A Guide To Smoked Fish

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Smoking fish for preservation has been done for thousands of years. Today, with the invention of modern smokers and barbecues, smoked fish had gone from a staple to a delicacy. Smoking techniques can range from simple brining to culinary intricacies with the addition of herbs, wine and other ingredients.

Smoking fish at home is easy. It’s quicker than smoking meats such as beef, pork, or venison.

  • Fish with high oil content such as salmon, bluefish, or trout make the best choice for smoking.

Preparing Fish For Smoking

Use only fresh fish or fish that has been quickly frozen. Clean the fish by removing the head, tail, fins and scales. Wash the fish in clean water.

Brining The Fish

Many recipes will call for brining the fish (soaking it in salted water) before smoking. Brining requires about one quart of brine per pound of fish.


Make a traditional brining solution from the following ingredients:

  • 4 cups water
  • ¼ cup kosher salt (without iodine)
  • ¼-cup sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 stalk chopped celery
  • ½ chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped

Arthur’s Asian Style Brine Recipe

  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups of water
  • ½-cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. pepper

Combine all ingredients for the brining solution in a glass or plastic container.

Opinions differ on how long to brine smoked fish. The longer the fish is brined, the saltier it will taste. Minimum brining times are 15 to 30-minutes per ½-inch thickness and up to 8-hours for an entire fish. Rinse the fish thoroughly, in cold fresh water, after brining. Pat dry and air-dry on paper towels for an hour.

Smoking The Fish

Prepare the smoker with whatever wood you prefer; alder, apple, hickory or oak all make good choices. Anticipate smoking the fish for 3-hours plus 30-minutes per pound of fish. Set the smoker temperature at 150 to 170 degrees F. for the first 2-hours. After 2-hours increase the heat to 200 to 220 degrees F. Continue smoking the fish until it is flaky and completely cooked. The fish should be heated all the way through to 165 degrees F. check the fish with a meat thermometer. With low temperature cooking it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Smoked Fish Recipes

Smoked fish makes a tasty main dish or an appetizer. It can also serve as an inspired ingredient for spreads and salads. Smoked salmon blended together with cream cheese, garlic, salt and pepper is also an exciting spread for crackers. Here are several recipe ideas to begin enjoying smoked fish.

Santa Monica Smoked Salmon

Do not brine the fish for this recipe. Cut the salmon into 6-ounce fillets and keep the skin on. Next, completely coat the fish with kosher salt or rock salt. Refrigerate for 12 to 14 hours. Do not let the fish remain for a longer period of time, or it will be too salty. Rinse the fish under cold water to remove the salt coating.

Marinate the salmon in the following:

  • 1 quart soy sauce
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½-cup honey
  • 1 tbs. ground black pepper

Marinate for 24 hours. Place the salmon in the smoker skin side down and smoke using barkless alder for 6 hours at 165 F.

Check the fish hourly after 6 hours smoking time to confirm is fully cooked.

Green Chili Smoked Trout

  • 4 medium size trout, cleaned
  • 8 green chili peppers, cut open, remove seeds and veins
  • 1 lemon, cut into thin slices, peel on
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and divided into four pieces
  • 1 tbs. ground black pepper

Warm up the smoker for a 3-hour smoke. Wash the trout removing all bones. Open each trout and insert 2 chilies, 2 slices of lemon and ¼ of the garlic. Place the trout in the smoker for 3 hours. When the trout are fully cooked, remove the stuffing and serve.

Kings Harbor Smoked Red Snapper

Brine the red snapper for one hour. If using frozen red snapper, brine for 2-1/2 hours.

  • 1-1/2 lb. red snapper cut into 6-oz fillets with skin on
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp. pepper black, freshly ground
  • 1 tbs. maple syrup (for glaze)
  • 6-oz moistened wood chips for smoking
  • 1 foil pie plate

Combine the olive oil, brown sugar, garlic and pepper syrup to make a rub. Rub it into the red snapper well. Oil the skin side lightly, so it doesn't stick to the smoking racks.

Smoke the fish for 60–75 minutes, depending on thickness at 225 F.

Paint the fish with warmed maple syrup as a glaze.

An important tip: a two-burner propane grill can double as a smoker. Place moistened wood chips in a foil pie pan on one side. Close the grill cover. When the chips begin to smoke, put the fish on the unlit side of the grill, turn the heat on low and close the cover. With a single burner grill, heat until the wood chips smoke, add the snapper and turn off the gas. There will be enough smoke to provide flavor and the fish may cook sooner than anticipated.

Savory Smoked Fish Dip Recipe

  • 1-½ cups crumbled smoked fish
  • ½-cup milk
  • 8 oz. light cream cheese, softened
  • ¼-cup finely minced onion
  • 1 stalk finely chopped celery
  • 1 tbs. finely minced Italian parsley
  • 3 tsp. sweet pickle relish
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼-tsp. Cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the smoked fish in a medium bowl and add the milk. Cover and chill for 30 minutes to an hour. Stir in the cream cheese, onion, celery, parsley, relish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill for 2 to 3 hours until flavors have blended. Serve as a spread on crackers, or on a thinly sliced baguette with finely chopped chives.

Last Updated: September 16, 2012
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About Bill Washburn William "Bill" Washburn has a BA in advertising from the Art Center College of Design and has taught at the University of Southern California and Northrup University. Writing from a well-connected studio in the rural foothills of the west coast, he is a frequent speaker at local art associations and has published numerous articles discussing periods of art history and the fundamentals of drawing and painting. William is a master gardener who grows his own culinary herbs, organic heirloom vegetables and a variety of fruits. He writes frequently about his gardening experiences on his website Pioneer Dad. He is an accomplished advertising writer, fine art painter, and art director with more than 20 years' experience. 

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