How to Clean a Smoker + Tips for Ugly Drum Smoker Maintenance

How to Clean a Smoker + Tips for Ugly Drum Smoker Maintenance

In a certain respect, your ugly drum smoker (UDS) is no different than your car.

Like your vehicle, your drum smoker represents an investment. It's also something you own that you'll spend a lot of time with.

And just like your car, it requires a bit of routine maintenance. Sometimes, it's as simple as a surface-level cleaning. Other times, it's a bit more involved.

In any event, the last thing anyone wants is to use a drum smoker that's not prepped and ready to function at its best. 

Let's go over the basics of how to properly clean and maintain your UDS.

Prioritizing Ugly Drum Smoker Maintenance

Regardless of how long you've owned your UDS, it's never too late to start a regular cleaning and maintenance routine.

In fact, the sooner, the better – a little maintenance now can extend the usable life of your smoker substantially.

And what's better than taking care of your smoker? Taking care of it at regular intervals.

Consider the alternative of doing nothing for your UDS. Like any other meat smoker, a UDS is subject to some unforgiving elements during each use – heat, smoke, ash, and build-ups of soot, tar, and creosote (similar to a chimney). Combined, these elements can corrode or damage your smoker beyond repair if left unchecked.

But don't worry; taking care of your smoker is not an all-day affair. By incorporating a few simple tasks into your regular cleaning routine, you can keep your UDS functioning at its best. 

A well-maintained drum smoker not only provides a safer cooking environment but also ensures that the flavors of your smoked foods remain pure and unaltered. Simple actions like routinely cleaning the grates or checking for any signs of wear and tear (we'll discuss these more in our next section)  can significantly extend its life.

Furthermore, regular maintenance helps in maintaining consistent temperature control during smoking sessions, a vital factor for achieving perfect results every time. By dedicating a small amount of time to your drum smoker's care, you protect your investment and continue to enjoy delicious, smoke-infused meals for years to come.

Tips for How to Clean a UDS Smoker & Maintain it + Schedule

The #1 thing about UDS care and upkeep: it's simple and remains simple as long as you stay on top of things.

Think of it like your car – skipping routine maintenance is willingly opening the door for a small problem to become a bigger problem and, later, an expensive repair bill.

To keep things simple, we've broken down what solid drum smoker maintenance looks like and when the best times to handle these tasks are.

After Each Use

Good drum smoker maintenance starts after every use. Once your drum smoker has had ample time to cool down, be sure to:

  • Empty out the charcoal basket – clear it of debris and ash (it's especially important to clear out the ash as it's corrosive).
  • Clean the smoker grate – in most cases, hot, soapy water and the abrasive side of a sponge should be more than enough to clean the grate of baked-on food and grease.
  • Give the exterior a wipe-down – meat smoking is sometimes a messy endeavor. A wipe-down keeps your drum clean and prevents grease from getting baked on.  
  • Complete a quick visual inspection – look for anything that seems out of place or off. Be sure to check the drum's vents, making sure they're unobstructed.

Steel Brushes: Friend or Foe?

Up until more recently, steel grill brushes were considered the go-to for clearing your grill or smoker's grates of char and cooked-on debris. In addition to being widely available and cheap, they were effective – with a little elbow grease, you could have a well-used grate looking practically brand new.

But steel brushes present the potential for a serious problem.  Some people have been hospitalized after ingesting a wire fragment from a steel brush that broke off during cleaning.

As we've found (and mentioned above), soap, water, and an abrasive scrubber should be more than enough to keep your grate looking good and free of stuck-on debris from your last smoke session.

During Use

Generally speaking, a meat-smoking session takes a while – you can usually count on being out there for a few hours. During that time, the only maintenance on your mind should be keeping a consistent temperature and blue smoke.

While everyone's smoking station setup is different, if there's one bit of passive maintenance we can insist upon, it's keeping your smoker off the literal ground. Set atop grass or dirt, the smoker's underside can be exposed to moisture, which, in turn, can create rust. It's best to set your smoker on a solid surface, such as concrete or fire-safe bricks.

This also applies during the colder months – setting your smoker directly on the snow or ice exposes its underside to moisture, as both will melt and evaporate. Done enough times, there's a good chance for the bottom of your barrel to rust out.

In Between Uses

Another one of the top things we tell Smokin' Ugly outfitted drum smoker users: when you're not using your UDS smoker, keep it covered and out of the elements. The less time your drum smoker is exposed to the elements, the lower the chances are for it to get weather-related damage.

Ideally, you should store your drum smoker indoors during the offseason (or in particularly cold climates). If that's not possible, make sure to invest in a durable, weather-proof cover.

We also recommend completing a thorough inspection of your barrel smoker every three to four months. Give the barrel and its components a good once-over, looking for issues such as:

  • Rust
  • Debris, soot, baked-on grease buildup
  • Loose fittings
  • Vent obstructions
  • Other signs of wear and tear

Like giving your car the occasional once-over in between formal inspections, a quarterly condition assessment can save you from dealing with major problems later on – problems that can stop your next smoke day before it starts.


Think back to right before you used your DIY drum smoker to smoke meat for the first time.

After putting it together, you built a roaring fire in it not only to burn off any potential impurities inside the barrel but to also season it (similar to prepping a cast iron pan).

At least once a year, it's best practice to repeat this process.


The same reasons you did it before its first use.

Nothing ruins a smoked meat like a build-up of off-flavors from previous smoke sessions. 

As Needed

There's no manmade invention that's designed to last forever – try as we might.

And while the components comprising your ugly drum smoker are made to more than withstand the rigors of use, they're not immune to years of wear and tear or the occasional mishap.

As rare as it should be, when components do meet the end of their useful life, replace them as needed. 

The same goes for paint – even high-heat paint needs a touch-up once in a while.

Giving Your Ugly Drum Smoker a Beautiful Life

Your ugly drum smoker is more than just a cooking tool; it's an investment in countless memorable meals and gatherings. With routine maintenance and careful use, the life of your UDS can be extended substantially, ensuring it remains a reliable and enjoyable part of your culinary arsenal for years to come. Remember, the key to a long-lasting UDS is regular care, a little attention to detail, and an occasional touch-up.

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