Smoke on the Water: Delicious Smoked Fish Guide

by Matt

minute/s reading time

Ever thought about switching things up and throwing some fish on the smoker? I know, I know, we all love a good smoked brisket or some ribs, but hear me out. Smoked fish is a whole different ball game and man, the flavors are out of this world!

I started experimenting with smoking fish a while back and let me tell you, it’s become a regular in my BBQ lineup. It's not just about the change of taste, but also the challenge of mastering the smoke for a different kind of meat. The prep is easy, the smoke time is shorter compared to beef or pork, and the result is a tender, flavorful piece of fish with a nice smoky aroma.

Selecting the Right Smoked Fish

In this post, we're going to explore the ins and outs of smoking fish on the BBQ. We'll talk about the best types of fish to smoke, how to prep them, and I’ll share some of my go-to smoked fish recipes that have been a hit at my backyard BBQs.

Trust me, once you try smoked fish, you'll want to do it again. So, ready to dive into this smoky endeavor? Let’s get to it!

Before we fire up the smoker, let’s talk fish. Not every fish is going to turn out great when smoked. Some are just born to be smoked, while others... not so much. The key to a good smoked fish is starting with the right kind.

Selection of Seafood for the Smoker

Fat Content: Fish like salmon and trout with higher fat content are your best bet. They stay juicy and soak up that smoky flavor just right.

Firmness: You want a fish that holds its own on the grill. Salmon, trout, mackerel, or tuna have the firmness we need for BBQ smoking.

Flavor: Think about the flavor profile. Mild fish like cod or halibut soak up more smoke, while stronger flavored fish like mackerel stand up to the smoke.

Skin-on vs Skin-off: Keeping the skin on helps the fish stay together on the grill and adds a bit of flavor too. Plus, it makes handling a breeze.

Size and Thickness: Go for thicker cuts or whole fish for even smoking. It’s all about that consistent thickness for the perfect smoke.

My go-tos are salmon and trout. They never disappoint on the smoker. But hey, part of the smoking fun is experimenting. So, don’t shy away from trying different fish and discovering what tickles your taste buds the most.

Preparing Your Smoked Fish

Alright, now onto the prep work. A well-prepared fish is the cornerstone of a good BBQ smoke. Here's how to get your fish ready for the smoker:

Freshness: Fresh or freshly thawed fish is crucial. The fresher, the better the flavor and texture.

Cleaning: A clean fish is a happy fish on the BBQ. Remove scales, fins, and innards. If you’re not up for it, your local fishmonger can do the job.

Brining: A solid brine locks in moisture and amps up the flavor. Start with a basic brine of salt, sugar, and water, and feel free to experiment with herbs and spices. In the brine below I have used water, salt, garlic powder, onion flakes and a little paprika. 

Salmon and Trout in Brine

Drying: Post-brining, pat dry your fish with paper towel then let your fish air-dry in the fridge to form a pellicle. This sticky layer is a smoke magnet, helping the smoke adhere to the fish.

Seasoning: Seasoning is where you can get creative. A good rub enhances the natural fish flavors while adding a new dimension to the taste.

Special Equipment: A fish grate or basket is a lifesaver for handling fish on the grill. It prevents sticking and makes flipping easy.

Marinating (Optional): If you're into marinating, go for it! A good marinade can add an extra layer of flavor to your BBQ smoked fish.

Each of these steps contributes to achieving that perfect smoked fish off the BBQ. Now that our fish is prepped, it’s time to fire up the smoker and get cooking!

The Smoked Fish Process

Alright, onto the smoking part. This is where the magic really happens. Here's a deeper dive into the process:

Hot Smoking: Hot smoking is the way to go for a cooked-through, smoky-flavored fish. This method cooks and smokes the fish at the same time, usually at a temperature between 180 to 220°F.

Temperature: Maintaining a steady temperature is key. A temperature range of 180 to 220°F is ideal for hot smoking. The lower the temperature, the longer the smoking duration, and the deeper the smoke flavor infused into the fish.

Wood Selection: The type of wood you use matters. Applewood or alder provides a mild, sweet smoke flavor, while hickory or mesquite brings a stronger, more robust smoky taste. Experiment with different woods to find what suits your taste.

Smoke Duration: The smoking time varies depending on the thickness of the fish and the temperature of the smoker. It can range from 30 minutes to several hours. Patience is key here to achieve that perfect smoky flavor and texture.

Checking Doneness: To check for doneness, the fish should flake easily with a fork. Aim for an internal temperature of 145°F to ensure it’s cooked through.

Maintaining Consistent Smoke: Keep a steady flow of smoke going, but not too much. Over-smoking can lead to a bitter taste. Make sure your smoker is well-ventilated to keep the smoke clean and flowing.

Ventilation: Good airflow in your smoker is crucial. It prevents creosote buildup which can give the fish a bitter flavor. Ensure your vents are open and clean.

Troubleshooting Tips: If your fish is coming out dry, try lowering the temperature or shortening the smoking time. If it’s lacking in smoke flavor, try a different wood or increase the smoking time.

Fish on the Smoker

Smoked Fish Recipes

Diving into recipes, let's enhance the signature smoky aroma of trout and salmon with some delightful flavors. Salmon shines with sweet and savory notes from maple syrup, brown sugar, or a dash of soy sauce, while trout embraces fresh herbs like dill and citrus zests.

Whether you opt for whole fish or fillets, the right mix of seasonings elevates your smoked fish, making each BBQ gathering a memorable feast. Below are some of my go-to recipes that showcase these flavor pairings, ready to impress at your next smoky venture. Want some recipe's to use your delicious smoked fish in? Check these ideas out.

Whole Fish Recipes:

Ingredients: Whole salmon, scallions, garlic cloves, lemon zest, parsley and olive oil.
Method: Blend together the ingredients other than the fish, then apply the marinade to the fish and place it in the fridge for 2 hours minimum up to 8 hours. Once the marinade has done its magic get the fish on the smoker. 200F for a couple of hours. Looking for internal temperature of 140-145F

Ingredients: Whole salmon, olive oil, kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dried rosemary.
Method: Mix the dry ingredients together, then rub a small amount of olive oil over the salmon. Season the salmon, preheat the smoker to 200F, place the salmon in the smoker, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 140-145F.

Ingredients: Trout, salt, pepper, lemon slices, oregano, thyme and butter.
Method: Salt the fish, let it sit to form a pellicle, add the rest of the ingredients to the trout cavity and smoke it slowly, letting the internal temperature rise to 145F.

Fillet Recipes:

Ingredients: Salmon fillets, olive oil, and a seasoning mix of kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic powder.
Method: Season the fillets, preheat the smoker, place the fillets in the smoker, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 145°F.

Ingredients: Salmon fillets, kosher salt, sweet chili sauce.
Method: Salt the fillets, then cover them in sweet chili sauce. Place the fillets in the fridge for an hour or two. Preheat the smoker to 200F and cook the salmon until the internal temperature reaches 140-145F.

Ingredients: Trout fillets, olive oil, lemon pepper seasoning, smoked paprika, and garlic powder.
Method: Season the fillets, preheat the smoker to 200F, place the fillets in the smoker, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 140-145F.

These recipes provide a variety of methods and flavors for smoking both whole and filleted salmon and trout. Each recipe has its own unique steps and seasoning mixes, so you can choose or adapt based on your personal preferences.

Serving Suggestions

Now that you've mastered the art of BBQ smoking fish, let's talk about serving it up. Presentation is key and a well-served smoked fish can be a showstopper at any gathering. Here’s how you can serve your smoked fish.

Accompaniments: Pair your smoked fish with some classic sides like grilled vegetables, coleslaw, or a fresh salad. A tangy or creamy sauce can also complement the smoky flavor of the fish.

Beverage Pairing: A crisp white wine or a chilled beer pairs wonderfully with smoked fish. Choose a beverage that complements the smoky and potentially spicy flavors.

Presentation: Serve your smoked fish on a rustic wooden platter or a stylish serving tray. Garnish with fresh herbs, lemon wedges, and maybe a sprinkle of coarse sea salt.

Bread Selection: Offer a selection of bread like baguettes, crackers, or artisan bread to go along with the smoked fish. It adds a nice contrasting texture.

Dipping Sauces: Provide a variety of dipping sauces like tartar sauce, hot sauce, or a dill sauce for an added flavor kick.

Remember, the beauty of BBQ is in the sharing and enjoyment of food with others. So, serve it up, share the love, and enjoy the fruits of your BBQ smoking labor!

Smoked Salmon

Smoked Fish Tips and Tricks

Alright, let’s wrap this up with some final words of advice to help you master the art of BBQ smoking fish. Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.

Patience is Key: BBQ smoking is a slow-cooking method. Don’t rush it; let the smoke do its work.

Quality Matters: Invest in fresh, high-quality fish and good smoking equipment. It makes a world of difference in the end result.

Experiment with Flavors: Don’t be afraid to try different woods, brines, and seasonings. Finding your own flavor preferences is part of the fun.

Monitor Temperature: Keep a close eye on the smoker temperature and the internal temperature of the fish to ensure perfect doneness.

Clean Your Equipment: A clean smoker and grates will give you a better smoke and flavor. Make cleaning a regular part of your smoking routine.

Practice Makes Perfect: The more you smoke, the better you get. Keep experimenting, learning, and enjoying the process.

Every BBQ smoking session is a learning experience. Embrace the journey, learn from any mistakes, and above all, enjoy the delicious smoky flavors you create.

We’ve navigated through the ins and outs of BBQ smoking fish, from selecting the right fish, prepping it, smoking it, to serving it up in style. Now it’s your turn to dive in and enjoy the smoky adventure. Whether you're a seasoned BBQ smoker or just starting out, there’s always something new to learn and taste in the world of BBQ smoking.

Remember, patience and practice are your friends in mastering this art. And the reward? Some of the most flavorful, smoky, and delicious fish you’ve ever tasted.

So go ahead, fire up that smoker, try out different recipes, and discover your own favorite combinations. And hey, don’t hesitate to share your smoking experiences in the comments below or reach out with any questions. The BBQ community is all about sharing and learning together. Happy smoking!

About the Author

Matt Barrell

Hi, Matt Barrell here. A BBQ and Smoked meat enthusiast. I love grilling and smoking meat, it is not just my hobby its my passion. My goal is to share my passion with as many other like-minded people as possible.