How do you clean creosote out of a smoker? | It’s easy with THESE simple tips

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 27, 2022

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If you’ve noticed a build-up of a sticky black substance in your smoker, chances are it’s creosote.

While a certain amount of creosote is necessary for proper smoking, too much creosote build-up can cause your smoker to run less efficiently.

Moreover, when creosote ignites, it can release harmful chemicals into the air and pose a fire hazard.

That’s why having a clean smoker that’s well maintained and cleared of creosote regularly is crucial for the smooth running of your smoker, and to keep the pitmaster safe while smoking.

So, how do you clean the creosote out of a smoker?

How do you clean creosote out of a smoker? | It's easy with THESE simple tips

You’ll find one of the most efficient methods of cleaning creosote out of a smoker is with a high-quality cleaner that is specifically developed for this purpose. Next to that, you can try wielding a propane torch or several natural cleaning methods for removing this sticky, black inconvenience from your smoker.

These cleaners will dissolve tar and other deposits that have accumulated in your smoker over time.

How to buy a bbq smoker video
How to buy a bbq smoker video

Stay tuned to not only learn some popular methods in this article but also how to keep creosote from building up in your smoker in the first place.

So you can get back to smoking meat and other tasty dishes in no time!

Why should I clean the creosote out of my smoker?

Creosote is made up of tar and other residues that have built up over time.

This tar and residue contain chemicals that can easily start fires if they accumulate long enough, making smoking with them extremely dangerous.

Creosote can also cause a pretty bad-smelling smoker–not ideal, nor pleasant for something you’re planning to cook your food with.

Also, creosote is quite toxic and can cause irritation in the respiratory tract, coughing, and other more severe symptoms.

However, simply cleaning your smoker regularly can help you avoid all of this.

Moreover, it’s really easy to do, especially if you’re cleaning it regularly with a store-bought cleaner, or a few household ingredients.

What’s the best way to clean the creosote out of your smoker?

Even if you follow all of the advice for preventing creosote build-up (more on that below), there’s still a chance that some creosote will build up in your smoker.

Luckily there are a few different ways to clean this.

In this section, I’m sharing all the ways you can remove the creosote from your smoker. This a general guide for all types of smokers.

However, I’m also sharing which method works best for each smoker type later on in the guide.

Electric and charcoal smokers, for example, are built differently and might need to be cleaned differently. Besides, some smokers are known for more creosote build-up than others.

Use a cleaner specifically designed for clearing creosote build-up

The best way is to use a cleaner specifically formulated for this purpose. This will break down tar and other residues that have built up in your smoker over time.

You can find these cleaners at most hardware stores or online.

Rutland Creosote Remover is one of my favorite products for this, with regular use it will even prevent the buildup of creosote in the first place.

Use a cleaner specifically designed for clearing creosote build-up

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How to use a store-bought cleaner to remove creosote from your smoker:

  • First, you’ll need to remove any food or debris from the smoker. Then, follow the instructions on the cleaner to properly and safely clean your smoker.
  • Once you’re done cleaning, be sure to dry and re-season the smoker before using it again. This will help prevent corrosion.

Regular cleaning of your smoker is important for maintaining the quality of the food you’re smoking and for your own health.

By using a cleaner specifically designed for this purpose, you can easily and effectively clean the creosote out of your smoker.

Weed burner/propane torch

Use a weed burner propane torch to clean creosote from your smoker

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I know it sounds a bit odd, but one of the best ways to clean the creosote from the smoker is using a weed burner or a propane torch.

Some people use a propane torch or weed burner (like this one from Sobalai) to start the fire in their smoker or grill but these tools can also be used to clean out creosote.

Those who use this method recommend that you clean your smoker and “burn off” the creosote every 3rd or 4th smoke.

This method is best for charcoal smokers.

Pitmasters recommend you wash out the smoker with a water hose first, then let it dry.

Then start a new fire so there’s plenty of heat in there and then go in with the weed burner or propane torch as the final touch.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. When you are lighting your charcoal, take a weed burner or propane torch and go over the smoking racks as well as the inside of the smoker a few times.
  2. Don’t overdo it with the fire since you don’t want to damage the components.
  3. Make sure to go over the racks until the grease buildup and creosote start to melt off.
  4. Then, you can use your regular cleaning wire brush and cloth to remove the molten creosote and other dirt.

I don’t recommend using this method for electric smokers or you might damage important components!

Use an oven cleaner

Traditional oven cleaners can also be an effective option for the creosote removal process.

That’s because ovens also deal with a lot of build-ups from cooking in the same way as smokers do.

Use an oven cleaner to clean creosote out of your smoker like this one from Fuller

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This is especially true for wood-burning stoves, which due to the smoke, tend to have a lot of creosote, too.

How to use an oven cleaner to get rid of creosote:

  • Remove any food or debris from the smoker.
  • Then, follow the instructions on the oven cleaner to properly and safely clean your smoker.
  • Be sure to open a window or door while cleaning, as the fumes can be harmful.
  • Once you’re done cleaning, thoroughly dry your smoker.

Now you’re ready to smoke your favorite foods again!

Homemade cleaning solutions to clear creosote from smoker

For those not comfortable with the idea of using traditional cleaners which normally contain a large number of chemicals, you may prefer the idea of creating your own cleaning solution at home.

There are many homemade smoker cleaner recipe options available online.

Here are a few effective creosote removal recipes:

Vinegar, water, and baking soda solution

One popular solution includes white vinegar, water, and baking soda.

You’ll need:

  1. One part vinegar
  2. One part water
  3. A few drops of dish soap

Combine the vinegar, water, and dish soap to create a foamy cleaning solution. Then, use this solution to scrub the inside of your smoker with a good grill brush.

To avoid damaging your smoker or imparting any unpleasant flavors onto your foods, be to rinse the area well when you’re done.

Apple cider vinegar solution

Another option is to mix equal parts of water and apple cider vinegar.

Simply use a cloth or brush to apply the solution to the inside of your smoker. Let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it away. Again, be sure to rinse the area well when you’re done.

Create a lemon juice and salt solution

If you want to create a slightly more abrasive solution, mix together lemon juice and salt.

Sprinkle the salt onto any areas that are particularly dirty or stained. Then, use a lemon half to scrub the area. Rinse well when you’re done.

Create a baking soda solution

You can also use baking soda and warm water to create a paste that can be used to scrub the inside of your smoker.

Mix:

  1. One part baking soda
  2. One part warm water

Then, use a brush or damp cloth to apply the paste to the inside of your smoker. Scrub the area well and rinse when you’re done.

As you can see, there are many different ways to create an effective smoker cleaner solution at home.

By using one of the recipes listed above, you can easily and effectively clean the creosote out of your smoker.

What tools to use for cleaning the creosote out of a smoker?

Cleaning the creosote out of your smoker can be a difficult and time-consuming task. Some elbow grease is definitely required!

Luckily, there are a few tools that can make cleaning the creosote out of your smoker easier.

Use a scraper

One option is to use a scraper. A scraper is a tool that has a sharp edge, which allows you to scrape away built-up residue.

This can help you effectively remove any stubborn buildup from the inside of your smoker with a greater level of efficiency and ease.

I like the Mountain Grillers BBQ Grill Grate Scraper because it has a flat and indented side so it can be used on any grill surface, from the grates to the sides of the cooking chamber.

Use a metal or wire brush

Another option is to use a metal brush or wire brush.

This can help scrape away any stubborn buildup as well as get into those hard-to-reach areas like corners and crevices.

I’ve reviewed the best grill brushes here (including wire-free ones).

Always use gloves

Finally, you may also want to consider using gloves. This will help protect your hands from the chemicals in the cleaners or from the abrasiveness of the salt.

By using a specially designed or homemade cleaning solution, alongside a scraper or wire brush, you can easily clean the creosote out of your smoker.

Allowing you to continue to use it and your favorite wood to smoke flavor-packed meat, veg, and even fruit, time and time again.

But what if I don’t have the right tools?

In that case, you can try using a less aggressive method like a wet rag or sponge.

Combined with one of the homemade recipes listed above, this can still be a pretty effective way of cleaning creosote out of your smoker.

We recommend leaving your solution on to soak for around 15 minutes before scrubbing. Then clean the residue with a cloth, steel wool, or soft brush.

This will help to loosen the creosote in your smoker and make the process a little less tiring on your arms, too.

Then rinse the area as normal once you’re done.

The best method to clean creosote from each type of smoker

As you know, there are different types of smokers available. As they all function differently, cleaning them also requires a customized approach.

Electric smokers

If you have an electric smoker, the process of cleaning the creosote out of it is a little different.

First, you’ll need to remove any food or debris from the smoker. Then, fill a spray bottle with white vinegar and water.

Spritz the vinegar and water mixture inside the electric smoker and let it sit for 5 minutes, then wipe it down with a clean cloth.

Once you’re done cleaning, it’s important to make sure your electric smoker is dried completely before you use it again.

This will prevent corrosion and help to protect the electrical parts.

Gas smokers

If you have a gas smoker, the process of cleaning it is similar to that of an electric smoker.

Again, start by removing any meat or food debris from the smoker’s interior. Then, fill a spray bottle with white vinegar and water.

Spritz the vinegar and water mixture inside the gas smoker’s interior and let it sit for 5 minutes before you wipe it down with a clean cloth.

As with electric smokers, it’s important to make sure gas smokers are dried completely before they are used again.

Use a scraper, wire brush, or metal brush to help remove any stubborn buildup. And always use gloves to protect your hands.

With a little effort, you can keep your smoker clean and in good working order

Pro tip: Use some wire wool when scrubbing the gas grill to speed the cleaning process even more.

Charcoal smoker

Unlike electric and gas smokers, charcoal smokers don’t have any internal components that need to be cleaned.

The main part that you need to keep clean is the charcoal grate.

This can easily be achieved by soaking the charcoal grill before cleaning it, followed by giving it a wipe or scraping it with a wire brush.

You can also use a cleaner specifically designed for this purpose. This will help break down any tar or residue that has built up on the charcoal grate over time.

I prefer the weed burner method to clean out the charcoal smoker because it’s not as delicate and the components don’t get damaged by the flames.

As with electric and gas smokers, it’s important to make sure your charcoal smoker is dried completely before you use it to smoke again.

This will help prevent rust and ensure that your next batch of smoked meat comes out tasting great.

Offset smoker

An offset smoker is a type of smoker that has a separate cooking chamber for the meat and another for the fire.

This allows for a more even distribution of heat, which results in better-quality smoked meat.

If you’re a pitmaster who enjoys using wood alone to smoke your meat, you may notice the creosote builds quite quickly in your offset smoker.

To avoid this, it’s advised to smoke using a combination of wood and charcoal together.

The process of cleaning an offset smoker is slightly different than the process for other smokers.

  • Start by removing all the meat, ashes, and food debris from the smoker.
  • Then, using a putty knife, scrape any large pieces of creosote from the walls and ceiling of the smoker.
  • Next, fill a bucket with hot water and ashes from the firebox.
  • Use this mixture to scrub the cooking chamber of your smoker, paying special attention to any areas that seem especially dirty.
  • Once you’re done scrubbing, rinse the inside of the smoker with clean water and let it air dry completely before using it again.

Pellet smoker

The pellet smoker usually has expensive components and can get easily damaged.

That’s why you need to be careful when you clean the creosote out.

I don’t recommend using the weed burner method or your risk of melting off the expensive paint or ruining the components of this expensive smoker.

Most pitmasters agree that it’s best to use a simple vinegar solution to clean the creosote from the cooking grates.

Since pellets burn pretty clean, you usually won’t get as much creosote buildup as with other smokers like charcoal.

What is creosote and why does it build up in smokers?

In short, creosote is a black, tarry substance that is produced when incomplete combustion of wood or other organic matter takes place.

This build-up can clog the smoker’s airways and affect the taste of the food being smoked (and turn it black).

Creosote can also be harmful to your health if ingested.

That’s why it’s important to clean your smoker regularly to prevent the build-up of this substance.

Which parts of the smoker get the most creosote build-up?

It’s unlikely that you’ll get creosote build-up on the exterior of your smoker so the most important parts to clean are the interior and the cooking grates.

Smokebox

The smokebox usually gets full of creosote when smoking because it is where the wood smoke enters the smoker.

The firebox also gets full of creosote because it is where the wood burns.

To clean the smokebox, you can use any of the cleaning methods listed above.

Cooking grates

Cooking grates in the smoker can also get full of creosote if there is nowhere else for the smoke to go.

This can happen if the smoker is not set up correctly or if the wood is not burning properly.

Most people complain about the cooking grates of the smoker being covered in creosote and this implies that your meat gets covered too and becomes bitter.

That’s why you need to clean the smoker grates ASAP.

Smoker walls

That thick black layer of creosote is most noticeable on the interior of the smoker on the walls.

However, since it’s dark already, it can be hard to see just how much creosote there is so be sure to check carefully and use a spatula to scrape some off to see how thick the layer is.

Temperature probe interior part

Areas around the temperature probes can get a lot of creosote build-up. You can try soaking the area with a vinegar solution or special smoker cleaner and then scrub the creosote off.

If there’s a very thick layer of creosote there, you can use a weed burner and a wire brush to remove it by heating the area first.

How can I avoid creosote build-up in my smoker?

In addition to regularly cleaning your smoker, there are a few other things you can do to avoid creosote build-up.

Choose hardwood or fruitwood for smoking

Using hard or fruit woods such as oak or apple is one of the best ways to reduce the build-up of creosote in your smoker.

These woods produce less smoke than softer woods like pine, helping to reduce the amount of creosote that builds up in your smoker over time.

Avoid using unseasoned wood

You should only use seasoned wood in your smoker for the most part because then there’s less chance of major creosote formation.

In some special cases, it’s fine to use green wood, a.k.a. unseasoned wood for smoking.

That’s because some pitmasters are looking for a very specific flavor profile for their meat and that’s why they need to use the greenwood/wet wood.

However, this comes hand in hand with more creosote build-up in your smoker.

Because of its high moisture content, newly cut wood that hasn’t been properly seasoned (dried) burns unevenly and can impart an unpleasant flavor.

When you use green wood in the smoker, more heat is required to burn off the extra moisture, and this process causes certain compounds which create creosote to be generated.

Thus using unseasoned wood will create more creosote in your smoker and it will be harder to clean.

Here’s how long wood needs to dry before you can consider it ‘seasoned’

Use a water pan

Using a water pan in your smoker is a great way to help avoid creosote build-up.

The water in the pan will create steam, which will help to keep the air inside your smoker moist and prevent the formation of creosote on the walls of your smoker.

Be sure to check the water level in your pan regularly and add more as needed.

Make sure your smoker is properly vented

One of the simplest ways to avoid creosote build-up is to ensure your smoker is well ventilated when smoking.

You can do this by checking your smoker’s vents before each use to make sure they’re not blocked, and by opening up your smoker’s doors as needed.

This will create a good airflow, allowing smoke that would cause the black, sticky residue in the first place, to escape from your smoker.

A well-ventilated smoker will also help to prevent the formation of soot on your food, too.

So win-win!

Use a chimney starter

When starting a fire in your smoker, using a chimney starter is a great way to avoid creosote build-up.

This is because the chimney starter will help to get your fire going quickly and evenly, without the use of accelerants like lighter fluid.

This will also give you a cleaner-burning fire, allowing your smoked meat to taste better, too.

Avoid a high temperature when smoking

Using a high heat when smoking can also lead to more creosote build-up.

This is caused by the red-hot coals causing the moisture in the wood to evaporate quickly, leading to the formation of creosote on the walls of your smoker.

To prevent this, it’s best to use low or moderate heat when smoking meat.

This will help to prevent the quick evaporation of moisture from the wood, and help it burn at a higher oxygen level, reducing the accumulation of tar.

You’ll have a more evenly cooked piece of meat, making for a more enjoyable eating experience overall.

Aim for a thin blue smoke

You know that saying, “if you’re not first, you’re last?” Well, when it comes to smoking meat that couldn’t be further from the truth.

A thick, billowing white smoke is an indication that your fire is too hot and is causing the wood to smolder, leading to higher levels of creosote in your smoker.

Instead, it’s best to aim for a thin blue smoke.

A thin blue smoke is an indication that your fire is burning at the perfect temperature.

This leads to a superior taste and texture of your food, allowing you to lock in more moisture and impart a flavor that’s not too overpowering.

It will also help to prevent the formation of creosote.

Final thoughts

So those are a few tips to help you avoid creosote build-up in your smoker.

Cleaning the creosote out of your smoker is important for maintaining the quality of the food you’re smoking and for your own health.

There are many different ways to create an effective smoker cleaner solution at home, so choose the one that best suits your needs.

However, using a cleaner specifically designed for this purpose is by far one of the easiest and also most recommended too.

If you don’t wish to use a cleaner specifically designed for cleaning smokers, you can create a vinegar, water, and baking soda solution; an apple cider vinegar solution; a lemon juice and salt solution; or a baking soda solution.

For cleaning other types of smoker, such as an electric smoker, a gas smoker, or a charcoal smoker, simply follow the instructions above that are specific to your type of smoker.

Make sure you clean the racks of your smoker, too. This will help prevent any potential cross-contamination of food.

And of course, be sure to dry the smoker completely before using it again. This will help prevent corrosion.

By taking the time to regularly clean your smoker, you’ll ensure that your smoker remains creosote-free, and your next batch of smoked meat comes out tasting great.

Also read: Why does my electric smoker keeps tripping the outlet and breaker?

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.