8 Best Fish to Smoke According to Chefs

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If you have a smoker or grill at home, you may wonder what the best fish to smoke are. While salmon and tuna are often the most popular options for smoking, home chefs will be pleased to know that dozens of fish make for delicious smoked meals.

Learn all there is to know about choosing the right fish for smoking and how to get the perfect cook.

Factors to Consider When Selecting Fish for SmokingWhen choosing a fish for smoking, consider these factors:

  • Texture: The texture of the fish is crucial when smoking. Choose fish with firm, dense flesh that can withstand smoking without falling apart. Delicate fish may not hold up well during smoking.
  • Flavor profile: Consider the fish’s natural flavor. Do you prefer something potent or light? The flavor should complement the smoky notes from the smoking process. For example, milder fish may absorb smoky flavors more readily, while stronger-flavored fish may provide a bolder smoky taste.
  • Oil content: Fish with higher oil content tend to produce a richer and more flavorful result when smoked. However, you can still smoke leaner fish with proper preparation and smoking techniques.
  • Size and thickness: Thin pieces may cook too quickly and become dry, while very thick pieces might take too long to smoke evenly. Choose fish portions that are of consistent thickness for even smoking.

Best Fish for Smoking

While personal preference plays a significant role in determining the “best” fish to smoke, these fish are welcome staples in many culinary settings:

1. Salmon

Salmon has a high oil content, particularly in the form of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which not only imparts a rich and buttery flavor but also helps the fish absorb and carry the smoky aroma effectively.

In addition, salmon has firm flesh, making it resilient during the smoking process, resulting in a moist and flaky texture when done correctly.

As all salmon lovers know, this delicious and buttery fish is versatile, especially when smoked.

Whatever the case, salmon has long been a favorite in backyard barbecues for many reasons. Learn the best way to smoke salmon at home in our guide.

2. Trout

Trout has a delicate and mild flavor that quickly absorbs the smoky nuances of the smoking process, resulting in a well-balanced and flavorful product.

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It also has firm, flaky flesh that holds up well during smoking. Compared to other fish, trout is relatively small, allowing it to smoke quickly.

Trout is a popular choice among anglers, making it readily available in many regions and a favorite for home smoking enthusiasts looking to enjoy the process from catch to table.

3. Mackerel

Mackerel has a robust and distinctive flavor that produces a flavorful and bold smoked fish.

It’s also naturally rich in healthy oils, helping absorb and retain the smoky aroma effectively.

Additionally, mackerel’s dense flesh holds up remarkably well during smoking, staying moist and flaky.

Smoked mackerel often appears in the form of pate, rice bowls, salads, and even sushi.

4. Bluefish

While not a popular tablefish, bluefish is an excellent choice for smoking due to its strong and distinctive flavor. This bold flavor profile stands up well to the smoking process, resulting in a rich, smoky taste.

Bluefish’s higher oil content enhances its ability to absorb and carry smoky flavors. Its firm texture remains intact during smoking, ensuring a moist and flaky dish.

5. Haddock

Haddock has that signature mild and slightly sweet flavor you look for when smoking fish.

This mildness allows the smoky flavors to shine without overwhelming the palate.

Plus, its firm and flaky texture doesn’t fall apart upon smoking.

It’s versatile and an excellent star for dishes like chowders and fish pies, whose smoked flavor imparts depth and complexity.

6. Whitefish

Whitefish, such as lake whitefish or whitefish from the Great Lakes region, is an excellent choice for smoking because of its clean and mild flavor profile. The smoke doesn’t easily overpower it.

It holds up well during smoking and is perfect for salads, spreads, or simply enjoying as a standalone smoked fillet.

You can smoke whitefish into a seafood paella, various salads, and tacos.

7. Swordfish

Swordfish is a unique and excellent choice for smoking, thanks to its dense and meaty texture.

Smoked swordfish tastes almost beefy and is often more savory than tuna, perch, or trout. Thus, it makes the perfect protein for tacos or even on crackers.

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8. Halibut

Halibut is among the most versatile fish for smoking, making an excellent addition to dishes like risotto, tacos, or as a standalone fillet.

The leanness and firmness of the flesh allow for a delectable burst of smoky flavor, especially when marinated.

In addition, frozen halibut is available year-round, making it a popular choice for family barbecues.

Kyle’s Tips for Smoking Fish

When done correctly, smoking fish can be a rewarding culinary experience. Here are some tips for first-time smokers:

  • Start with fresh fish: Use the freshest fish available. Freshness is critical to achieving the best flavor and texture in smoked fish.
  • Prep the fish: Clean and fillet the fish properly, removing any bones, scales, and entrails. Rinse the fish and pat it dry with paper towels.
  • Brine for flavor and moisture: Brine the fish for a few hours before smoking. Brining enhances flavor, helps the fish retain moisture, and adds a layer of protection against over-smoking. You can experiment with different brine recipes to customize the flavor.
  • Air dry: Allow the fish to air dry for an hour or more after brining. The fish will form a pellicle or tacky surface layer that helps the smoke adhere.
  • Select the appropriate wood: Popular wood chips and pellets include alder, hickory, apple, cherry, and oak. The wood you select will influence the flavor of the smoked fish.
  • Control the temperature: Maintain a consistent smoking temperature, ideally between 180°F to 225°F (82°C to 107°C). Use a reliable smoker thermometer to monitor the temperature.
  • Smoke the fish low and slow: Slow smoking allows the fish to absorb the smoky flavor gradually while retaining moisture and tenderness.
  • Use a drip pan: Place a drip pan underneath the fish to catch any drippings, prevent flare-ups, and keep the smoker clean.
  • Avoid over-smoking: Over-smoking can lead to a bitter or acrid taste. Smoke the fish until it reaches the desired level of smokiness, typically 1 to 3 hours, depending on the size and thickness of the fish.
  • Moisture maintenance: Use a water pan inside the smoker to maintain moisture levels and help prevent the fish from drying.
  • Check for doneness: Test for doneness by using a meat thermometer. The fish should reach an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). It should be opaque and flake easily with a fork when done.
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Remember that practice makes perfect when it comes to smoking fish. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt isn’t flawless; learning the nuances of your specific smoker and your palate’s preferences may take some time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I smoke frozen fish?

You can smoke frozen fish, but thawing it thoroughly before smoking will yield better results.

Smoking frozen fish may result in uneven cooking and potentially unsafe conditions, as the outer layers may reach the desired temperature while the inner portions remain frozen.

Thawing the fish in the refrigerator or using a cold-water method ensures even cooking and better flavor absorption during the smoking process.

Can I use a regular grill for smoking fish?

You can use a regular grill for smoking fish through “indirect grilling.”

To do this, create a two-zone fire by heating one side of the grill and leaving the other unlit.

Place soaked wood chips or pellets in a foil packet on the lit side, then place the fish on the unlit side.

Close the grill lid, maintain the desired smoking temperature, and monitor the process carefully to achieve a smoky flavor while cooking the fish indirectly.

How do I store smoked fish, and how long does it stay fresh?

To store smoked fish, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to minimize exposure to air.

Then, place it in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator at temperatures below 40°F (4°C).

Smoked fish stays fresh in the refrigerator for about 5 to 7 days.

For extended storage, you can freeze smoked fish for 2-3 months, ensuring it’s well-wrapped and airtight to prevent freezer burn.

Summary

Fish is a highly underrated player in the barbecue game. If you have a grill at home, you’ll be surprised what you can do with the humblest of fillets.

For novice smokers, our wild Alaskan sockeye salmon is the ideal place to start. Learn the differences between lox, smoked salmon, and nova for the best results.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>