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Fish: Smoking Techniques

Use the smoking method for fish to impart wonderful woody flavors

If you own a smoker and enjoy the taste of wood-smoked meat and poultry, then you should also try smoking fish.

Setting up the smoker is the same: seasoned hardwood plus a few sticks that are pre-soaked in water, time to spare tending the fire and temperature gauge, and a hearty appetite.

Some fishes - either whole or as thick fillets - are better suited for smoking, including salmon and other firm-skinned, fatty species. Fishes high in Omega-3 oils hold up better during the lengthy cooking time with less internal drying.

Just as meat to be smoked is usually marinated, fish must be brined. The fish can sit in a wet brine or be rubbed with a dry solution. The basic brine solution is salt and water with sugar and spices added according to your tastes. Use table salt for a dry solution, along with your choice of herbs and sugar if desired.

Before you make the brine, choose a container. It can be any material except metallic. Make enough brine to cover the fish. A general ratio is 3 cups table salt to each gallon of water. Add about a cup brown sugar and some seasonings (pepper, oregano, etc., if desired).

Dry brine will draw moisture out of the fish and should still be placed in a non-metal container and kept in the refrigerator.

The fish must remain cold. Place the container in the refrigerator if you have room; if not, put the container in an insulated chest and surround it with ice.

Leave the fish in the brine overnight. Smaller fish may require only a few hours.

Remove the fish from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Place on paper towels and return to the refrigerator. In a couple of hours, the fish will acquire a sticky coating, called a pellicle. This glazed surface will absorb flavor and keep out undesirable things like wood ash and bacteria.

While waiting for the pellicle to form, you can start the fire.

The two methods for cooking brined fish are : cold smoking and hot smoking.

To obtain a true cold smoke, the fish will require a few hours in cool, shady spot, then several days of 90-degree heat-cooking in the smoker. This is a laborious process and rarely used by home cooks.

Hot-smoking is the preferred method. You will want to build the fire and let it turn to a hot ash base. Add wood as necessary to keep the temperature constant at about 90 degrees for the first two hours.

Your final desired temperature will be about 180 degrees; bring it up gradually. Once the gauge reaches the 180-degree mark, the cooking timer should begin. A temperature gauge attached to the cooking chamber is necessary to do the job properly.

Regardless of the size of your fish, you'll need a minimum of four hours. Larger cuts should smoke for up to eight hours. Place the fish skin side down on the grill and do not raise the lid too often.

You will also need a meat thermometer, as you should never overcook fish.

With patience and the proper cooking temperature, your fish will reach an internal temperature of about 140 degrees within the eight-hour period and you can enjoy a healthy meal filled with rich flavors.

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