John Schwindt, V.P. of operations and g.m. of Hawkins Commercial Appliance Service Co., Englewood, Colo.
FE&S: Is it true dirty smokers give off the best flavors?
JS: Contrary to the belief that dirty smokers provide the best results, it is very important to keep smokers as clean as any oven or broiler. Fats, sugars and residue from the heat source can easily build up on the smoker’s surfaces. This may interfere with the cooking process, as debris may either absorb or not reflect a lot of the heat. If sensor probes get coated with these deposits, the result will be a product with bad burnt flavor. Drive system components and seals also can be damaged if the unit is not cleaned properly.
FE&S: How often should foodservice operators clean their smokers?
JS: My best advice is to clean this equipment at least once a week, and start when it is new to avoid buildup.
FE&S: How difficult is it to clean a smoker?
JS: Unfortunately, cleaning these appliances can be very labor intensive, especially if it is not done on a regular schedule. That’s why it’s important to read and understand the cleaning procedure recommended by the smoker manufacturer.
FE&S: What should operators avoid doing when cleaning smokers?
JS: With all smokers and any other piece of equipment, it is very important not to use cleaning tools and solutions that will damage the components or surfaces. Metal scrapers and stainless steel scouring pads can scratch the surface of the metal and make it harder to clean in the future. This also can cause premature failure of the parts or panels. Likewise, some harsh chemicals can take the protective coating off of certain metals, which makes the equipment harder to clean in the future. In addition, chemicals that can leave noxious residues may taint cooking batches, impacting taste, quality and even food safety.
FE&S: What are the proper cleaning materials for smokers?
JS: Plastic scrapers, non-scratching scouring pads, protective gloves, buckets, towels and mild chemicals should be used. Also, a shop vacuum is a must to remove most of the residue that’s scraped off. This should be done prior to considering any type of chemical cleaner.
FE&S: Can smokers be power washed?
JS: Unless specified in the manufacturer’s cleaning guide, smokers should never be power washed or even hosed out. If there are bearings exposed or drive chains, the water pressure will push the food residue into places that can cause worse damage than if they were left dirty. This will also leave a huge mess in the area. Most municipalities have laws against depositing grease and chemicals into the city drainage system.