Creosote and Smokers

When smoking meat, the ultimate goal is to have a tender and juicy texture, as well as a subtle smoky flavor but unfortunately, this is not always the case. Although smoking meat is not difficult, it does need to be done right or you will end up with meat that is tough, too smoky, and even meat with a bitter taste. For a smoker to work best, three things must come together to include heat, smoke, and time.

Proper Airflow

Great barbecue in a smoker must also have proper airflow, which helps keep the interior temperature perfect. Therefore, the goal is to bring the smoke to the meat quickly and only for a short amount of time. What happens is that if smoke permeates the smoker too long, creosote is produced, which is what causes the bitterness. In fact, meat that is too smoky from creosote will leave the tip of your tongue feeling numb.


The bottom line is that not only does creosote make the meat taste bad, it is also a fire hazard. Just as soot builds up in a fireplace, known as creosote, it can also build up in a smoker. Keep in mind that this substance is flammable so you want to avoid this at all costs. If you find your meat starting to taste bitter and should you notice numbness on the tongue, you know immediately that you need to thoroughly, clean the smoker to eliminate all creosote.


In most cases, a smoker can be cleaned with good, old-fashioned soap and water, followed by a good rinsing. However, before you do any cleaning, we recommend you contact the manufacturer to determine their recommendations. If you were unsure if creosote were built up in your smoker, you can conduct a simple test. For this, take a glass of cold water, holding it directly into a stream of smoke from the smoker. After 60 seconds, if you notice tiny black flecks, then you know you have creosote buildup.


The main problem is that the smoker does not have enough ventilation. Therefore, after cleaning the smoker, you need to make sure it is receiving adequate airflow. Usually just opening the vents wider is all it takes to correct the problem. For horizontal smokers that do not have vents, simply lift off the lid so smoke can seep out. In addition, once you notice the buildup of creosote, do not add any more wood. Then, for a while so the creosote can burn off, decrease smoke production. Some people will even wrap the meat in foil so it can still be smoked but without exposure to the creosote.

Taste Test

A second method to see if your smoker has a buildup of creosote is to take a bite of the smoked meat. Take a bite from the outside edge, keeping the meat on your tongue for a few minutes to see if you notice any type of bitterness or numbness. The good news is that creosote is easy to get rid of and once you identify it, easy to prevent so you can enjoy healthy and delicious smoked foods.