To maximize your smoker investment it is paramount to start caring for it from the first time you set it up. The majority of smokers need to be seasoned and all smokers need to be cleaned regularly, and by regularly, it is really best to clean as needed to some degree after every use.
With any smoker it is recommended that you first start it to up to learn how to use it, and in doing so will also help burn off any residue from manufacturing. Larger smokers usually need to be seasoned.
Seasoning a metal smoker is akin to seasoning a cast iron pan. The entire inside of the pan surface needs to be seasoned by coating with oil. You can use practically any kind of cooking oil, peanut oil or even bacon grease. The type of oil isn't going to make a big difference. Once there is a good coating of oil you need to heat the smoker to a temperature that will allow it to seep into the metal surface of the smoker. Doing so will create the barrier that will repel water and keep your smoker from rusting. Heat the smoker to a temperature around 250 to 275 degrees F. The objective to seasoning is to eliminate any contamination within the smoker and to prepare a protective surface over the smoker that will prevent rust. The smoke residue, like oil repels water.
Also important is to keep your smoker clean and maintain the protective coating. This is done by keeping the ashes and food build up out of the smoker. You may need to clean out the smoker completely from time to time and re-season it, but the key to longevity is to maintain the oily, smoky surface in the smoker to prevent rusting. Don't let ash sit in there for long periods of time. Ash absorbs water and oil and can cause rusting in your fire box. Grease can also trap water against the metal so any large deposits of grease need to be cleaned out always.
When you cleaning your smoker, keep an eye out for rust as follows:
1. Give your smoker a good inspection from time to time
2. Rust needs to be completely removed as soon as you spot it.
3. Scrub it out with a good wire brush and maybe some sandpaper.
4. Clean the area and immediately repaint it with a heat resistant "barbecue" paint.
5. Use a good quality paint, it is best in the long run. When it comes to painting metal you need to get down to the bare metal before you paint or it won't last.
There really isn't a reason that your smoker can not last for many years. Remember that your smoker is your key to great food. Take good care of it, use it regularly and you will not only master great barbecue but your barbecue will just continue to get better and better. One of the biggest secrets of great barbecue is knowing your equipment so your investment in a smoker is more than just financial, it's the time you've spent using it and the knowledge you have gained of the individual differences of your particular smoker.