Should You Do A Clean Burn
In Your Ceramic Charcoal Cooker?
Mention in any kamado-style cooker forum that you have done/are doing/will do a clean burn and the post will
erupt into a tsunami of responses; everything from "Clean burns are totally unnecessary" to "Oh my god! You
must do a clean burn after every cook or you will poison your family!" and everything in between. What's the actual truth? Well, like most
things, it depends. There are pros and cons associated with clean burns and if you know the facts, you will
be better able to decide if and when to do a clean burn.
Things To Know About Clean Burns
Like everything else, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet about clean burns. Most of it comes
from the anti clean burn crowd as justifications for warning you away from doing a clean burn. However,
the actual truth is more complicated than they would have you believe:
- Cleans burns will NOT damage your gasket if you do them correctly: Yes,
high heat will damage your gasket, but if you do a clean burn correctly, your gasket won't be exposed to high heat.
What is the correct method? Start your fire, open your vents and close the lid. Let the fire burn for an hour,
then close your vents but
do not open the lid until your cooker
has cooled down. Opening the lid while the cooker is at 600 or 700°F will surely damage the gasket
over time. However,
while the lid is closed, the gasket is NOT exposed to this extreme heat. The ceramic of the dome and base
near the gasket will not get much over 200°F which will not damage your gasket.
- Cleans burns will NOT damage your cooker. These cookers are made from ceramic and
survive well over 2000°F in the kiln when they are fired. They will certainly survive 700°F. We have a medium
Big Green Egg that we use for our maximum temperature test that we do for every brand of charcoal that we review.
We have had it over 1000°F over 45 times. We have had it over 900°F 35 times. We have had it over 800°F
over 35 times. That's over 115 times that we have had this cooker at 800°F or more and it is still just fine.
And if you wonder what Big Green Egg has to say about it, they recommend doing several burns of 500°F to get rid of
lighter fluid smell. And then there are the thousands upon thousands of owners of ceramic cookers that routineley
heat their cookers up to 600°F or more to make pizza. Need we say more?
Reasons FOR Doing Clean Burns
Now that we know that clean burns are perfectly safe if done correctly, it is probably not a bad idea to consider
situations in which you want to do a clean burn as well as situations in which you would not
want to do a clean burn. So here are several reasons why you would want to do a clean burn:
- To clean up mold: If you leave your cooker for a lengthy period of time without
using it, you may find that mold has developed. The mold may cover the walls of your cooker and it may also cover
any grates that you have in the cooker. While you can take the grates out and wash them, the only way to get rid
of the mold on the inside surfaces of the cooker is to do a clean burn.
- To clean up grease: A key contributor to mold besides moisture is grease. Mold
needs food and if you give it grease to eat, it will grow more rapidly. Keeping your cooker free from grease will
greatly reduce the incidence of mold. Normally, using your cooker every few days will keep moisture and mold at bay.
However, if you know you won't be using your cooker for a while and the grates are covered in grease/food residue,
you may want to do a clean burn before you close the cooker up for an extended time. Either that or you will certainly
be doing a clean burn the next time you open the cooker up and find enough mold to make Alexander Fleming proud. (Uh,
you know. The guy who invented penicillin.)
- To purge a cooker of the smell of lighter fluid: We all know that lighter fluid
is a no-no when it comes to starting fires in ceramic cookers. The fluid permeates the ceramic and you will be
able to smell it for some time. However, if your wierd uncle Hal uses some lighter fluid behind your back, or if you
find a used cooker that has had lighter fluid used in it, all is not lost. A series of clean burns will restore your
cooker to its former un-lighter fluid self. Big Gree Egg recommends doing several 500°F burns. From personal
experience we can say that after sloshing the walls of a cooker with lighter fluid, three clean burns did the trick.
Reasons NOT To Do A Clean Burn
Conversely, here are a couple of reasons why you can probably skip the clean burn:
- If your dome accumulates grease and soot and black flakes fall on your food: Cook
long enough and the dome of your cooker will accumulate a combination of soot, ash and grease that forms a black layer.
When this layer gets thick enough, you will find it may start flaking off and you will have black flecks in your food.
To quote Alton, "Definitely not good eats." However, you don't need to do a clean burn for this. Just take a piece of
aluminum foil, ball it up, and scrape the inside of your dome.
- If you want to make your cooker all pretty like it were new: Some people are just
obsessed with keeping the interior of their cooker sparkling white and do clean burns so their cooker looks nice.
Ok, but eventually you will find that the inside of your cooker turns black and clean burns won't restore it to its
brand new appearance. The black stuff eventually will permeate the ceramic to a point that a clean burn won't remove
it, so maybe just get used the fact that barbecue cookers get black inside.
The Correct Way To Do A Clean Burn
Once again we will remind you of the correct method for doing a clean burn:
- Light your fire.
- Open the vents on your cooker.
- Close the lid of your cooker.
- Let the temperature rise until it is between 500-600°F.
- Let your cooker stay at this temperature for about an hour.
- Shut down the vents and DO NOT OPEN THE LID OF YOUR COOKER WHILE IT IS HOT.
- Once your cooker has cooled down, you can open the lid.
We hope you have learned from this article that the answer to "Should I do a clean burn" is
not a simple yes or no. It depends on a number of things which we have outlined here. You many
decide a clean burn is not needed, or you may find you have no other option than to do a clean burn.
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