How to Season a Vertical Smoker [3 Easy Tips]


Spices protect your smoker from damage and rust. Read my step-by-step guide on how to flavor your new vertical smoker.

how to flavor a vertical smoker

If you’re lucky enough to have a new vertical BBQ smoker and it’s itching to get started, just wait a second – seasoning and cleaning is the most important step in the prep process. Here are 3 easy steps to show you how to flavor your new upright smoker.

Why do we season smokers?

As tempting as it may be to get started with your new smoker , one important step YOU must take before using it is seasoning.

Seasoning is just as important as cleaning. Actually  is a kind of purification.

If YOU haven’t heard the term, it can be a bit confusing as it doesn’t mean rubbing with salt or pepper, but rather a cleansing phase that takes place before use.

In short, it is necessary to coat the surfaces and parts of the smoker with cooking oil to protect it from rusting. Then we heat it to dry and let the protective oil layer harden.

I’ve actually written about flavoring smokers before , but wanted to create a post that reflected upright smokers as they tend to be much larger and therefore more demanding.

It’s not uncommon for upright smokers to have as many as four, five, or even six racks , so the process can be labor intensive. However, the results are worth it.

Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Remove the racks

A thorough cleaning will really go into your upright smoker, so the best way to do this is to remove the cooking grates by pulling them out.

The benefit of this is that since the racks are a fairly handy size, they can simply be brought in and washed down with soap and water before being dried and taken outside to your smoker.

When cleaning them, use a good quality soap, water, and a scrubbing brush that really gets to the grates. They must not get dirty, but we want to ensure that any residue of particles or oil from the manufacturing process is removed before use.

Make sure to rinse them well. In fact I find this to be the most handy to do with a hose as it allows YOU to get between the metal rows of the grates without messing up the inside and also helps to remove all of the soap scum. Then wipe them with a towel and let them dry completely.

Once they are completely dry you can put them back into your smoker.

Step 2: Apply cooking spray

I mentioned that applying cooking oil to the inside of your smoker is the main part of seasoning, and that’s where we really get to the point.

At this stage we want to use cooking spray to apply a generous amount of oil to all of our grills as well as to our smoker’s chamber.

Using oil to clean a grill might seem strange. Why don’t we use water? In short, water and iron don’t mix. Using water will likely cause it to rust. Meanwhile, cooking oil is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. This is great for cleaning smokers because if we can apply a layer of oil to the surfaces of the smoker we can create a barrier against the water preventing it from reaching the metal of our smoker. This can significantly reduce the risk of oxidation on the smoker, known as rust.

Cooking spray for charcoal grills


Here one could easily exclude the water risk. then water doesn’t stay in hot places, does it? Well, not exactly. Especially when smoking, food gets lower temperatures for a long time, which can lead to humidity in the chamber. This is especially true if you’re also using a water pan (which I highly recommend, by the way). This water can then condense on the inner walls of the chamber.

What also occurs when water appears is the meat itself. During cooking, moisture is extracted from the food, which then converts to water vapor or drips off as run-off water. In any case, it is added to the water in the chamber.

Next, another factor is wood. Not everyone uses wood chips for grilling, but I do(and would always recommend). When wood burns, two main things are produced: carbon dioxide and water vapor.

All of this contributes too much water in a small space and if we don’t take measures to protect the chamber from this, we risk ruining our smoker with rust.

One thing YOU should look for when choosing your cooking oil is to use an oil with a high smoke point. This means that it can tolerate a relatively high cooking temperature before being smoked. Oils like extra virgin olive oil don’t have this and are likely to break down at relatively low temperatures, risking adding off-flavors to the grill. I would try using canola oil instead, which is a much stronger cooking oil. I mean that.

Spray a generous coat of the oil all over the smoker. Avoid applying it to the insulation joint just because it might reduce its effect on your grill’s insulation. It’s not the end of the world if it comes into contact with oil, but I would try to avoid it if possible.

The reason I recommend spraying over a real oil is just from the sea and efficiency. Sprays provide better coverage of your camera’s inner fairings and grilles, but it’s also easy(and dare I say fun ) to do.

Once you’ve covered one surface, allow the oil to settle while you clean the remaining surfaces in your grill. Apply liberally. It’s better to use too much than too little. It’s not uncommon to dump an entire dose in there.

Step 3: Heat smoker

Now it’s time to heat the smoker. We want to die with the oil still on the smoking surfaces, so don’t wash the oil off.

Use a chimney starter to light the coals and place them in the smoker. You’ll have to put them in the bottom of your chamber or even through a duct, depending on the smoker. Be sure to check your grill’s owner’s manual here.

Chimney lighter on charcoal grill


The purpose of heating the grill here is important. By heating with the oil, it helps the oil dry into the pores of the metal, creating a semi-permanent protective layer. It also helps allow excess oil to drain and drain, leaving us with a seasoned grill that’s ready to go.

Again, a quick word on wood chips for grilling. You do n’t have to use wood shavings to flavor your grill. The wood is sufficient as a medium to add extra flavor to the meat when grilling. However, if this is a new grill, this is something to consider. Flavoring is a great excuse to learn how to use your smoker and get comfortable with it. If YOU want to use the spice for practice I would try adding some wood shavings to learn how to get the most out of it.

Make sure both vents are open and let it run for a few hours with a good amount of heat.

As a rough guide let the smoke infuse for 2-4 hours. There’s no hard and fast rule for me as to when seasoning is done, but a guideline is to check the color of the grates. If they are initially silver, try to leave them brown or dark. This is usually a good indicator that the oil has dried and formed a good protective coating on the grills.

Leave a Comment