth is, the food tastes better!

What you’ll notice is that in time, the smoker will get a build-up of charcoal, ash, and grease. This will be all over the grates and pans and the interior walls of the smoker. If you’re in a hurry, you can just quickly add more oil with cooking spray.

But, for a proper re-seasoning of your smoker, you must wash, dry, and oil the inside of the smoker, the grates, and pans, and then you’re good to go again.

Tips and tricks to help you season your smoker

I want to share some extra trips I’ve learned along the way to help you succeed when you season with oil.

Why you should always season & re-season the smoker: rust

There’s nothing worse than your smoker developing a layer of rust after some use.

Rust is your smoker’s number one enemy, and occasional seasoning can prevent this. But, it’s not important just for older smokers.

As I mentioned before, the manufacturer doesn’t apply any special rust-proof treatment to the surface of the new smoker. Therefore, you need to take care of the unit.

They apply all kinds of oils and finishes, but these are not for seasoning.

So, since nothing was used that prevents rusting, your brand new offset smoker can get rusty after some use. While cooking, there is always moisture in the smoker, and this ages the unit and makes it vulnerable to rust and decay.

The best way to prevent rust is to season it and add a protective coating. When you season, you add a layer of carbon and smoke, and therefore the condensation drips off instead of seeping into the smoker.

The moisture can’t seep into the metal, and therefore it doesn’t rust.

After all, rust can develop in the firebox, too, so don’t skip any surface.

Takeaway

Now that you’ve seasoned your smoker with oil, you could start to make delicious meat, veggie, cheese recipes on your smoker grill. The great thing is that if you can season a smoker, you can season any grill.

The seasoning process keeps your units safe from rust and removes the factory contaminants so your meat tastes amazing and you’re not feeding potentially harmful toxins to your family.

Don’t skip on the seasoning, even though it takes about 2 to 4 hours because you’ll make the smoker last longer so you can make tasty BBQ for years to come!

Read next: 7 Best BBQ Smoker recipe cookbooks from beginner to advanced

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.