To produce safe smoked fish, you should shoot to bring the internal temperature of the fish to 145 degrees for half an hour.
So, if you only smoke your smelt at 120 degrees for an hour, you risk food poisoning. You can adequately measure internal temperature when you’re smoking thick fillets or thick slices of the fillet. However, it’s harder to measure internal temperature when the fillets are thin or the fish are small. It’s hard to position the probe in the center of a thin fillet.
So, the internal and the external temperature of a thin fillet may be pretty close to the same. But regardless, to produce safe smoked fish, you should bring the internal temperature to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (62.8C)for half an hour.
Pro tip: Visit our forum post for a more in depth look at the smelt recipe.
How to Get the Right Dryness and Flakiness
Another goal when smoking fish is to produce a finished product, which has just the right dryness and flakiness. That means something that is neither too moist and mushy or too dry and stiff.
This takes a bit of trial and error for each kind and size of fish. Let’s say that you smoke thick fillets at a too low temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.5C). By the time you get the internal temperature up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (62.8C), the fish may be too dry. It’s better to smoke the fish at a higher temperature, so you can get the fish to the internal temperature required for safety fairly quickly. Then you can quit smoking as soon as the texture and dryness of the fish reach a desirable level.
On the other hand, with oily fish like salmon, don’t start smoking at too high of a temperature. If you do this, you’ll cook the fat out of the meat and get curds of white fat on the surface of the smoked fish. We refer to these white spots as “boogers.” This is only an aesthetic problem, as you can wipe off the curds.
Start Smoking at Lower Temperatures
But to avoid developing curds, start smoking at a lower temperature. Then you can crank up the temperature to higher levels in steps.
For example, when smoking kokanee fillets, I start at 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8C) for half an hour with no smoke to warm up the fish and complete the forming of a pedicle (dry layer) on the outside of the fish. Then I smoke for one hour at 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4C), smoke for a second hour at 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.5C), and then leave them in the smoker with no smoke at 170 degrees until I like the texture and dryness.
This schedule works well for me with small kokanee fillets. However, bigger fillets, such as lake trout, will take more time both to reach the necessary internal temperature and to reach a desirable texture.
How Long to Brine the Smelt
With respect to how long to brine the smelt, this is a trial and error process. You should experiment with each recipe and for each kind and thickness of fish. You may produce a couple of batches of smelt which are too salty or not salty enough for you. This will happen before you figure out how long to leave smelt in your particular frog-leg brine. But it’s possible to reduce the amount of trial and error involved in using different brine recipes. Try standardizing the salt concentration of your brine. See our forum post.
Pro tip: Check out our in-depth Bradley Smoker brining and curing tutorial for more tips & tricks on your next cookout.