How to Keep a Smoker from Rusting? (5 Best Ways)

Devon Ferguson
Published by Devon Ferguson
Last Updated On: December 5, 2023

If you’re using your smoker outdoors, you’re probably no stranger to rust eating through it. Rusting doesn’t only affect the appearance of the smoker, but it damages the structural integrity as well.

I’ve been on a carnivore diet for over a decade, and I’ve used several kinds of smokers during this time. I’ve had rusting issues with most of them, so I did tons of research and tried out different solutions until I perfected how to prevent my smoker from rusting.

I’ll give you five of my best tips on how to prevent rust on your smoker and how to clean the smoker.

Quick Summary

  • To prevent a smoker from rusting, use a non-metal smoker or one made of aluminum or stainless steel, oil the smoker with vegetable oil after cleaning, and don't leave the smoker grates wet.
  • Protect your smoker from the elements by covering it with a waterproof synthetic material like nylon or vinyl, and store it in a covered place when not in use.
  • Regular cleaning and seasoning of the smoker are crucial to prevent rusting; deep cleaning should be done after about 15 uses.
  • If your old smoker can’t be helped and you’re looking for a new one, check our round-up of best portable smokers. They’re made from stainless steel so you won’t have to worry about rust.

5 Ways to Prevent Rust on Your Smoker

Here are five techniques I use to prevent rusting issues:

1. Get a Non-Metal Smoker

Close up shot of charcoal burning on a smoker

The best way to prevent rusting is to get a non-metal smoker.

Most grills and smokers are partially made of iron, which may rust. However, there are also some ceramic models which won’t rust.

Still, even if you get a metal smoker, be careful which kind of metal it’s made of. For example, avoid iron smokers because they rust easily (it’s fine if the grate is made of iron, but not the whole smoker).

Make sure the smoker’s body is made of aluminum or stainless steel. Aluminum doesn’t have iron so it won’t rust, and stainless steel can have a protective chromium coating which ensures moisture doesn’t reach the inner iron.

2. Oil the Smoker

Once you’re done cleaning your smoker, it’s time to oil it. Don’t use just any oil, but vegetable oil because it’s food-safe, affordable, and does the job.

Light the charcoal or cooking wood, and once your grill or smoker has reached the temperature you want, coat the grill grates in oil because the grates are among the first parts that rust.

This happens because they are usually made of iron or metal-containing iron. But, if you coat the grates in oil, you’ll have a protective layer that will prevent having a rusty smoker.

Note: Don’t use aerosol vegetable oil because oil from a can has an explosive formula. Use oil with a high burning point, such as canola oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil, as these give better protection than oils with a low smoke point.

3. Don’t Leave the Smoker Grates Wet

Close up shot of food being smoked in a smoker

I know it’s impossible to smoke without leaving the grates wet, especially if you use different marinades and sauces when smoking.

Plus, the meat leaks juices that get on the grates and leave them wet.

It’s crucial not to leave the grates wet. Turn up the burners or open vents. Let the temperature go as high as possible for 10 minutes or until you see the grates drying out and turning ashy.

Then turn off the heat on the grill or smoker, and use a bristle-free brush to clean them.

4. Cover the Smoker

If you leave the smoker outdoors without any coverage, it’ll be exposed to the elements. This is especially concerning if you live in a place with a lot of rain and humidity, as these encourage rust to form.

In this case, the best way to prevent rusting is to buy a cover so it’s not exposed to the elements. Wait until the smoker has cooled off after use, and place a cover over it.

Go for a cover made of waterproof synthetic material, such as nylon or vinyl, so the smoker will be dry even if you leave it outside for long periods.

5. Store the Smoker

A food smoker covered with a cloth cover

Finally, you should store your smoker between uses, especially if you won’t use it for a long time.

For example, bring the smoker in if you’re going on a long vacation or don’t plan to grill during the winter.

You can store the smoker under a deck, an awning, porch, shed, or any other convenient place.

You should also cover the grill, especially if you leave it in a partially covered place, such as the porch.

The longer you keep the smoker away from the elements, the longer it’ll last.

Should I Clean My Smoker?

A man looking at cleaning tools while looking

Yes, you should clean your smoker.

The best way to prevent rust from forming is to clean the smoker. You should do a routine cleaning when you’re done smoking meat and deep cleanse occasionally [1].

If you never, or rarely, clean your smoker, it’ll develop rust more quickly. Food leftovers and debris cake on the grill, water accumulates, and iron oxide happens, so the smoker rusts.

“With frequent use and proper storage, routine maintenance will keep your smoker in good shape. The better you keep the outside clean and the inside seasoned, the longer it will last and better it will perform.”
- Oklahoma Joe, Leading Smoker/Grill Brand

Here’s how to clean a grill or smoker after each use:

  • Use a gentle brush to remove stuck food particles from the smoker’s grate. Don’t use a stainless steel brush because it’ll leave scratches that cause faster rusting.
  • If you have a charcoal grill or smoker, clean it while the grates are still hot.
  • Remove ashes because they have humidity which can cause rust, especially in the firebox.
  • Use a rag to wipe sauces and marinade.

After about 15 uses, or a long period in which you didn’t use grills or electric smokers, you should do a deep clean:

  • Make a mix of a cup of soap dish, a quarter cup of baking soda, and a cup of hot water.
  • Take off the grates and soak them in the mixture.
  • Carefully brush the grates, then wipe them down.
  • Use a plastic knife to reach difficult places in the grill interior and remove the grease. Don’t use any water here because liquid can damage the smoker. Use sponges, brushes, and paper towels to remove debris when you’re done cleaning.
  • Use a sponge and dish soap to clean the exterior. Don’t use wire brushes or sponges because they will scratch the grill or smoker.

How to Season a Smoker?

Close up shot of a smoker lid

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to season a smoker:

  1. Spray the entire inside and outside of the smoker with cooking oil spray.
  2. Turn the smoker to a desirable temperature (the hotter, the better).
  3. Let the smoker run hot until the smoke from the oil disappears.
  4. Turn off the smoker and let it cool.
  5. You’ll have a protective coating over the smoker.

Smoker seasoning is one of the best ways to prevent rust, especially on bare metal.

I like to use canola oil because it has a burning point of 400 degrees and leaves a good protective layer when done burning.

Related Articles:


Should I Oil the Outside of My Smoker?

Yes, you should oil the outside of the smoker. This will prevent rust from forming.

Can You Burn Rust off a Grill?

Yes, you can burn rust off a grill, but only if it’s surface rust. You should light a fire and let it burn for half an hour. Then cool the grill until it’s warm and clean with a brush.


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About the author

Devon Ferguson
Senior Editor
Devon Ferguson is the senior editor at Carnivore Style who loves dining and traveling. This well-traveled meat hunter has scaled cities high and low to scout sources for the finest meats. He's tested and reviewed nearly every grill, smoker and meat delivery box on the market.
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