How to Smoke Fish? (Detailed Guide)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: December 5, 2023

Smoking fish can be a challenging task as a lot is involved in the process, but it is highly rewarding as you get the most delicious fish from smoking it.

So, with how difficult this task can be, our food smoking experts have broken down the process in a way that is extremely easy to understand and follow.

Let’s see how to smoke fish like the professionals!

Quick Summary

  • The procedure for smoking fish includes bringing it, setting up the smoker or grill, and smoking it for 2 to 3 hours.
  • Smoking fish enhances its flavor and texture, keeping it moist and tender.
  • Fatty or oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sea bass are ideal for smoking due to their ability to absorb smoke and stay tender.
  • We have compiled a list of the top fish smokers on the market to help you get the best flavor on all your fish to smoke.

How To Prepare Fish For Smoking?

Wrapped fish

Smoking fish is an excellent way to bring out the deliciously moist texture of the fish, especially with trout fillets.

It makes the smoked fish incredibly tender as the flesh easily peels away from the bone in flaky chunks filled with flavor.

However, before you smoke fish and have this delicious treat, you need to prepare the fish correctly so that you get the best flavors out of the specific smoked fish.

There are several ways you can enjoy smoked fish, with most of these varieties depending on the method you use to prepare the smoked fish.

Whole smoked fish make for a delicious treat as their skin gets crispy and separates from the meat.

However, fish fillets with skin are easier to eat and tend to hold their shape well in the smoker. So, how you cut it does not matter much when you smoke the fish.

What determines the flavor of your smoked fish is the brine you use on the fish, the amount of time you leave the fish in the brine, and the spices you use for flavor while you smoke fish.

So, let’s see how to brine your fish correctly for the best flavor.

Brining The Fish For Smoking

Top view of marinated salmon

A brine is a high-concentration solution of water and salt that helps boost the flavor of food.

To prepare your brine, you need to mix four cups of water, two tablespoons of brown sugar, and ½ cup of kosher salt in a pot, and place the pot on low heat, mix it all until the salt and brown sugar are dissolved.

Then add one tablespoon of vinegar, two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil, and one teaspoon of ground black pepper.

Simmer the brine mixture for about 10 minutes and allow the mixture to cool. The amount of each ingredient will vary with the size of the fish you are smoking.

While you wait for the brine mixture to cool down, this is a great time to mix up your dry rub if you are making your own.

Once the brine has cooled completely, place it into a large bowl, ensuring it can still fit inside your fridge.

Submerge your fish completely in the brine; if you use fish fillets, they may begin to float up. Place a different bowl on top of the fish to gently push them down into the brine to fix this problem.

Cover the bowl completely with some plastic wrap and place it into your fridge. The fish should sit in the brine for 6 to 10 hours to ensure it absorbs all the flavor.

Once this time is up, take the fish out of the bowl, gently rinse it with cold water, and place the fish on a covered chopping board and pat dry completely.

Now, lightly spread some butter over the fish and add your spice rub mix. Your brined fish is now ready to be smoked!

Smoking The Fish With A Smoker

Fish being cooked

If you use a smoker to smoke your fish, you need to preheat the smoker to between 175- and 200-degrees Fahrenheit and add your wood chips into the smoker.

You should soak your wood chips first for at least 30 minutes when you smoke fish.

Leave the smoker and wood chips to preheat for at least 45 minutes. Remember to grease the grill grate of your smoker before you place the fish on it; otherwise, your fish will stick to the smoking grate and break apart. It applies even when smoking trout fillets.

Alternatively, you can place your fish on a sheet of aluminum foil that has been greased, or you can place it on a wooden plank. However, if you want to use the wooden plank, you need to soak it for one hour before you use it.

For fish fillets, place the fish on the grate skin side up, and for other cuts, you can place the fish skin side up or flip the fish over when needed.

When the smoker is hot enough and your fish has been prepared, you can set the fish into the smoker. You should smoke the fish for 2 to 3 hours.

Smoke Fish With A Charcoal Grill

If you want to smoke fish using a charcoal grill, you need to ensure your grill has a lid, vents, and a thermometer, as these are important for the smoking process.

You need to soak your wood chips for 30 minutes before you smoke fish.

If you want to use a wood plank instead of a charcoal grill basket, you need to soak the wood plank for at least one hour before you smoke fish.

Pile your charcoal on one side of your grill to create an area of indirect heat where the fish will cook.

Light the charcoal, and when your grill’s thermometer reaches between 175- and 200-degrees Fahrenheit, you can add the wood chips, close the lid, and leave for 15 to 20 minutes to smoke fish properly.

Now, you can place the fish onto a greased grill basket or your wood plant and place it into the grill on the cooler side.

Close the lid of your gill and open the lid vent over the fish. Cook the fish for between 12 and 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

What Are The Best Fish For Smoking?

A variety of sushi

If you want to ensure that your smoked fish is the best, you must choose the best fish to smoke. Fattier fish like sea bass and salmon tend to absorb the smoke much better than leaner fish.

So, while all your own fish will taste good when cooked in the smoker, some pair better with the entire smoking process.

If you smoke fish, you should use some fatty fish or oily fish like salmon, tuna, sea bass, Black cod, Trout, Mackerel, or sailfish as these stay tender and moist during smoking.

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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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