If you enjoy smoking meats, you may wonder if it is harmful for rust to be inside a smoker. You should take steps to remove it, but if a small amount of rust gets into food you are cooking, it's probably not a problem.
Why a Smoker Rusts
Rust is oxidized iron, and if you accidentally eat a small amount of it because the smoker grates are a little rusty, it shouldn't harm you. If large flakes of iron fall on your food, remove them before serving the meal.
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If your smoker is rusty, it's because the iron from which the smoker is made is oxidizing. Iron oxidizes, or rusts, when it's exposed to air or moisture. Your smoker is routinely exposed to both air and moisture, so rust isn't unexpected. You're most likely to see rust on the grill grates, although you may see it on unpainted metal surfaces inside the smoker too. If you see rust, remove it before the problem gets worse.
How to Clean Rust From Grill Grates
If the grates on your smoker have rust spots, there are several options to remove the rust. Many methods to get rust off a smoker's rack require common household supplies.
- One method is to mix warm water and dish soap. Wet a soft rag and wash the grill to remove as much rust as possible. If rust remains, use a nylon brush to remove it.
- Another option is to create a paste by adding some vinegar to baking soda. Rub the paste onto the rust spots and set the grill grates aside for about half an hour. Rinse off the paste with warm water.
- You can also add lemon juice to powdered detergent to create a paste. Rub the paste onto the grates and let it sit overnight. Rinse off the paste with warm water.
If these homemade pastes don't work, use a commercial rust remover that is designed for use on cooking surfaces. Follow the package directions. Don't use a chemical rust remover that isn't labeled for cooking surfaces because it could leave a toxic residue.
Rust in the Smoker
If there's rust in the smoker and not just on the grates, use a wire brush to remove it. Then, sand the area with a fine-grit sandpaper or steel wool. If the area is on the outside of the smoker, paint it with a high-temperature spray paint.
After removing rust from the interior of the smoker, season the smoker by wiping all the surfaces with canola oil. Then, light a fire and run the smoker for two or three hours while maintaining the temperature at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Prevent Rust in a Smoker
Remove the ashes after every use. Let the smoker cool down after cooking and then sweep out the ashes and dispose of them. Clean the smoker by wiping off any food spills after cooking, and keep your grill grates clean and oiled. When you're not using the smoker, cover it with a snug-fitting grill cover to keep out moisture.
The material from which your grill grates and smoker are made will also affect how much rust you get. Stainless steel or porcelain-covered cast iron is less likely to rust.