Black Oily Coating on Meat [How to Prevent Creosote]


Creosote is the bitter residue and black, oily coating of grilled and smoked meats. Find out what creosote is and how to prevent it in your charcoal or pellet grill and smoker with our easy grilling guide.

Prevent Black Oily Coating on Meat [How to Make Creosote].

When using your smoker, there’s nothing worse than pulling out oily, black meat that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and stomach ache.

What is this sticky, tarry stuff, where did it come from, and what did it do to your meat? It’s called creosote. And it’s not good for the taste buds or the digestive system.

In a low oxygen environment with heavy, dense, dark smoke, smoldering wood produces creosote. Unfortunately, creosote can stain and blacken the inside of your smoker, including your flesh.

Find out everything you need to know to prevent and destroy creosote so you can smoke and grill without ending up with a black, oily coating on your meat.

What is creosote?

Black, oily flesh coated in creosote

Creosote is a tarry, oily carbon residue formed when wood is heated to the smoke point and the smoke condenses rather than burns.

Wood is vaporized at high temperatures(like in your smoker). When vapors burn they produce a flame and the vapor that does not burn forms smoke. When the smoke comes into contact with a cold surface, it condenses and creosote is formed.

While this definition sounds more appropriate for a scientific report than for an article on smoking meat, a little understanding of the science can go a long way toward keeping your smoker and food creosote-free. The surface of smoked meat is destroyed once the chemical reaction that leads to the formation of creosote occurs.

What was that in creosote too? According to the CDC, it’s a mixture of hundreds of chemicals. The main chemicals in wood creosote are cresols, phenol and guaiacol. While some of these chemicals occur naturally, others are man-made. And neither of those sounds like something you want to eat.

As for the taste, most people don’t like the strong taste of creosote. Some describe it as having a bitter taste of turpentine(if you have tasted turpentine temporarily). It leaves an oily aftertaste in the mouth and sometimes a tingling and numbness in the tongue.

Why does creosote make meat bitter?

Because creosote IS formed when burning wood or charcoal, if it cannot leave the smoker quickly with the smoke, this oily substance will begin to coat the inside of your smoker. That includes everything, including his meat.

Obviously you’re cooking carbon and soot(chemical and toxic) right on the meat. Is it any surprise that it follows a bitter taste?

Is creosote toxic?

According to the EPA, creosote is used as a wood preservative and pesticide, among other things. While wood used for grilling and smoking is typically much cleaner(fewer chemicals) than wood used for building materials and even heating your home, you can see why you don’t want to consume excess creosote. 

Creosote is toxic in large quantities. While most exposure to creosote does not come from consumption, people who consume too much creosote report stomach pain, burning in the mouth and throat, and even dizziness.

Also test your grill for creosote

You can get creosote coated meat in two ways:

  • You don’t have the right mix of heat, fuel, and oxygen when you’re grilling
  • Do not remove any creosote residue from inside your smoker before use

Also, how can you tell if your smoker is coating your beautiful chest in creosote?

Remember that smoke condenses and forms creosote when it comes in contact with a cold surface. Allow the smoke from your smoker’s vents to surround a glass of ice water for a few minutes. Do you see black spots on the glass? This is creosote.

Another way to determine if your grill may be producing creosote is to check the color, velocity, and smell of the smoke. The following are telltale signs of creosote:

  • Dark gray smoke and dense white smoke
  • Smoke hanging in the air instead of rising
  • Bitter rich smoke

How to prevent creosote in your smoker or grill

Waste smoke from smoker offset

While you know when to effectively remove creosote from inside your smoker, preventing creosote buildup WILL minimize the amount of cleaning YOU need to do after each use.

Keep your smoker clean

You will always start with a clean smoker. It may look like the creosote deposits are permanently burned into the interior of your smoker, but once it heats up, it begins to flake off and coat your food.

The easiest time to clean your smoker is right after use, before creosote buildup has a chance to build up.

Wrap the meat in aluminum foil

If you find smoking in creosote-lined smokers necessary, or if you haven’t quite mastered smoking without creosote, wrap the meat in aluminum foil. If you notice creosote buildup while smoking, you can cover the meat with aluminum foil to protect it for the rest of the smoking time.

Fully open vents

A low-oxygen grilling environment produced by creosote. You might be tempted to reduce the ventilation to maintain the smoking temperature, but you should open the vents on your charcoal grill to let in more oxygen if you want to prevent creosote build-up.

Limit the use of wood chips

large pieces of wood in the smoker

A well-ventilated fire that burns clean reduces the amount of smoke that leads to creosote formation. Using too many wood chips often creates burning smoke, which you don’t want.

As mentioned above, YOU want to avoid dark gray smoke and heavy white smoke. Remove the wood chips when the smoke gets too thick.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does burning coal produce creosote?

Charcoal is made by burning wood into charcoal in a low-oxygen environment. Sounds similar to the formation of creosote in your smoker, doesn’t it?

Some charcoals contain creosote from the manufacturing process. A good charcoal produces a pure carbon charcoal with little creosote residue. But even if you use good quality charcoal, if you allow your grilling environment to become oxygen deficient and hot, you will end up with creosote.

Does hardwood produce creosote?

Like charcoal, burning hardwood at high temperatures without adequate ventilation can produce dense smoke that leads to creosote. However, hardwoods are preferable to softwoods for grilling, as they contain less sap that contributes to creosote formation from drains. But controlling in your grilling environment is crucial to avoiding combustion creosote as the type of wood used.

Once you’ve mastered creating the perfect balance of heat, fuel, and oxygen in your smoker, you don’t have to worry about the fuel source you’re using.

How do you clean creosote from a grill?

There are a few ways to remove creosote from your smoker.

When the creosote is “cooked,” SHE can burn it off with a propane torch. Creosote turns to ash and surfaces can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. 

If you don’t have a flashlight, you can loosen the hardened creosote with a hose and then scrape it off.

If the creosote hasn’t hardened after using the smoker, YOU can scrape off the creosote with a wire brush or scraper. Use a damp cloth to wipe off residue to be re-recorded.

If you don’t prefer to stay away from chemicals, oven cleaner removes creosote.

After removing the creosote deposits, you need to reseason your smoker. Baking again removes all traces of creosote.

Leave a Comment