Smoked Fish

How to Cook Smoked Fish Like a Pro

With its high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, fish is both delicious and nutritious. Research has even shown that people who eat fish on a regular basis are less likely to suffer from heart disease than their counterparts who rarely or never eat fish. Rather than grilling or baking, though, you should consider smoking your fish. With the right approach, you can smoke delicious fish like a professional chef.

Benefits of Smoking Fish

Unless you've tried it before, you might be wondering what benefits -- if any -- smoking fish offers over other cooking methods. As with other meats, smoking infuses fish with flavorful compounds to create a truly delicious flavor that's not found elsewhere. As your smoker or grill fills with smoke, it will alter the fish's flavor.

Smoked fish is also exceptionally moist and juicy. Assuming you don't smoke it too long, your fish won't be dry. On the contrary, it will have a deliciously moist interior. Grilling or baking, on the other hand, tends to dry out fish.

Step #1) Choose the Right Type of Fish

There are dozens of different types of fish, some of which are better suited for smoking than others. Generally speaking, it's best to choose a fatty type of fish rather than a lean type of fish. Salmon, trout, tuna and sea bass are all excellent choices because of their fatty composition. When smoked, they'll absorb and retain the flavorful smoke from your smoking chunks. You can always experiment with leaner types of fish, but to cook smoked fish like a pro, you should stick with a fatty variety.

Fire pit firewood

Step #2) Choose the Right Type of Smoking Chunks

In addition to choosing the right type of fish, you also need to choose the right type of smoking chunks. Not to be confused with smoking chips, smoking chunks are small blocks of dry wood from a hardwood tree. Many people assume that smoking chunks are the same as smoking chips, but this isn't necessarily true. Smoking chips typically measure just 0.25 inches thick, whereas smoking chunks can measure 2 to 4 inches thick. With their thicker composition, smoking chunks produce more smoke with which to infuse your fish.

Smoking chunks are characterized by their block-like shape, but there are several different types of smoking chunks, each of which has different properties when used for smoking fish or other meats. Cherry smoking chunks, for example, offer a mildly sweet flavor with a long burn time, whereas hickory smoking chunks offer a stronger, heartier flavor with a shorter burn time.

What type of smoking chunks should you use when smoking fish? Follow these tips to choose the perfect type of smoking chunks:

  • Stick with a hardwood variety of smoking chunks.
  • Choose kiln dried smoking chunks rather than green or air-dried smoking chunks.
  • If you're going to use smoking chunks with a strong flavor, consider mixing them with a second, milder type of smoking chunks like oak.
  • Make sure they are smoking chunks and not smoking chips.

Step #3) Add Charcoal to Grill or Smoker

While high-quality smoking chunks are essential when smoking fish, you should still use charcoal. The charcoal will create the heat needed to cook your fish to a safe internal temperature. Without charcoal, your grill or smoker may fail to reach an appropriate cooking temperature.

You don't have to create a large mound of charcoal. Rather, add just enough charcoal to heat up your grill or smoker. Both lump charcoal and briquette charcoal can be used, though the former offers the highest level of performance because of its ability to heat up faster and produce more heat. Whether you're smoking fish in a grill or smoker, add a small amount of charcoal to the bottom of the fuel compartment, at which point you can light it with a match or fire starter.

Avoid the temptation of dousing your charcoal in lighter fluid. It's no secret that lighter fluid-soaked charcoal is easier to light than dry charcoal. When burned, however, the lighter fluid will release harsh chemical vapors that negatively affect the flavor of your smoked fish. If you're struggling to light your charcoal, try placing some tinder and kindling in the center of it. Once lit, the tinder and kindling should ignite the charcoal with minimal effort.

Smoked Fish

Step #5) Add Smoking Chunks

After your charcoal has heated up -- it should be white with a glowing flame -- you can proceed to add your smoking chunks. When adding smoking chunks, you have several options from which to choose. You can toss the smoking chunks directly over the charcoal, for example, or you can place them off to the side of the charcoal. Alternatively, if you're using an offset smoker, you can place the smoking chunks in the secondary fuel compartment.

When smoking chunks are placed directly on charcoal, they'll burn fast while producing lots of clean and flavorful smoke in the process. If you place your smoking chunks next to your charcoal, they'll burn more slowly while producing a similar amount of clean and flavorful smoke. You can use either technique when smoking fish, but if you choose the former technique, be prepared to add more smoking chunks frequently. Allowing the smoking chunks to burn without replacing them with new smoking chunks to ash means your fish won't be exposed to the same amount of flavorful smoke.

Step #6) Smoke for About 2 to 3 Hours

Shortly after adding the smoking chunks, you can begin to smoke your fish. Keep in mind that some types of fish may fall through the cooking grate. If you're smoking tilapia, for example, the flaky composition of this freshwater fish makes it susceptible to falling through the cracks of a cooking grate. You can still smoke tilapia, as well as similar types of fish that suffer from this problem, but you'll need to cook it on something other than your grill's or smoker's cooking grate.

Rather than cooking your fish directly on your grill's or smoker's cooking grate, consider placing it in a grill basket, after which you can place the basket on the cooking grate. A grill basket is a type of metal basket that, as the name suggests, is designed for grilling. It features a perforated bottom that prevents small and flaky foods from falling through.

Whether you place your fish directly on the cooking grate or use a grill basket, you should let it for smoke for about two to three hours. Around the two-hour mark, you can test the internal temperature of your fish using a probe thermometer. If it's under 200 degrees Fahrenheit, let it smoke for a little longer, at which point you can recheck the temperature. Only after your fish has reached an internal temperature of at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit should you remove it from your grill or smoker.

It's recommended that you let your fish sit at room temperature for a few minutes before consuming it. Doing so allows the juices to distribute more evenly.

Find the best quality smoking chunks by visiting wood chunks for smoking today. Cutting Edge Firewood offers a variety of high-quality smoking chunks, including white oak, hickory, cherry, pecan and whiskey that you can use in a smoker box when smoking fish. We offer complimentary shipping for our smoking chunk products across the United States.

About The Author

Leroy Hite

Leroy Hite is the founder and CEO of Cutting Edge Firewood, an ultra-premium firewood and cooking wood company located in Atlanta, Georgia. Leroy's mission is to give people the experience of the perfect fire because some of life’s best memories are made in the warmth of a fire’s glow. He founded Cutting Edge Firewood in 2013 with a goal to provide unmatched quality wood and unparalleled customer service nationwide. The company offers premium kiln-dried firewood, cooking wood, and pizza wood in a wide variety of species and cuts to customers around the country.