Helen's Home > Recipes > Hot-Smoked Fish
Hot-Smoked Fish
Smoking works best on fish with high fat content. If you want to smoke a small fish, try a white trout, arctic char, or mackerel. They weigh 1 1/2 - 2 Lb and serve 2-3 people. If you want to go for a larger fish, try a steelhead trout, blue fish, or small salmon. They weigh 4-6 Lb, and serve 6-8. Note that this method of smoking fish is not used for preservation since the fish is not salted as heavily or cooked as long as commercial methods require. So instead of keeping leftovers for a month, you can only keep them up to 4 days. The leftovers taste great cold. Use them to make sandwiches, salads, pasta, risotto, pÔtÚs, or whatever sparks your imagination.

Preparing the fish:
Ask the fishmonger to scale the fish, gut it, and remove its gills and fins. I also prefer to cut off the head when smoking a large fish. It makes it easier to stick the fish in the fridge and onto the grill, and I can use the head to make a fish stock. If the fish is still too large, cut off its tail.


  • Gas Grill*
  • Metal rack (such as for cooling cakes)
  • 3 metal cans with top, bottom, and label removed (it doesn't matter whether the cans are from tuna or cat food, but make sure to wash them before using)
  • Wood chips. Hickory, mesquite, maple, oak, apple, cherry, and pear, all work well for smoking fish.
  • Instant read thermometer
  Large fish (4-6 Lb) Medium fish (2-4 Lb) Small fish (1-2 Lb)
Kosher or sea salt
(do not use table salt!)
Dark brown sugar
4 quarts
2 cups

1/2 cup
2 quarts
1 cup

1/4 cup
1 quarts
1/2 cup

2 Tbsp

The night before
Place a large plastic bag (I use a clean garbage bag) into a roasting dish large enough to hold your fish. Pour the water, salt and sugar into the bag and mix until dissolved. Add the fish and tie the bag. This will keep the fish covered with brine and will make it easier for you to put the pan in the fridge without splashing the brine all over your kitchen. Brine in the fridge overnight.

2 hours before smoking
Remove the fish from the brine and thoroughly dry it with paper towels in and out. Set it on a rack to dry for 2 hours. Drying the fish helps the skin to form a seal around the flesh, but if you are impatient, this step can be omitted.
Turn on the grill to high. Cover the rack with aluminum foil, place 2 risers (such as empty tuna cans) onto the foil and spread wood chips over the foil in a sigle layer. Cover the grill.
When the wood chips start to smolder, turn down the heat to the lowest setting, and place the rack with fish onto the risers. Insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the fish without touching the bone. Partially cover the grill, propping the door opened with another tuna can or some other metal object. Smoke until the temperature reaches 140F at the thickest part of the fish (this will take 10-15 minutes per inch of thickness depending on the internal temperature of your grill). Let the fish rest for 15-30 minutes before serving.
To serve
Peel back the skin and lift the top fillet off the bone. Remove and discard the back bone, and peel the skin off the bottom fillet. Fillet only as much fish as you plan to eat that day. Cool the rest completely, and store in an air-tight container or tightly wrapped in plastic for up to 4 days in the fridge.

* My instructions are for a Gas Grill because that's the type I have at home. I haven't tried smoking on a charcoal grill, but I heard it's even easier than using gas. Here is the rough idea. Once your coals are hot, move them to the sides and sprinkle wood chips over them. Place the fish on the part of the grill that is not directly over coals. Cover the grill leaving the vent opened. Smoke until the fish registers 140F in the thickest part.

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