Sooner or later, most homeowners run into problems with an oven that smokes when in use. Sometimes, the haze is visible in the air, while at other times, you may notice a thick odor. Whatever the cause (we'll get to that in a moment), a smoking oven should be addressed immediately. Not only can it impart an unpleasant flavor to any foods you are cooking, but severe smoking is a harbinger of fire.

Keeping your oven clean will keep it from smoking.
Clean ovens rarely smoke or smell.

Causes of Oven Smoking

Ovens can smoke when they are brand new or after they have been used heavily for a while. Sometimes, they smoke even though they have just been cleaned, much to your frustration.

A New Oven That Smokes

Not much to worry about here. It is perfectly natural for a new oven to smoke slightly the first few times you use it, or, at a minimum, to emit a noticeable smell. The heat is burning away a protective layer of oil that was used in the manufacturing process. Oven manufacturers may mention it and recommend a "burn-in" period, during which you run the oven without any food inside to eliminate the oil residue. In any case, the smell or smoking should vanish within the first few hours of use.

An Older Oven That Smokes

Nobody really likes to hear this, but most ovens smoke and smell simply because their owners have allowed them to get a little too dirty. Most commonly, it's because grease is splattered on the walls and floor of the oven. This can occur after roasting uncovered meat that contained a high percentage of fat. After a few cooking sessions, the layer of grease begins to cook along with the current meal, creating smoke and an unpleasant odor of burnt fat. Smoking also may occur when a fatty cut of steak is placed too close to the broiling element.

Smoke in the oven is sometimes caused, not by grease, but by other particles of food inside the oven. A prime culprit is frozen pizza placed directly on the oven rack, as many food packagers recommend. Particles of crust fall to the floor of the oven, where they char and turn to ash as they smoke up your kitchen.

A  “Clean” Oven That Smokes

Finally, your oven may smoke — sometimes even worse than it did before — right after you've cleaned it. The reason here is pretty simple: It's caused by chemical residue that wasn't fully removed when you cleaned the oven. These leftover chemicals are now being burned off, producing smoke that is not only unpleasant but also decidedly unhealthy.

Self-Cleaning Ovens

If you have a self-cleaning feature on your oven, use it frequently to remove the grease and burnt food that accumulates on the walls of the oven. The principle is simple: Run the oven at very high temperature while sealed to completely incinerate grease and food particles; then wipe away the ash.

Make sure to follow the instructions in your owner's manual. Self-cleaning ovens generally have a locking mechanism that keeps the oven door securely closed while the self-cleaning cycle runs — which may take as long as 4 1/2 hours. Allow it to run the full cycle to reduce the debris to a fine ash and remove the ash with a damp sponge. Bits of caked-on food may flame a bit during the cleaning cycle. Do not attempt to open the door to put out these flames, but simply allow the cleaning cycle to finish and the oven to cool before you open the door.

Cleaning an Oven Manually

If you do not have a self-cleaning feature on your oven, use a manual method to clean it — using either a commercial oven cleaner or a less toxic method.

A number of oven-cleaning products are on the market to make this job easier. These products contain harsh chemicals that can burn skin and cause respiratory irritation, so wear rubber gloves and open a nearby window for fresh air. Avoid breathing the fumes if possible.

The typical process is to spray the product on the walls and floor of the oven and wait 20 minutes. Wipe the residue with a soft sponge (not a bristle pad), rinsing the sponge after each wipe. Ensure you remove all chemical residue from the surfaces by rinsing with clear water after cleaning.

You can also remove burnt-on food in a safer, more organic manner by covering it with a rag soaked in ammonia in a cool oven, according to University of Florida professor Mary N. Harrison. Allow it to soak for 30 minutes; then rinse with clean water.

Ammonia will remove baked on grease from inside an oven.
credit: Flickr Creative Commons
After soaking in ammonia, rinse with clear water.

Preventing Future Problems

You can use one of a number of ways to prevent (or at least minimize) smoking problems in the future:

  • Clean your oven immediately after cooking any dish that contains a large amount of fat or sauce that can spill over onto oven surfaces.
  • When cooking steak or other broiled foods, try placing the broiling tray slightly farther from the element.
  • Place a small catch pan or aluminum foil directly under the food being cooked on the next lower oven rack. Do not completely cover the underlying shelf rack, because this impedes the flow of air necessary to cook food. And don't place a catch pan or foil directly on the floor of the oven, because this can scratch the enamel surface.

Oven User Manuals & Troubleshooting Guides

To find user manuals and troubleshooting guides for some major kitchen oven manufacturers, please follow these links: