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Last Updated on April 30, 2021
Electric smokers make a fantastic part of your outdoor barbecue equipment, especially if you like working with tender cuts of meat and different types of wood. However, they aren’t foolproof and may sometimes run into issues retaining heat or starting properly. The maintenance needs may increase if you don’t consistently clean your smoker or if you keep it outside during inclement weather.
However, even a well-maintained smoker may need troubleshooting at times, especially as it ages. Rust is a common maintenance issue, but sometimes the issue lies in the outlet or circuit breaker you’re using. Here are the basic steps to take when troubleshooting an electric smoker.
Smoker Won’t Start
If your smoker won’t turn on, that almost always points to a problem with the outlet. Outdoor outlets are especially prone to problems due to the main circuit breaker or the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) tripping. Since most families don’t use outdoor outlets frequently, these problems may go unnoticed until you’re trying to cook something.
Start by plugging the smoker into another outlet, preferably one on a different circuit breaker, or plugging a different device into the outlet to see if it works. If the outlet works with other devices, it’s likely an issue with the smoker itself or the GFCI breaker in the outlet tripping due to the smoker pulling too much power. If the outlet doesn’t work, reset the breaker and investigate whether the breaker needs a new fuse.
Since smokers aren’t supposed to pull much electricity at a time, a persistent GFCI problem would be unusual. You may have to consult with a licensed electrician to see if there’s a problem with the GFCI breaker itself. However, most smoker power problems are resolved by resetting the GFCI or main breaker just once.
If your smoker is a little older, check for small rust spots on the heating element, which can trip the GFCI if they have any moisture in them. You can remove rust safely by unplugging the smoker and gently scrubbing the spots away with citric acid and water, then wiping away thoroughly with water. Let dry completely before resuming use.
Heating Element or Interior Won’t Get Hot
Your electric smoker will clearly turn on in some cases, but the heating element won’t get hot enough. Although this is sometimes due to the entire unit having a problem and needing a replacement, it is usually due to a wiring issue or the heating element needing replacement.
Consult the owner’s manual or with a licensed electrician to see if the wiring fix is minor. For a heating element replacement, you will likely need a part produced by the original manufacturer. In some cases, using a third-party replacement will void the warranty, so check the warranty before buying a replacement.
Severe rust can have a noticeable impact on heat output, so if the heating element is visibly rusted, you may need to remove the rust. Use a citric acid and water solution to gently soak and scrub the rust away, removing the smoker’s heating element if necessary to get at hidden rust spots.
Keep in mind that opening the smoker door to check on the temperature frequently will cause the temperature inside to drop, especially if it’s cold outside. This can leave you with the mistaken impression that the heating element has a problem when the interior just needs a little more time to heat up without cold air interfering.
Chips Won’t Smoke
Sometimes, the heating element will get hot enough, but the chips themselves won’t smoke properly. This usually has to do with the quality of the chips rather than anything with the chip tray or the arrangement of the chips.
The best chips for smoking are hardwoods like cedar, maple, hickory, and cherry. Softwoods like pine and fir don’t generate enough heat and smoke to cook your meats properly. Also, make sure the chips are completely dry before trying to use them since chips that are even slightly damp won’t catch fire properly.
Double-check the dampers and smokestack on the smoker to make sure they are left open. A lack of oxygen makes it harder for the smoker to work properly since fire naturally needs oxygen to work. Check the owner’s manual if you’re unsure of optimal positioning for the levers and flaps.
Unusual Aftertaste on Meats
Smoking is an imperfect art; even if you’re experienced, over-dryness issues, take practice to resolve. However, the flavor of your meats should taste great, even if they aren’t exactly what you expected from a particular combination of wood chips.
If your meats taste ashy or have any other kind of strange aftertaste, your electric smoker likely needs a deep cleaning. Unplug the smoker and use a damp rag to clean the walls thoroughly. Take extra care with the smokestack, where ash and residue build up the most.
After every use, clean your smoker to avoid a build-up of creosote, which can be harmful to your health if ingested in large quantities. You might even be obligated to clean your smoker at a certain frequency if you’re using a commercial smoker, depending on your local laws.
If you’ve just bought your smoker and are about to use it for the first time, turn it on and let it heat without any meat in it for at least 3 hours. This helps burn off any lingering chemicals from the manufacturing process.
Deciding When to Buy a New One
If your smoker is older and has chronic problems, it’s worth investigating getting a new one. Some internal parts on smokers are too difficult or expensive to be worth fixing, especially if the rest of the smoker is getting old as well.
However, you may be able to make your smoker last a little longer with these tips. Since outlets on the outside of your home are likely to be an ongoing source of problems if you live in an older home, it’s worth it to avoid problems with outlets by upgrading them. Cleaning also helps a lot, so work it into your schedule every time you smoke to keep yourself and your family as healthy as possible.