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Smoking Fish?

by: Lloyd Tackitt 12/22/2016
I've been a lover of smoked salmon ever since I lived in Alaska.  It has gotten ridiculously expensive though and I'm starting to think about smoking local fish...

So.....what I'm really doing here is asking for anyone to recount their fish smoking experience and/or advice.  I have a lot of questions.

From what I've read it is best to soak fish in a brine/sugar solution for a few hours, any recipes for brine? Then air dry until the flesh forms a pellicule, which is apparently a tightening of the proteins on the outside of the meat.  Any hints on doing that?  

Cold smoking versus hot smoking?  I have a standard off-set wood burning smoker that I use for briskets and ribs and turkeys and chickens....can fish be smoked in one of these?

I am considering building a cold smoker - basically a smoker box connected to a distant fire by pipe - any ideas on whether or not this would work better?  I realize it is a different style of preparing, but is one better than the other culinary-wise or pragmatically?

Salmon is obviously not a local species, but we have catfish, sunfish, buffalo, carp, drum, gar, sand bass, striped bass, and stocker rainbow trout.  What have you smoked or eaten and how was it?

I always release Large and Small mouth bass, so I won't be attempting them, just a personal preference there, no particular culinary reason.  Still curious though how it smokes up if anyone has tried it.

Can cold smoking be done in Texas summer weather?  Or is it a cool day activity only?

Smoke with skin on or skin off?  Heads on or off?  Split wide open or just gutted?

And anything else you can think of that might help a fellow traveler out?

Thanks in advance!


Blog content © Lloyd Tackitt
Member comments
Kennywho, TX   12/22/2016 3:10:56 PM
I haven't ever tried smoking fish, though I do sometimes grill it. One of our favorites is grilled black bass. Use a folding fish grilling basket - place a layer of thin sliced bacon across the inside of the grill - place bass on the bacon - place more bacon on the bass so it will lay across the bars in the upper part of the basket. Fold shut and grill until the bacon is done! Yummmy!
Digginjiggin, CO   12/22/2016 6:36:35 PM
I've smoked all species of trout plus Kokanee salmon. I soak in brine overnight made of a gallon of water, a cup each of soy sauce, liquid smoke, n red wine. Half cup each of canning salt and brown sugar. A teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion salt. I use fillets and rinse them with clean water, put them on the olive-oiled smoker racks and let the meat "set up" for an hour in the morning sun. Then smoke with alder chips for six to twelve hours at 160 degrees. Time depends on fillet thickness and outside temperature or wind speed. I take them to work and two gallon sized ziplock bags of fillets from 16 trout are devoured in less than 30 minutes so they must be fairly good eatin'. Lots of variations but this my final way after 30 years of experimenting.
IceFishingFool, CO   12/22/2016 7:40:56 PM
all that is really needed is a half and half mixture of salt, sugar I usually split fish along the back bone which then allows it to be skin down on the rack(s) I shared some years ago about smoking in a cardboard box. (Dave mentioned he intended to make it an article ☺) Here is a link to some of it.
cookster, CO   12/22/2016 9:54:01 PM
Hey Lloyd, what ever you do DONT smoke a carp in any smoker you ever plan to use again EVER!! Great blog subject.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   12/23/2016 7:17:31 AM
Good replies and I like the cardboard box idea, gives me ideas...Cookster, dost thou speak from experience? :-)
Tbubb, CO   12/23/2016 8:20:07 AM
The brine and the wood both matter. Think of the brine as being the spices in your dish. Think of the wood as being the barrel your scotch is aged in. As for time and temp... You do a steak on the grill and it matters, right? He'd woods are best for smoking. Mesquite is tangy, hickory is rich, fruit woods then to be sweet. Cherry and apple are common to use. I prefer plum, phase because I cur down an old plum tree and so that's what I have around, but I tell you, it works well, mixed with some mesquite for tang. As for that brine, some salt,a Dan some spice or something else. If I want a sweet batch, I mix in salt and prune juice. Sometimes I use salt, roasted garlic, black pepper, etc.... Sometimes apple juice. You can also use a cure or a dry rub. If you want to hot smoke, and you get the fish deboned 100%, then you can make jerky just like with anything else. As for meat prep, what I do is de head and detail the fish, split it down the spine, then either remove the ribs for larger fish, or leave the fillets ribs-in if the rib meat is too thin and might otherwise dry out. Likewise for the skin. If it is a thin or likely dry fillet, I leave the skin on. After an hour in the smoker, the skin will peel right off, which I remove the fish to do so as to let the smoke penetrate the fish better. If I want to be sure to get the brine soaked in, I mite remove the skin prior to the brining. Btw "a few hours" is usually 1-3 days in my case. Lloyd, if you or someone else wants to come smoke a batch with me, with some notice I can put you on call for next time I smoke a batch and demo what I am up to. Btw Gander Mountain has a good propane smoker on sale from $160 to $97 rig now, as I last knew.
culinarypunk, WY   12/23/2016 8:39:46 AM
All great replies. Here are some old post :// ://
Smelly, CO   12/24/2016 10:12:27 AM
Here is my 2 cents worth. Skin on. Filet or whole. Fillet is my pref. The Pellicle is important. It is what the smoke sticks to. Putting the fish on a rack with a small Personal fan blowing across them is good for this. . A skin should form on the flesh. Oily fish work best. Trout are fine. And don't discount saltwater fish. if you do any Saltwater fishing. Most are great smoked. Also FXR lists Eel in TX. Fantastic smoked. Japanese style smoked Eel ( Unagi ) is my and my wife's favorite Sushi. " Cold "smoking refers to the air temp in the smoker ( where the food and smoke meet ). 85 degrees or lower is " cold" smoking. At that temp you are "flavoring "more than cooking food. Meat will still need cooking, and fish will be similar in texture to LOX. If you like LOX. Try cold smoking some rainbow trout. Should be able to do in TX. As. far as seasonings. There are a lot of different recipes for brines and cures. If I remember right. The Texan "Mantra "for Brisket is "Salt, Pepper, and Smoke ". I fall into this line of thinking for fish. Real easy to overkill.
Hawaiian Punch, CO   12/24/2016 2:23:20 PM
I have a Lure Jenson Little Chief smoker I bought 25yrs ago.I built 2 extra racks for it. I brine my fish,skin on whole,less head & tail in a salt/sugar/bay leaf water mix in a plastic bucket with a dinner plate on top of the fish to keep the under the brine . .8hrs. Wash with cold water,dry with kitchen towel,air dry on smoker racks 4 hrs then prop bodys open with tooth picks and smoke for 8hrs . . .I used a mix of fruit woods,grape,apple and hickory. Tip: The lure Jenson smokers are very low temp and work best if you use the box it comes in for added insulation . . .my box is over 25yrs old!You have to cut out a opening for the pan that holds the wood chips.My box was marked for the cut.
The Fishster, CO   12/27/2016 12:04:43 PM
The best easiest brine I use for trout is 1 gallon of water 1 cup of salt and 1 cup of brown sugar(can go heavy on brown sugar) include orange peels. Make sure fish are fully submerged 12 to 24 hours. Fillets work best especially if youre using smaller fish.
Kokanee Bro, CO   12/28/2016 1:28:47 PM
I don't know how all of you remove the pin bones, but here is a trick I picked up over the years... i do a fairly standard (butterfly) fillet where you cut out the ribs but leave the pin bones in. This makes for a good presentation and helps the fish cook more evenly. However those pin bones can be a pain to get out and it is no fun getting one stuck in your throat. I have used tweezers and pulled them out one by one but that gets old fast. Here is the best way I have found to remove pin bones without leaving them connected to the spine: Before brining or marinating take a sharp knife and make a shallow cut on either side of the pin bones (on the lower side of the bones angle the knife slightly toward where the top of the fish would be to match the angle the pin bones sit at... the upper cut should be perpendicular ) the cuts don't need to be very deep. Once the fish are cooked the flesh will separate at the cuts-- take 2 butter knives and place them in each cut... pinch them together and pull all your pin bones out at once... there is minimal meat lost and the fish aren't mutilated in the process.
Steveeve, CA   12/29/2016 2:08:51 AM
Nice write up
Lloyd Tackitt
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