Residue: What Is It After Grilling And Smoking?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  July 9, 2022

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The black stuff you see on your meat after grilling or smoking is called “residue.” It’s a combination of fat, protein, and carbon. The amount and thickness of the residue depends on the type of food you’re cooking.

So, now you know what it is, but how do you get rid of it?

What is residue on a grill or smoker

What’s the Deal with Creosote?

What is Creosote?

Creosote is an oily, tar-like carbon residue that forms when wood is heated to the point of making smoke. When the smoke condenses rather than combusting, it creates creosote. It’s made up of hundreds of chemicals, including cresols, phenol, and guaiacol. It’s got a bitter, turpentine-like taste and leaves an oily aftertaste.

How to Test for Creosote

If your smoked meats have a discolored surface, a strange taste, and a tingly, numbing sensation on your tongue, it’s likely that creosote is present. Here’s how to test for it:

  • Check the color: Creosote will usually discolor the surface of your smoked meats.
  • Taste it: Creosote has a strong, bitter taste.
  • Feel it: Creosote can leave a tingly, numbing sensation on your tongue.

How to Get Rid of Creosote

Don’t worry, all is not lost! Here are a few tips for getting rid of creosote:

  • Clean your smoker regularly.
  • Use a chimney starter to get your fire going.
  • Don’t add too much wood at once.
  • Keep the temperature low and steady.
  • Use a water pan to keep the temperature down.
  • Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Is Creosote Really That Bad?

What is Creosote?

Creosote is a wood preservative and pesticide, used for all sorts of things. It’s the stuff that makes your BBQ taste so good, but it can also be found in building materials and even heating systems.

Is Creosote Toxic?

Well, it depends on how much you consume. If you eat a lot of creosote, you’re gonna have a bad time. Symptoms include:

  • Stomach ache
  • Burning sensation in the mouth and throat
  • Dizziness

Should I Avoid Creosote?

It’s probably a good idea to limit your creosote intake. After all, you don’t want to end up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. So, enjoy your BBQ, just don’t go overboard!

Testing Your Smoker for Creosote: A Fun Guide

The Signs of Creosote

  • Got some black specks on your glass of ice-cold water? That’s creosote, my friend.
  • If your smoke looks dark gray or heavy white and hangs in the air rather than rises, you’ve got creosote.
  • If your smoke smells bitter, you guessed it – creosote!

How to Avoid Creosote-Coated Meats

  • Get the right combo of heat, fuel, and oxygen when you smoke.
  • Clean the inside of your smoker before use.
  • Monitor your smoke’s color, velocity, and smell.
  • Don’t forget to check your ice-cold glass of water for black specks.

Avoiding Creosote Build-Up: A Guide for the Lazy Smoker

Keep Your Smoker Clean

Let’s face it, cleaning your smoker after every use is a real drag. But if you want to avoid creosote build-up, it’s a must. So, if you don’t want to be scrubbing away at your smoker after each use, make sure you start with a clean one!

Wrap Meat in Foil

If you’re not quite a master of creosote-free smoking yet, don’t worry. Just wrap your meat in foil and you’re good to go! This way, if you do detect creosote formation during the smoking process, you can protect your food from it.

Fully Open Vents

We all know that low-oxygen smoking environments usually lead to creosote build-up. So, if you want to avoid it, make sure to open your charcoal grill’s vents to let more oxygen in.

Limit the Use of Wood Chips

Using too many wood chips can often result in smoldering smoke, which is the last thing you want. So, if your smoke starts getting too dense, back off on the wood chips and you should be good to go.

Testing Your Smoker for Creosote: A Fun Science Experiment

Testing with Ice Water

So you know there’s something wrong with your smoker. Your meat’s discolored, the taste is off, and it’s got the wrong texture when you eat it. It could be a few things, but you suspect creosote’s the culprit. Before you dive into fixing the problem, it’s best to test if it’s the real issue. Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds!

Here’s a fun trick, like something out of a fifth-grade science experiment, to test for creosote:

  • Hold a glass of ice water above the area where smoke pours out of your smoker
  • Hold the glass in the smoke stream for 1-5 minutes
  • Pay attention to any black specks that build up on the glass

If you see black specks, you’ve found the source of your problem! Your smoker’s not getting enough ventilation and buildup’s occurring. Ventilation’s key to properly smoked foods, so once you clear this up, your meals’ll follow suit.

Testing with Your Senses

Creosote can also make your mouth and tongue feel tingly or numb. After you cook something, remove it and let a piece rest on your tongue. If after a minute you feel a tingling or numb sensation, creosote’s likely the cause.

This method’s less preferable though, ’cause you have to sacrifice a perfectly good piece of food to identify the madness in your smoker. But if you have something to spare, it won’t fail you.

Getting Rid of Creosote

You’ve confirmed creosote’s the issue with your smoker and you can stop blaming yourself for all the bad meats. It may seem like a big problem, but there’s a quick fix that’ll have your smoker running like a well-oiled machine in no time.

More than likely, your smoker’s filthy and that’s the biggest contributor to the presence of creosote. Take a look inside and note what you see. Are the walls covered in crusty residue and build up? Those things are enemies, so get a good scraper and remove any you see on the walls, grill, and top of your smoker. If you can’t get through some tougher spots, use some grease-cutting dish soap to break ’em down.

Once you’ve removed the residue, your smoker may look a bit dry. If you want to re-season it, use a light coat of vegetable oil to moisturize the inside. After that, you’ll be back in business!

Investigating Other Potential Issues

Ventilation Issues

So, you’ve cleaned your smoker to perfection, but still can’t seem to get rid of that pesky creosote. Well, it might be time to take a look at some ventilation issues. Don’t worry, it’s not as daunting as it sounds! All you need is the right tools and a bit of confidence to investigate the issue.

Start by checking the vent itself. It’s easy to miss, but if it’s blocked, it could be the reason for the soot buildup. Clean it off just like you did the other parts of the smoker and see what happens.

Next, check the tube that leads from the smoker to the grease catcher outside. This tube can become blocked or obstructed, so it’s important to keep an eye on it. To clean it, simply remove it (refer to your owner’s manual for proper removal) and run some water through it. Allow it to dry or use a tube cleaner.

The Key to Success

Ventilation is the key to a successful smoker. If air isn’t flowing, residue will build up and creosote will be produced. So, once you’ve identified the source of the ventilation problems, reward yourself with a delicious smoked meal.

The Joys of Keeping a Smoker Clean

The Benefits of a Clean Smoker

  • After seasoning your smoker, it’s essential to keep it clean and well-maintained to protect its coating.
  • Removing ashes and food build-up is key, but you gotta be careful not to scrub it down to the bare metal!
  • Cleaning out the smoker from time to time and re-seasoning it is important to keep the oily, smoky surface over the metal and prevent rusting.

The Perfect Balance

  • Maintaining the protective oily coating is necessary, but you also gotta get rid of the ash and grease.
  • Ash that sits for too long can absorb water and oil and cause the firebox to rust.
  • Grease can trap water against the metal, so it’s important to scrape away large deposits gently.

The Joys of Cleaning

  • After every use, it’s important to clean the smoker of ashes and grease.
  • Not only will this extend the life of your smoker, but it’ll also improve the taste of your smoked food.
  • So don’t neglect this duty! Cleaning your smoker is actually kinda fun.


Grilling and smoking can be a great way to enjoy delicious meals, but it can also leave behind a nasty residue. To avoid any nasty surprises, it’s important to understand what residue is and how to prevent it. So, here are a few pointers to help you out: 1) Keep your grill and smoker clean – this will help reduce the amount of residue left behind. 2) Monitor the temperature – too high of a temperature can cause residue to form. 3) Use the right wood – some woods are more prone to creating residue than others. 4) Don’t forget the foil – wrapping your food in foil can help reduce the amount of residue. And lastly, 5) Have fun – grilling and smoking should be an enjoyable experience, not a stressful one! So, don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy the process. Now, go forth and grill/smoke with confidence!

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.