When you come home from fishing with more than you can eat for supper, you might freeze your fish, can it, or give the extra to a friend. Better yet, why not smoke your extra fish? If you have a smoker and some inexpensive ingredients, you can make your own tender smoked fish at home.
Things You'll Need
Brine: kosher salt, brown sugar, water
Basting sauce (optional)
Choose fish species high in fat/oil content for best results, such as catfish, salmon, smelt, herring, whitefish, trout, bass, shad and sturgeon. Use either freshly cleaned fish or carefully thawed frozen fish.
Buy wood chips. Choose hickory or mesquite for a sharp smoky flavor, or pecan or fruit woods for a milder flavor. Buy alder for a light flavor that complements fish. According to smoking expert Jeff Phillips, alder is preferred for most fish and is especially delicious for smoking salmon or trout.
Prepare fish for smoking according to size. Small fish such as smelt can be smoked whole, but most medium-size fish such as trout and channel cats should be gutted and split. Fillet larger fish such as steelhead and salmon, or cut the fish into equal-size chunks. Skin fish such as catfish or bullheads and carefully scale others if you want to smoke the fish with the skin on.
Prepare a basic brine using 1 gallon water, 2 cups kosher salt and 2 cups brown sugar. Soak fish in the brine for eight to 12 hours—less time for smaller fish portions and more for large pieces. Rinse the fish in cool running water and pat dry. Let the fish air dry for an hour.
Prepare the smoker while the fish is drying, bringing the heat to 200 degrees F, according to manufacturer's directions (see note below about electric, gas and charcoal smokers). Fill the water pan in the smoker and make sure it is steaming before you add fish to the smoker. Soak wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes before adding to the smoker.
Monitor the smoker and maintain the temperature at or near 200 degrees F for best results. Add soaked wood chips to the smoker till you have a steady stream of smoke escaping from the top and adjust the heat as necessary to keep the smoke steady. Carefully arrange the brined and dried fish on the warm grill of the smoker.
Smoke fish for about two hours or longer for larger pieces. Adjust the smoking time according to the temperature in the smoker. Smoked fish requires a temperature of 120 to 200 degrees F maintained for one to five hours, according to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Test a portion of the fish after two hours: It should be flaky and opaque. Cool the fish thoroughly (unless you're eating it warm).
Use a large square of sheet metal under your smoker if you use it on the lawn or a deck. With a charcoal smoker, build the fire to one side and keep the fish as far from the heat as possible. If you use a commercial or homemade basting sauce, start brushing it on about one hour before the fish is done smoking. Mix crumbled smoked fish with a blend of cream cheese, tartar sauce, diced celery, and Worcestershire sauce for a delicious dip or spread. Add beer or wine to the water for soaking wood chips for extra flavor.
Determine from Brinkmann's manufacturer's instructions, according to the smoker model, usage requirements for your smoker—electric smokers without a temperature gauge will heat to 250 degrees F, while gas and charcoal smokers are adjustable. Though smoked fish are cooked, they don't keep well and should be refrigerated, frozen, or canned if you don't eat them immediately.