How to Hot Smoke Fish

Smoking is one of the oldest methods of preserving fish and is still used today, even with the modern advent of refrigeration. The combination of salt, applied by through a brine or dry cure, and smoke not only prevents fish from spoiling, but imparts rich flavour. Since today we do not cure and smoke fish so we can store it in the pantry for a couple weeks, we need not use such a heavy cure.

Hot smoking fish can be a little tricky as fish has a tendency to dry out. This is why monitoring temperature and time while smoking is key. Here are a few tips to help you master the technique of hot smoking fish:

  1. When preparing your fish to smoke you want to leave it in as large of a piece as possible. If you have a whole fish merely gutting and removing the head will suffice. If you are buying fish fillets leave the sides intact. In both cases leave the skin on!
  2.  Add your salt by packing in a dry cure or soaking in a brine (wet cure) for 8-12 hours, depending on the thickness of the fish. Here you have the opportunity to add other seasonings or flavours to the fish. Think of adding ingredients such as maple syrup, thyme, orange zest or chili to your cure.
  3. Rinse the brine off your fish and allow to dry in a cool place until a pellicle forms (1-3 hours), the surface of the fish will look glossy. This stage is important as the pellicle allows the smoke to evenly adhere to the surface of the fish.
  4. Start off your smoker low, put the fish in the smoker (skin side down) and slowly raise the temperature to 200°F using milder bisquette flavours to complement the fish. Increasing the temperature of the fish too quickly will result in a dry end product, where all of the fat in the fish has been pushed out to form white spots on the surface. Alder, Maple and Pacific Blend are all excellent wood bisquette choices for fish!
  5. Be certain that your water dish has water in it throughout the duration of the smoking time to keep moisture circulating in the smoker.
  6. Smoking time varies with the fish you are smoking. Hearty fishes such as mackerel or salmon can hold up to more smokiness. While light, delicate fish such as ling cod or halibut quickly become overpowered by the smoke flavour. Consider the bisquettes you are using as well, reducing smoking time if using a strong flavoured bisquette or increasing it from milder flavours. Size of the fish is also a factor in smoking time, of course.
  7. I find that basting your fish throughout the smoking process helps to lower the temperature of the surface of the fish and keep the fat (which is the flavour and the moisture!) from oozing out of the fish. Basting with maple or birch syrup are popular ideas for salmon and for white fish why not try basting in a citrus and herb sauce?

You’ll find that Bradley Smokers really make the task of hot smoking fish simple and stress free. The control you have over air flow and temperature truly make a difference when it comes to the sometimes finicky task of hot smoking fish. Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!