One of the main benefits of using an electric smoker is that the heating process produces less residue that traditional methods and so the smoker requires less frequent cleaning.
However, if you’re using your smoker on a regular basis, it is highly likely that, eventually, a layer of gunk will form on the walls and the various components of the electric smoker.
In most cases this ‘gunk’ is simply made of food particles that, for whatever reason, got splashed on the walls or rack, or fat and oils that dripped from the food into the water pan, drip pan or floor of the smoker.
While its true that continual use of an electric smoker without cleaning will not usually create any health hazards, dirt and grease will reduce the efficacy of the smoking process and can on occasion lead to old pieces of food falling onto the fresh food, making it unpalatable. Furthermore, while any mold that may form on the old food will be burned off by the heat, you really wouldn’t want to find yourself eating pieces of meat with burned mold on them – would you?
To avoid such unpleasant things happening, it is therefore advisable to follow some basic advice for cleaning an electric smoker.
I normally carry these out at intervals of 2 weeks to a month depending on how often the smoker is used, and more frequently during the cooking season.
So lets take a look at what you shoudl do to keep your smoker in perfect working order (and to avoid nasty food poisoning!)
Preparing The Machine For Cleaning
- Unplug the power cable from both the power point and the electric smoker. If the smoker is still hot, let it cool to room temperature.
- Once cool, open the lid/front door and allow any remaining hot air to pass out. Wearing mittens, carefully remove the racks from the electric smoker one by one. Place them in a large pan or tub filled with lukewarm water. If the racks are especially dirty, using soapy water may be a good option. Take care not to place them in ice-cold water as the rapid transition from a hot to a cold environment may weaken the integrity of the racks.
- Remove the water pan and drip pan if your electric smoker has them.
Cleaning the Interior of the Electric Smoker
Once all parts have been removed, you can:
- Take tin foil and spread it evenly on the entire bottom surface of the smoker, regardless of whether the surface is clean or not. Secure the tin foil in place with a few small pieces of wood or waste vegetables. Note that these tips for cleaning an electric smoker apply to both lid and front open-type smokers.
- Take a damp cloth or paper towel and begin wiping the sides of the electric smoker. Continue till all surfaces except the bottom surface (covered in tin foil) have been wiped. This will loosen the hardened particles and make removal easier.
- Take some steel wool or a wire brush and begin scrubbing the surfaces of the smoker. The best electric smokers require minimal scrubbing, but food particles and other debris may collect at the corners and points at which the racks attach to the electric smoker.
- Once done, wipe with a fresh cloth or towel, removing any leftover loose particles.
- Finally, remove the foil and wipe the bottom surface with a damp cloth. If the residue has hardened, apply a wire mesh. Once cleaned, wipe with a dry cloth to remove excess moisture.
- Allow the electric smoker to dry out.
Cleaning the Racks:
- Leave the racks in the lukewarm water for about half an hour (see first section of guide).
- Without removing the racks from water, gently wipe them with a sponge.
- Take the racks out of the water and scrub them using a wire mesh. Look for signs of rust. If there are any, wipe them thoroughly till the rust is removed.
- Leave them to dry. One of the common mistakes made by those who are learning how to use an electric smoker is to place the racks back in the smoker without ensuring complete dryness. This promotes rust and can even lead to food poisoning.
- Place the racks back in the smoker only when the racks and the smoker are completely dry.
Cleaning the Water and Drip Pan:
While cleaning the drip and water pans is one of the cleaning tasks that we really should do after every cooking session, our busy schedules often prevent us from carrying this step out. Unfortunately, this leads to the accumulation of grease (fats and oils) and residual particles. Now, while the grease in the drip pan can be used for making sauces, etc. its worth noting that the contents of the water pan should never be used for cooking. Therefore, the cleaning procedures for the two are different. Lets examine them each in turn.
- Allow the water pan you removed in the preparatory stage to cool down. This will cause the oils and fats to solidify. This will make removing them easier.
- Once room temperature has been achieved, rub the inner surface of the pan thoroughly using a wire mesh.
- If some residue is left over, pour lukewarm soapy water in the pan and allow it to stand for about 15 minutes.
- While retaining the water, scrub the pan carefully. Drain the water and repeat.
- Dry the pan and replace inside the smoker.
- Place the drip pan away from the other components. Inspect it to see if there are any edible oils, etc. in the pan.
- If there is, scoop them out with a large spoon and store the oils, etc. for future use. While following these tips for cleaning an electric smoker, please note that you should store such products for future cooking only if the foods from which they dripped off were cooked 2-3 days before. If the pan contains oils from months of cooking, it is best to avoid storing such fats and oils.
- Place the pan in soapy water and let it soak in the water for about 10 minutes.
- Take the pan out of the water and scrub again.
- Dry and replace the pan inside the electric smoker.
- External surfaces – Once the product has dried out, clean using a soft damp cloth. Let the smoker dry out.
- Heating Element – Never use water to clean the heating element. If at all cleaning needs to be done, use a soft paper towel to wipe it about an hour or more after the power cable has been disconnected.
While it is true that the best smokers produce less residue, it would be daft to suggest that even if you have followed the manual your smoker would never need to be cleaned. So, the tips shared above are generic and can apply for virtually any electric smoker. That said, it is also true that the amount of residue produced varies directly with the frequency of cooking done. Furthermore, some foodstuffs tend to produce more residue compared to others.
However, following these tips should help keep your electric smoker in good shape for a long time.