Smoking Fish

With the modern day emphasis on healthy eating, baked fish is arguably the best option and is by far the easiest method of cooking your catch. Not only does baking in foil keep the fish nice and moist but all sorts of ingredients can be added to add subtle alternative flavours. Apart from the fish, all you need is some butter, some lemon, fresh herbs (such as parsley, thyme chives, dill etc). I like to add some white wine and other recipes recommend cider or even fruit juice but no additional liquid is really necessary as the butter/oil provides sufficient moisture.

Make a few diagonal cuts in the fish skin to help the flavours penetrate and then season inside and out with all the other ingredients. Wrap the foil loosely around each fish to make a foil parcel, folding the edges over to seal in the juices. Bake in a preheated oven at 180° C for 15- 20 minutes per lb (35-45 minutes per Kg). Fillets, being thinner, only need about the half the regular cooking time. Do not overcook the fish.

Smoking Fish

Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to the smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials, most often wood. Meats and fish are the most common smoked foods, though cheeses, vegetables, and ingredients used to make beverages such as whisky, Rauchbier and lapsang souchong tea are also smoked.

In Europe, alder is the traditional smoking wood, but oak is more often used now, and beech to a lesser extent. In North America, hickory, mesquite, oak, pecan, alder, maple, and fruit-tree woods, such as apple, cherry and plum, are commonly used for smoking.

Historically, farms in the western world included a small building termed the smokehouse, where meats could be smoked and stored. This was generally wellseparated from other buildings both because of the fire danger and because of the smoke emanations.

Cold smoking can be used as a flavor enhancer for items such as chicken breasts, beef, pork chops, salmon, scallops, and steak. The item can be cold smoked for just long enough to give some flavor. Some cold smoked foods are baked, grilled, roasted, or sautéed before eating. Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are below 100 °F (38 °C). In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist.

Cold smoking does not cook foods.

Hot smoking exposes the foods to smoke and heat in a controlled environment.

Although foods that have been hot smoked are often reheated or cooked, they are typically safe to eat without further cooking. Hams and ham hocks are fully cooked once they are properly smoked. Hot smoking occurs within the range of 165 °F (74 °C) to 185 °F (85 °C). Within this temperature range, foods are fully cooked, moist, and flavorful. If the smoker is allowed to get hotter than 185 °F (85 °C), the foods will shrink excessively, buckle, or even split. Smoking at high temperatures also reduces yield, as both moisture and fat are "cooked" away.

Smoke roasting or smoke baking refers to any process that has the attributes of smoking combined with either roasting or baking. This smoking method is sometimes referred to as "barbecuing", "pit baking", or "pit roasting". It may be done in a smoke roaster, closed wood fired masonry oven or barbecue pit, any smoker that can reach above 250 °F (121 °C), or in a conventional oven by placing a pan filled with hardwood chips on the floor of the oven so the chips smolder and produce a smoke bath. However, this should only be done in a wellventilated area to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hardwoods are made up mostly of three materials: cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin.

Cellulose and hemicellulose are the basic structural material of the wood cells; lignin acts as a kind of cell-bonding glue. Some softwoods, especially pines and firs, hold significant quantities of resin, which produces a harsh-tasting soot when burned; these woods are not often used for smoking.

Cellulose and hemicellulose are aggregate sugar molecules; when burnt, they effectively caramelize, producing carbonyls, which provide most of the color components and sweet, flowery, and fruity aromas. Lignin, a highly complex arrangement of interlocked phenolic molecules, also produces a number of distinctive aromatic elements when burnt, including smoky, spicy, and pungent compounds such as guaiacol, phenol, and syringol, and sweeter scents such as the vanilla-scented vanillin and clove-like isoeugenol.

Guaiacol is the phenolic compound most responsible for the "smokey" taste, while syringol is the primary contributor to smokey aroma. Wood also contains small quantities of proteins, which contribute roasted flavors. Many of the odor compounds in wood smoke, especially the phenolic compounds, are unstable, dissipating after a few weeks or months.

A number of wood smoke compounds act as preservatives. Phenol and other phenolic compounds in wood smoke are both antioxidants, which slow rancidification of animal fats, and antimicrobials, which slow bacterial growth. Other antimicrobials in wood smoke include formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other organic acids, which give wood smoke a low pH—about 2.5. Some of these compounds are toxic to people as well, and may have health effects in the quantities found in cooking applications.

Since different species of trees have different ratios of components, various types of wood do impart a different flavor to food. Another important factor is the temperature at which the wood burns. High-temperature fires see the flavor molecules broken down further into unpleasant or flavorless compounds. The optimal conditions for smoke flavor are low, smoldering temperatures between 570 and 750 °F (299 and 399 °C).

This is the temperature of the burning wood itself, not of the smoking environment, which uses much lower temperatures. Woods that are high in lignin content tend to burn hot; to keep them smoldering requires restricted oxygen supplies or a high moisture content. When smoking using wood chips or chunks, the combustion temperature is often raised by soaking the pieces in water before placing them on a fire.

Home Smokers

Offset Smoker

The main characteristics of the offset smoker are that the cooking chamber is usually cylindrical in shape, with a shorter, smaller diameter cylinder attached to the bottom of one end for a firebox. To cook the meat, a small fire is lit in the firebox, where airflow is tightly controlled.

The heat and smoke from the fire is drawn through a connecting pipe or opening into the cooking chamber. The heat and smoke cook and flavor the meat before escaping through an exhaust vent at the opposite end of the cooking chamber. Most manufacturers' models are based on this simple but effective design, and this is what most people picture when they think of a "BBQ smoker." Even large capacity commercial units use this same basic design of a separate, smaller fire box and a larger cooking chamber.

Smoke Box Method

This more traditional method uses a two box system: The fire box and the food box. The fire box is typically adjacent or under the cooking box, and can be controlled to a finer degree.

The heat and smoke from the fire box exhausts into the food box, where it is used to cook and smoke the fish. These may be as simple as an electric heating element with a pan of wood chips placed on it, although more advanced models have finer temperature controls.

A Propane Smoker

A propane smoker is designed to allow the smoking of meat in a somewhat more controlled environment.

The primary differences are the sources of heat and of the smoke. In a propane smoker, the heat is generated by a gas burner directly under a steel or iron box containing the wood or charcoal that provides the smoke. The steel box has few vent holes, on the top of the box only. By starving the heated wood of oxygen, it smokes instead of burning. Any combination of woods and charcoal may use. This method uses less wood.

Typical everyday fly fishers smoker.


Smoke is an antimicrobial and antioxidant, but smoke alone is insufficient for preserving food in practice, unless combined with another preservation method. The main problem is the smoke compounds adhere only to the outer surfaces of the food; smoke does not actually penetrate far into meat or fish. In modern times, almost all smoking is carried out for its flavor.

Artificial smoke flavoring can be purchased as a liquid to mimic the flavor of smoking, but not its preservative qualities (see also liquid smoke).

In the past, smoking was a useful preservation tool, in combination with other techniques, most commonly salt-curing or drying. In some cases, particularly in climates without much hot sunshine, smoking was simply an unavoidable side effect of drying over a fire. For some long-smoked foods, the smoking time also served to dry the food.

Drying, curing, or other techniques can render the interior of foods inhospitable to bacterial life, while the smoking gives the vulnerable exterior surfaces an extra layer of protection. For oily fish smoking is especially useful, as its antioxidant properties delay surface fat rancidification. (Interior fat is not as exposed to oxygen, which is what causes rancidity.)

Some heavily-salted, long-smoked fish can keep without refrigeration for weeks or months. Such heavily-preserved foods usually require a treatment such as boiling in fresh water to make them palatable before eating.

Foods have been smoked by humans throughout history. Originally this was done as a preservative. In more recent times fish is readily preserved by refrigeration and freezing and the smoking of fish is generally done for the unique taste and flavour imparted by the smoking process.

A smokehouse is a building where fish or meat is cured with smoke. In traditional fishing villages, a smokehouse was often attached to the cottages the fishermen lived in. The smoked products might be stored in the building, sometimes for a year or more.

Traditional smokehouses served both as smokers and to store the smoked fish Food preservation occurred by salt curing and extended cold smoking for two weeks or longer. Smokehouses were often secured to prevent animals and thieves from accessing the food.

Traditional smoked fish is a high end product sought after by restaurants.

Fish that can be smoked at home

Trout; salmon Eel popular in eastern/northern Europe Cod; Haddock ; Herring; Mackerel Sea Bass;

Wood for using in Smokers

Apple: Produces a sweet, fruity taste .Good mild wood which works well on poultry and ham.

Alder: It is the wood that is greatly preferred for most any fish especially salmon.

Cherry: Similar to apple... sweet and usually very fruity depending on the age of the wood. Tends to be mild making it a good choice for poultry, fish, and ham.

Hickory: One of the best known woods for smoking, it can be a bit to pungent so great care must be taken so that it is not overused. Most feel it is excellent on ribs and most red meats. Can also be used very sparingly on cuts of poultry. (should be able to get this at the local hardware/department store)

Maple: Gives a light and sweet taste which best compliments poultry and ham.

Mesquite: Some peoples favourite barbecue wood however, great care must be taken or it can become overpowering. Best not used for larger cuts which require longer smoking times.

Oak: Good choice for larger cuts which require longer smoking times. Produces a strong smoke flavour but usually not overpowering. Good wood for Brisket.

Pecan: Gives somewhat of a fruity flavour and burns cooler than most other barbecue woods. It is similar to Hickory and is best used on large cuts like brisket and pork roast but can also be used to compliment chops, fish and poultry.

You will have to experiment with the various woods to find out what works for you and what does not.

Smoking Methods

Smoking fish is something that many of us have never considered before and while you may not have access to say a trout specifically; this method of smoking will work on other fish as well. I usually do not brine trout however; I will cover it in case you want to try it.

Preparing the Trout

In cleaning the trout it is best to cut the fish's head off and then make a shallow incision from the anus to the gills. You can then hold the fish up with one hand and use the other hand to gut the fish making sure to get the bloodline that runs along the length of the fish.

Wash the fish in some salty water to help get rid of any bad flavours and lay the fish aside for brining.

Brining a Trout

I use a pretty basic brine that basically consists of the following: 2 Cups Water 2 TBS Kosher Salt 1 TBS Cajun Seasoning

Feel free to add some hot sauce, wine, pepper, low sodium soy sauce, etc.

Let the fish brine completely covered for about an hour making sure the brine is able to get into the inside of the fish as well as the outside.

One of my favourite additives is 2 tablespoons of thick Jack Daniels barbecue sauce to the mix; this gives the smoked fish that little bit extra something special

Once brining has completed, lay the fish on a paper towel and let the skin dry a little while you get the smoker ready.

Three common factors in all hot fish-smoking recipes are salt, smoke, and heat. This guide explains the basic techniques for preparing delicious hot-smoked fish safely. It also recommends refrigerated storage for all smoked fish.

Note that the process described here applies to fish smoked using heat and is distinct from cold-smoked fish. (Cold-smoked fish is cured and smoked at temperatures below a range of 80–90°F during the smoking process, which means it is un-pasteurized and therefore must be handled carefully to avoid illness from harmful bacteria.)

Smoked fish is good, but...Fish smoked without proper salting and cooking can cause food borne illness—it can even be lethal.

Many dangerous bacteria can and will grow under the conditions normally found in the preparation and storage of smoked fish. Clostridium botulinum is the most notorious of these bacteria, but there are other harmful ones as well.

Because it is not easy for a producer at home to determine the final salt content of fish, the following parameters for adequate cooking while the fish is being smoked and refrigeration after the fish is smoked are the only ways a consumer can ensure a product will not support the growth of harmful bacteria:

• You must heat the fish until the internal temperature reaches 150°F (preferably 160°F) and is maintained at this temperature for at least 30 minutes.

• You must salt or brine fish long enough to ensure that adequate salt is present throughout the smoked fish (at least 3.5% water phase salt);

• If storing, you must keep smoked fish under refrigeration at 38°F or less.

Higher fat fish absorb smoke faster and have better texture after smoking than lower fat fish. Some of the ideal species for smoking are shad, sturgeon, smelt, herring, steelhead, salmon, mackerel, sablefish, and tuna.

You can smoke any fish without worrying about food borne illness if you observe the basic principles explained below for preparation, salting, smoking, cooking, and storage.


Different species of fish require different preparation techniques. Salmon are usually prepared by removing the backbone and splitting.

Bottom fish are filleted. Small fish such as herring and smelt should be headed and gutted before brining.

Certain principles apply in all cases. First, use good quality fish. Smoking will not improve fish quality; in fact, it may cover up certain conditions that could create food safety problems later.

Thaw frozen fish in cool ambient air or clean fresh water.

Clean all fish thoroughly to remove blood, slime, and harmful bacteria. Keep fish as cool as possible at all times, but do not refreeze. When you cut fish for smoking, remember that pieces of uniform size and thickness will absorb salt in a similar way, reducing the chance that some pieces of fish will be either under- or over-salted. Do not let fish sit longer than 2 hours at room temperature after cleaning and before smoking.


Salt preserves smoked fish by reducing the moisture content. However, without chemical analysis, it is hard to be certain that a fish has absorbed enough salt. That is why proper cooking and refrigerated storage are essential for safety. The following rules of thumb are useful to approximate the proper salt level for smoked fish.

Salt the fish before smoking in a strong salt solution (brine).

Salting fish in a brine that is 1 part table salt (non-iodized and with no anti-caking agent) to 7 parts water by volume for 1 hour will work in most cases. For instance, 1 cup of salt with 7 cups of water will salt 2–3 pounds of fish. (This proportion will read approximately 60° SAL on the scale of a salometer.

By weight, this formulation would be 1.57 pounds of salt per gallon of water.) A salometer is an instrument that can be purchased from a scientific supply store or a salt manufacturer for measuring the salt concentration of brine.

A gutted herring requires about 30 minutes brine time in a refrigerator; large or oily fish (e.g., 2–3 inch chunks or steaks from a 30-pound salmon) require about 2 hours.

Decrease the brine time for low fat and skinned fish. When experimenting with brining time, start with 15 minutes per half inch of fish thickness. Fish pieces should not overlap when they are being brined or salt uptake will not be uniform.

A smoked fish with a definite—but not unpleasantly high—salt flavour probably has absorbed enough salt. Dry salting techniques are acceptable, and the same general rules apply. However, using a brining solution typically yields a more uniform salt concentration.

Many recipes call for brines with a lower salt concentration than the 1 part table salt to 7 parts water noted above—but for 18–24 hours.

These extended periods offer more opportunity for bacterial growth and possible spoilage later, and probably increase the mess you have to clean up later.

Once the brining period is complete, rinse the fish surface and allow it to air dry meat side up on a greased rack in a cool place until a pellicle forms (i.e., at least 1 hour) before smoking.

A pellicle is a shiny, slightly tacky skin that will form on the meat surface of your fish. If proper drying conditions are not available (cool, dry air), place the fish in a smoker with low heat (80–90°F), no smoke, with the doors to the smoker open so the pellicle can form. Use a low, clean flame if you have a wood heat source.

A pellicle will:

1) give the smoke a chance to deposit evenly during smoking

2) help prevent surface spoilage during smoking.

Smoking and Cooking

Hot-smoked fish require 2 sequential processes: smoking followed by cooking. The length of smoking time depends on the flavour and moisture level you want.

Smoking first will result in a better-tasting product due to less of a baked fish flavour and curd formation caused by juices boiling out of the fish. Some oily fish (such as sablefish) may never appear to dry out the way salmon or tuna do, but they will still be properly smoked if this procedure is followed.

Smoke your fish for up to 2 hours at around 90°F in a smoker, and then increase the heat until the fish reaches a temperature of at least 150°F (preferably 160°F) and cook for at least 30 minutes.

It is important to measure product temperature because of variations in how warm air circulates inside smokers.

A long-stemmed thermometer inserted into the thickest piece of fish through a hole in the smoker wall will allow temperature monitoring without opening the door. Ensuring that the thickest section of meat is at a high enough temperature should be sufficient for the rest of the fish. If the air temperature in your smoker cannot reach 200–225°F, you’ll need to cook the fish in your kitchen oven within 2 hours after the smoking process.

Waiting longer presents a danger of spoilage from bacterial growth. As in a smoker, the core temperature in the thickest piece of the fish must be maintained at a minimum 150°F for 30 min.

Other Fish

This procedure can be used with other fish like salmon, tilapia, catfish, crappie, etc. with varying results depending on what types of fish you and your family like to eat. Chances are good that if you like the fish fried or baked then you will absolutely love it smoked.

Hot Smoking Fish

This is really a method better thought of as smoke/cooking, rather than the more involved cold smoking process traditionally used to preserve meats. Fish cooked in the smoke/cooker should be eaten straight away. If kept in a fridge treat as cooked fish!

Start by preparing your fish the moment they are caught by getting them in to ice immediately. Fish flesh goes bad quickly if not keep cool.

I like to remove all the bones from a fillet and leave the skin in place. Sprinkle salt over the fillets and leave for 30 minutes to draw out some of the moisture. Rinse in cold water then pat the surface dry with a paper towel. You can omit this step if you wish but it is essential for watery species such as red cod.

Place the two metal dishes filled with mentholated spirit on the ground. Light the spirits and place the smoker over them.

Resist lifting the lid until the mentholated spirits has all burnt off. This should take about fifteen minutes.

A smoke/cooker is very portable and great taken on your trip to the lake. Fresh fish cooked on the spot. You just can't beat it for taste!

Rub brown sugar into the flesh. Put heaps on. This acts as a buffer to the smoke and improves the taste. Too much will simply run off so there is no danger of over sweet fish. You can add a drop of whisky, pepper, herbs and the like at this stage.

Line the smoker with foil. This makes it easier to clean. You only want a handful or two of oak sawdust - too much gives a bitter taste.

The Stillwater telescopic smoker: ideal for all larger fish like salmon and large pieces of game and venison.

Timescale for Smoking Fish Brining Times

The type of fish, the weight of the pieces and whether the skin has been left on or removed establish the brining time. Following are general guidelines for time of brining.

Adjustments to the general guidelines for type of fish and whether the skin is left on or removed are discussed below.

Weight of Each Piece of Fish Time for Brining

Under ¼ lb. 30 minutes

¼ lb. To ½ lb. 45 minutes

½ lb. To 1 lb. 1 hour

1 lb. To 2 lb. 2 hours

2 lbs. To 3 lbs. 3 hours

3 lbs. To 4 lbs. 4 hours

Weight of Each Piece of Fish Approximate Smoking Time

¼ lb. To ½ lb. 1¼ hour to 1½ hour

½ lb. To 1 lb. 1½ hour to 2 hours

1 lb. To 2 lbs. 2 hours to 2½ hour

3 lbs. To 4 lbs. 2½ hour to 3 hours

4 lbs. To 5 lbs. 5 hours

There are many different versions so feel free to experiment, however I have included some brine recipes on the following pages for you to try out.

Like everything you will either like the taste or you won’t it is all down to trial and error until your taste buds like what they taste.

Brine Mix 1

This makes a lot but you can keep unused brine in the fridge for a few weeks for use later, or simply scale down proportionally.

Take 4 litres of water and add 500ml salt,

250mL brown sugar,

75mL lemon juice,

1 tablespoon garlic powder,

1 tablespoon onion powder,

1 tablespoon allspice,

2 teaspoons white pepper

Mix until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

Place the fish fillets in a non-metallic bowl and pour in enough brine to cover. Swish them about to make sure they are wet, and leave for 30 minutes in a cool place. Make sure no four-legged creatures can steal them!

After 30 minutes, remove the fillets and dry on kitchen towel. For the really best results, you need to air-dry the fillets so they get a good texture in the smoker.

I have a fan oven which has a fan-only setting (no heat). This is ideal, and will dry the fillets sufficiently in an hour. Alternatively let them dry in a cool draughty place if possible.

Brine Mix 2

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup non-iodized salt

2 cups soy sauce (1 cup soy and 1 cup Yoshidas original gourmet sauce really improves things!!)

1 cup water

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp pepper (black)

1/2 tsp Tabasco

1 cup dry white wine and here is the kick....

1/2 tsp dry mustard

Mix dry ingredients then add liquids.

Cover fish with brine.

I like to brine my fish for 48 hours overhauling the fish twice during that period. I also use a tight sealing Tupperware container (1.5 gal) and brine in the fridge.

Brine Mix 3 Sweetly Smoked Rainbow Trout


5 pound rainbow trout

Kosher salt

1.5 Litres soy sauce

2 Cups of brown sugar

1 Cup of honey

2 Tbsp ground pepper

3 Tbsp lemon juice

Cut the trout fillets into chucks about 6 ounces each. Make sure you keep the skin on.

Using the kosher salt, completely coat the fish. Set the coated fish in the refrigerator for 12 hours. Be careful not to leave much longer as the fish will become too salty.

Next, remove the fish from the fridge and rinse with water removing all the salt. You will notice the fish has become firm.

Mix together the soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, pepper and lemon juice. Marinade for up to 36 hours (the longer in the marinade, the more flavour). Put the fish in the smoker skin down.

For best flavour try smoking using bark-less Alder wood. Do this for six to seven hours.

Benchmark time for a small home smoker is 160 degrees Fahrenheit for six hours. A larger smoker may require a longer smoking time.


At the end of the brining period the fish is removed from the brine for drying. The fish should be lightly rinsed in fresh water. If you do not rinse the fish; the finished product will be somewhat saltier than if you had not rinsed it.

After removing the fish from the brine, place the fish on elevated racks for drying prior to smoking. It is easiest to use the same racks that you will use in your smoker. Lightly oil the racks to avoid sticking. Place the racks of fish in a cool breezy place protected from flying insects. We usually place an electric fan near the racks to provide a breeze.

The time for drying is usually one hour at which time a thin glaze called the pellicle is formed on the fish. The pellicle aids in the development of the colour and flavour as the fish is smoking. It also helps keep in the juices and retain the firm texture of the fish as it is smoked.

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