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Depending on your setup, you might be planning on smoking fish. But what is the best fish to smoke? Among other meats, certain fish work excellently when they are cooked on smoker grills. This is because they lock in moisture with the woody flavors of the smoker, which creates a rich and unique flavor.
The great thing about smoking fish is that there are so many types that you can try out. All fish can be smoked, and there is no reason why you should not consider different options and flavor combinations.
Whether you want to make the most out of your smoking set-up, or if you want to experiment with unique aromas, these are some of the best types of fish to smoke.
While most fish can be smoked to enhance its flavor and create a delicate, flaky texture, fatty fish tends to respond best in the smoker.
Fatty fish absorb the wood flavors from the smoke better than lean, simply because they have more fat to soak it up. Try to focus on using fish that is high in omega 3 for a healthy source of fat in your diet.
Best Types of Fish to Smoke
This fish has a particularly high oil content, which makes it an especially decadent-tasting finished product when smoked. It is recommended that you brine the fish before smoking. This helps make the structure of the meat more stable, and less likely to fall apart while it is in the smoker.
Cut off the head of your mullet, leaving the scales and skin on the body. Cut along the side fin from head to tail, so that the body folds out in one piece. After brining, you should rinse with cold water and then leave to dry overnight. This can help make a crispy exterior.
Striped mullet pairs well with hickory or pecan wood if it is available to you. Add lemon, olive oil, and salt to the fish for additional flavor enhancement. Once you have everything set up, you can leave your fish for around 3 hours, or longer if you are using a colder temperature than average.
Smoked mackerel is a crowd-pleaser. It is packed full of moisture and flavor, which is why it is one of the most popular types of fish to smoke. Mackerel can take on a slightly sweet taste depending on the wood you fill your smoker with.
While mackerel can become dry a little easier than some other fish which creates an unpleasant texture, it’s easy to prevent this by brining it before smoking. Use more salt than you think you will need, as this can also help maintain some structural integrity of the mackerel.
Another way to prevent mackerel from drying out too much is to ensure that you are smoking it for the right amount of time and under the correct temperature. You can cold smoke it at around 100 Fahrenheit for four hours, and then hot smoke for 2-3 hours at 200 Fahrenheit.
This is one of the best ways to preserve the mackerel’s texture and bring out its fragrant aromas. However, it really depends on your smoker and what settings are available, because some make great tasting smoked mackerel within twenty minutes!
This is another fish that is often smoked, because of its unique profile and rich taste overall. Again, it’s important to soak the fish in brine ahead of time. While it was originally seen as a luxury by many cultures, you can create your own smoked salmon at home.
Because of its color, you do not want to risk over-or undercooking this delicate fish. That is why you should invest in a high-quality meat thermometer to keep a close eye on the salmon and remove it when it is ready.
Depending on the settings of your smoker and the total capacity, smoking salmon can take anywhere between one and four hours. It can be a great centerpiece if you are using a large fillet or the perfect addition to a charcuterie board for entertaining next to a glass of wine.
For a robust, flaky-tasting fish that is fragrant and an excellent source of selenium, you could also try adding bluefish to your smoker. Because of its flaky texture, smoked bluefish is a great addition to dips, sauces, and omelets.
Because it has a more fragrant aroma, balance out the flavors of the fish by topping generously with black pepper before adding it to your smoker.
Bluefish needs to be left to do its thing in the smoker on high for thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the fish, before lowering the temperature and leaving it for around three hours.
Again, it is worth using a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking the bluefish because it can be easy to become an overly dry texture that is unpleasant to eat.
Another fish that pairs well with sweet and salty flavors is trout. It is an exceptional fish to smoke because of the way that it takes on additional flavors without compromising the balanced taste that this fish provides. Cedar, cherry, and alder wood are preferred for smoking trout because of the slight sweetness that they can add.
In comparison to salmon, which looks very similar to once they have both been smoked, trout has a more delicate flavor. This makes the fish more light and fresh-tasting, even after going through the smoking process.
The internal temperature of trout once it is fully cooked should be around 145 Fahrenheit. Depending on the smoke set-up you have, the process can take approximately one hour for every half pound of fish.
Do not be put off by the size range that these fish can be seen in, swordfish can have a subtle tasting sweetness without some of the excessive fishiness that other fish tend to have. When it has been smoked, swordfish is gentle meat that is soft, tender, and moist.
It is usually best to buy swordfish fillets because they are easier to work with than the entire fish, and a lot cheaper. Filling your smoker with maple chips is a perfect way to bring out the sweetness within the fillets.
The smoking process usually takes around two hours, but it is done when the internal temperature on the thickest fillet has reached 145 Fahrenheit. As long as you season liberally with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, then swordfish can be a highly impressive type of meat to work with.
Tuna meat is strangely similar to beef, especially when it has been filleted. It pairs well with the cooking methods of a smoker because of its more subtle fishy taste. Mild flavors are best for this fish, like cherry or apple. You can use whatever type of tuna you like, but we would recommend Ahi tuna.
Smoked tuna fillets are a luxury unlike any other, and their unique meaty flavor combined with the fishy undertones is sure to impress the toughest of critics. It can be a great way to introduce new flavors to picky eaters or to add to a salad during the warmer months.
Scallops, Clams, Oysters
While these are not necessarily considered fish, scallops, clams, and oysters taste amazing when they have been put through the smoker.
This is because of the impressive range of flavor that each has, and how the smoking process brings this out. Whiskey butter, garlic, and creamy mustard sauce all pair well with these types of fish when they are smoked.
This is due to the way that they respond to certain aromas and retain their own texture when they are cooked correctly. It doesn’t take as long to prepare and cook scallops, clams, and oysters using the smoker because they are much smaller than some fish fillets you may be using.
Add these during the last thirty minutes of smoking to allow them to retain the deep aromas without becoming dry.
Things To Consider When Smoking Fish
These are some factors to be mindful of when you are preparing to smoke fish. Of course, the weather can be an influential factor if you live in an area that has more unpredictable rainfall.
If your smoking equipment is set up outdoors then you could consider setting it up under a shelter, waiting for a clearer day, or using the oven to smoke your fish.
Wood is another important thing that can affect the taste of the fish and anything else that you choose to smoke. Different types of wood create slightly different aromas which will infuse into the fish to create a unique taste.
Consider how soft each type of wood is, and whether you want to soak it ahead of time because this can help with the overall flavor achieved.
Sweeter wood like hickory typically works best with meats such as pork and ribs, whereas maple wood is recommended for poultry. Alder, apple, mulberry, and oak are some of the most commonly recommended types of wood to smoke fish and seafood.
It is, however, up to you to decide which types of wood you want to use. The beauty of the smoking process is that you can experiment with different combinations to see how they affect the overall taste, texture, and aromas of the fish.
Depending on how you choose to get started with the smoking process, you could consider using it to develop a new skill. Changing the heat settings, hanging up the fish, and checking it over time can be highly rewarding and satisfying.
For an extra DIY idea, you could try to use leftover pieces of metal, or old oil can build your own smoking machine.
There is a range of smoking equipment on the market, and small intricacies such as the size of the chamber can impact the total time it takes to smoke certain foods.
For example, longer meat smokers such as this one provide slightly less area for the wood chips. This can have an effect on the taste of the fish because there will be less smoke created in total.
Another design to consider if you don’t have a smoker is the wider layout that allows more space to move wood around and space the fish apart. This can allow you to keep things at different temperatures because you can gain better control over the wood and therefore heat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Smoked Fish Good For You?
It is one of the healthiest ways to cook fish because there is less need for oils and other fats that are normally used in frying or sautéing certain fish. Smoking locks in the omega-3 enriched oils of the fish without adding more fats that are unhealthy.
How Long Does Smoked Fish Last?
In the refrigerator, most smoked fish lasts around ten days in an airtight container. However, it might be hard to resist snacking on the delicious, delicate-tasting fish ready at your fingertips.
Apart from the taste, the main difference between store-bought smoked fish and what you have smoked yourself is the shelf life. Homemade smoked fish has a much shorter shelf life, although the taste certainly makes up for it!
Why Would I Smoke Fish?
Traditionally, meats were smoked to help preserve them and make them last longer. The smoking process helps prevent the growth of bacteria, and locks in some of the essential moisture that keeps its taste. The aromas of smoked fish are unlike anything else, and it’s worth trying the process purely for the taste of freshly smoked fish.
There are so many types of tastes, aromas, and textures that contribute to the experience of smoked fish that it is difficult to decide on one specific type of fish to name as the ‘best’ to smoke.
That is why this guide has covered some of the most popular types of fish to smoke, and how their unique characteristics can be enhanced with particular wood types, smoking times, sauces and seasoning.
Build your own smoker or buy one today to begin experimenting with different types of wood. Create your own smoked meats and fish to impress your loved ones at your next dinner party. It is certainly a labor of love worth the time spent on the process.