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4.23 from 9 votes

How To Smoke Fish

Preparing fish by smoking them over flame is one of the ancient ways our forbearers enjoyed fish delicacies. Imagine fresh caught fish cooked over coals, held over a hot fire with a stick or delicately cooked on a heated stone.

Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Smoked Fish
Servings: 1
Calories: 128kcal


  • large bowl
  • plastic wrap
  • smoker wood
  • meat thermometer
  • cedar or other wood plank (only needed if not leaving skin on)


Ingredients For Smoked Fish:

  • 4-5


    skin-on fillets (mackerel, trout, salmon, sea bass, tuna, or sailfish recommended)

  • 1



  • 1/2


    salt or kosher salt

  • 1/2

    cup white granulated sugar or light brown sugar

  • paprika (or rub/spice/seasonings of your choice--see below for suggestion)

  • lemon wedges (for serving)

  • fresh herbs, for garnishing (classics are dill, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary)

Cajun Dry Rub Ingredients:

  • 3

    tbsp paprika

  • 1/2

    tbsp salt

  • 1

    tbsp garlic powder

  • 1

    tbsp onion powder

  • 1/2

    tbsp dried thyme

  • 1/2

    tbsp cayenne

  • 3

    tbsp softened butter or margarine (do not mix with rub ingredients)


  • Combine water, salt and sugar in a pot over low heat and mix until sugar and salt are dissolved.

  • Allow to cool before placing fish in brine.

  • Mix up your dry rub if you're making your own.

  • The Cajun dry rub, above, is fairly spicy but adds a nice kick to the mellow flavor of most fish.

  • Simple steps for cleaning and preparing fresh caught fish are to first remove the scales with a knife's dull edge by scraping against the grain of the scales. 

  • Then, remove the head, fins, tail and viscera.

  • After that, thoroughly rinse out the body cavity to remove all blood and kidney tissue.

  • Then, split the fish into two fillets by cutting through the ribs on one side of the backbone.

  • For a large fish, remove the backbone and ribs, leaving 2 large fillets which you will probably want to cut into as many two inch fillets as you can.

  • For a smaller fish, leave the backbone attached to one side and brine each half.

  • Place the brine in a large bowl, making sure it will fit in your refrigerator. 

  • Then, totally submerge the fish in the brine for 6-10 hours in the refrigerator.

  • Covering the bowl with plastic wrap is recommended so that raw fish juice doesn't contaminate the other food in your fridge.

  • After a brine bath, your fillets will be ready to be rinsed off in cool water.

  • Then, they will need to dry off. The quickest way is to pat them dry with paper towels.

  • If you really want to get intense, place the fish on greased racks in a cool, shady place and wait for a shiny skin (technically known as a pellicle) to form.

  • This takes 2-3 hours, and the process is great for helping to seal the surface of the fish so that its natural juices aren't lost during the smoking process.

  • After fish has dried, sprinkle with paprika or seasonings of your choice.

  • If using the Creole version, above, lightly spread butter over each fillet before applying the spice rub.

  • Preheat your smoker and add your wood chips (not recommended to soak them first).

  • You want your smoker between 175 and 200 degrees, and your fish will probably smoke for approximately three hours.

  • For fillets, place fish skin side up for smoking.

  • For other cuts, smoke skin side down and flip over as needed.

  • You will want to periodically check the temperature of the fish.

  • Your goal is to reach 160 degrees internal temperature.

  • Just keep checking, because you want these fillets crispy, flaky and tender, not raw or overcooked.

  •  A classic pairing is potatoes (fish and chips, anyone?), but you could do a variation with baked potatoes, seasoned potato wedges, cheesy potato skins, sweet potatoes, sweet potato chips or fries, potato salad or creamy garlic whipped potatoes.

  • After this process, you should have enjoyed an exceptional meal of smoked fish, cooked to tender, flaky, seasoned perfection.


Serving: 100g | Calories: 128kcal