8 Best Fish For Smoking: Taste, Texture, Best Woods To Use & More

Salmon and tuna show up on menus all the time, despite there being plenty more fish in the sea.

That’s because fatty, oily fish can handle smoke much better, staying juicy and moist whilst retaining flavor. Lean fish, on the other hand, can quickly dry out and become tough.

Thankfully, I’ve spent time researching and testing out various methods of smoking various fish, and I’m here with a list of the best fish for smoking, which includes both lean and fatty species.

8 Best Fish For Smoking

best fish for smoking

Salmon

Type of fish: fatty, oily, strong-flavored.

Best woods: alder, apple, beech, cherry, pecan, walnut, oak.

Smoking time: 6-24 hours (cold-smoke), around 1.5-2 hours (hot-smoke).

Surely there’s no better way to kick off a list of the best fish for smoking than with the king of smoked fish: the salmon.

You can use any salmon, but the best is arguably North Sea/Atlantic salmon, King salmon (Chinook), or Sockeye salmon.

There’s just something about this fish – the meatiness, the tender flakiness, the way its oils retain flavor – which make it a perfect starting-off point for those new to smoking fish.

If cold-smoking salmon, choose a gentle wood like alder or beech, whilst if hot-smoking you can go for something a little more potent like cherry, pecan, walnut or oak. Can be smoked whole (cold) or in fillets (hot).

Pros

  • Universally loved and widely available.
  • Can be smoked cold or hot, whole or in fillets.
  • Healthy fats and oils retain the flavors of smoke excellently.

Cons

  • Not the most adventurous of fish to smoke with.
  • Can be expensive.

Trout

Type of fish: lean, oily, mild-flavored.

Best woods: alder, beech, oak (sparingly), citrus.

Smoking time: 2-4 hours (hot smoke).

Trout is one of those slightly leaner, lighter-meat fish I was talking about in the introduction.

Similar in genus to salmon, the trout is a slightly healthier fish to eat, and when smoked carries a subtle yet rich flavor.

Rich in protein and vitamins, you’re best smoking trout whole, as individual fillets might soon be overpowered by a strong smoke.

You’ll find, given the immense variety of trout available, that some species have white meat, whilst others tend toward pink or even dark meat, similar to salmon or tuna.

Smoked trout is ideal for those looking for a subtler, less-fishy flavor than smoked salmon, mackerel, or haddock. 

Pros

  • Middle-ground fish between the really fatty and the too lean.
  • Delicate, subtle flavor when smoked, lends well to those less-keen on fishy fish.
  • Perfect for low and slow, longer cooks.
  • Widely available and cheap.
  • One of the healthiest options on this list (though all fish is pretty healthy!).

Cons

  • Won’t stand up to stronger flavored woods, as is a relatively delicate fish.
  • Not as rich in flavor as the fattier, oilier fish on this list.

Tuna

Type of fish: fatty, oily, medium-flavored.

Best woods: apple, cherry, citrus, peach.

Smoking time: 2 hours (hot smoke).

Tuna is not particularly well known as a smoked fish, but you’d be surprised by just how well wood smoke can compliment its meaty profile.

Tuna’s texture and taste is similar to white meat like pork and chicken. For non-fish lovers, it makes for a fantastic introduction to seafood.

Best smoked in fillets, you can smoke tuna in about two hours at a fairly constant temperature of 190-200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Since tuna is oily, fatty, and has a nice medium-strength flavor, we want to go with a wood that delivers a kick, but compliments the milder side to the fish.

Your best bets are fruitwoods with a nice bit of smokiness, like apple, cherry, or citrus, though I think peach could work equally well.

Pros

  • Meaty taste ideal for traditionally non-fish eaters.
  • Healthy, oily, and fatty meaning it can take on almost any smoke’s flavor.
  • Milder taste profile lends itself to a nice range of wood.
  • One of the fastest fish to smoke, at just two hours for fillets.
  • Requires very little seasoning or brine.

Cons

  • Can be expensive.

Sea Bass

Type of fish: white fish, firm flesh, rich texture, meaty flavor.

Best woods: citrus, alder, apple, beech.

Smoking time: 2-4 hours (hot smoke).

One of the most expensive fish on this list, if you can find it on sale, make sure to snap it up straight away!

Sea bass has a really lovely texture when cooked, which is very meaty (even more so than tuna), with a mildly sweet flavor.

You’re best smoking sea bass whole, and I recommend giving it a nice rub to ensure that the skin comes out with a fantastic crunch to it.

Smoking this white, oily fish whole ensures that it doesn’t lose any moisture, whilst retaining as much flavor from the smoke as possible. Opt for a light, fresh wood like citrus, alder, or beech.

Pros

  • One of the tastiest smoked fish available.
  • Lovely firm and meaty texture when smoked.
  • Rich flavor pairs perfectly with light, cool, fresh and fruity woods.

Cons

  • Most expensive fish on the list.
  • Doesn’t smoke well from frozen, make sure to buy fresh.

Sablefish

Type of fish: deep sea fish, fatty, oily, ‘buttery’ texture.

Best woods: citrus, alder, beech or oak.

Smoking time: 2-3 hours (hot smoke).

Known by its nickname, ‘Butterfish’, some say eating smoked sablefish makes you feel like royalty, and I’m inclined to agree.

Sablefish, or Black Cod, is a super delicate deep sea fish, which when smoked is super smooth and silken in texture.

Best cooked in fillets with the skin on (take the skin off and your fillets will fall apart), you should be gentle with this fish (that means citrus, alder, beech or – provided you want something stronger – oak, only).

Pros

  • One of the nicest textures in smoked fish.
  • Relatively affordable and pairs well with anything.

Cons

  • Only found in the Bering Sea, British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest, and from California.
  • Very delicate, easy to overcook.
  • Can’t handle stronger woods.

Sardines

Type of fish: small salt-water fish, super rich and oily, very flavorsome (very fishy).

Best woods: citrus, alder, beech, almond, oak, hickory (sparingly).

Smoking time: 4-5 hours (hot smoke, low temperature).

There’s no doubt that with sardines, you’ll either love them or you’ll hate them. But if you’re a fan of fish, then there’s truly little quite as rewarding as a low and slow smoked batch of fresh sardines.

These small salt-water fish are found throughout the Pacific, Atlantic, and Mediterranean, making them widely available and affordable.

Smoke them low and slow (for up to 5 hours) over something which is light enough to go that long without overpowering the fish.

That means citrus, alder, beech and almond are preferable, whilst you could use oak or hickory if you’re confident about how much (i.e. little) you’re using. Smoke whole (they’re tiny!)

Pros

  • Super oily and fatty, these things can withstand a long smoking process.
  • Very flavorful.
  • Widely available and affordable.

Cons

  • Far too fishy for some.
  • Long smoking process.

Mackerel

Type of fish: salt-water fish, super oily, very flavorsome when smoked.

Best woods: citrus, alder, beech, almond, oak, hickory (sparingly).

Smoking time: 1-2 hours (hot smoke, low temperature).

Mackerel, though delicious, is not an easy fish to preserve, and has been known throughout history as both stinky and genuinely dangerous (once spoiled, the skin of mackerel can cause scombroid food poisoning).

Thankfully, smoking mackerel has been an effective and tasty means of preservation for centuries. Smoked mackerel paté is a particularly nice way to enjoy this fish, which takes very little time to smoke at all.

Best smoked whole, mackerel can be done in anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your smoker.

I recommend you be courageous in your experimentation with different woods, as despite their size, mackerel are hardy, oily, fatty fish which can handle a lot of smoke, whilst remaining lovely and moist.

Pros

  • Widely available and relatively affordable.
  • Quick smoker and hardy, difficult to spoil or dry out.
  • Delicious when smoked, especially in a paté.

Cons

  • Spoils quickly, best smoked the same day it’s caught.
  • Strong, fishy taste, overpowering to some.

Haddock

Type of fish: saltwater fish, lean, not particularly oily, mild, sweet taste (not too fishy).

Best woods: citrus, alder, beech.

Smoking time: 7+ hours (hot smoke, 90-150 degrees Fahrenheit).

In communities who depend on the North Atlantic for their fish, the haddock is a king among seafood.

Especially beloved in Northern Europe (in countries like Scotland, for example), haddock is one of the few lean, non-oily white-fleshed fish which works well in a smoker.

In fact, I might go so far as to say that smoked haddock is my very favorite type of smoked fish. Whether in fish soup, poached in milk, enjoyed as is, or incorporated into a larger dinner, it’s as versatile as it is delicious.

Best smoked with a subtle wood, since the process is long, you should smoke haddock whole at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first hour, then turn up the heat to 150 degrees for another 6 hours per inch of thickness.

Pros

  • One of the healthiest, leanest fishes on this list.
  • Versatile and absolutely delicious.
  • Not too fishy, making it an attractive option to those not so keen on seafood.

Cons

  • Longest smoking time on this list.
  • Only available in the North Atlantic, making it more popular in Europe than the US.

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