6 Best Fish Smokers For Juicy Results: Full Guide By A Pitmaster

Smoked fish is one of life’s great delicacies. Flaky, flavorsome, and mouth-watering, it takes a lot of time, patience, and practice to get just right.

What’s more, smoking fish is easy to get wrong. Part of the process is knowing what wood goes with what fish, as well as how long each fish needs smoking, and at what temperature.

However, as with everything, if you don’t start out with the right tools in the first place, then you’ll always be doomed to fail. And by tools, I’m talking about smokers.

Conventional smokers – big, offset smokers designed to cook big slabs of brisket, and racks of ribs – are simply not gentle enough for fish.

Over-smoke brisket, and the beef will hold up against the pungency. Over-smoke fish, and the whole thing is ruined.

I’m here having plundered the depths of the online smoking community, and conducted my own test runs. Now, I have a list of the top 10 very best smokers for smoking fish that you can find on today’s market.

I’m going to walk you through each smoker’s features, pros, and cons.

After that, I’ll give you a buyer’s guide to buying smokers for fish, and then some of my professional top tips on how to get your smoked fish tasting just perfect.

Let’s start with a breakdown of the best smokers for fish.

The Top 10 Best Smokers For Smoking Fish

Big Chief Top Load Electric Smoker by Smokehouse Products

Smokehouse Products have been designing and manufacturing smokers specifically for fish since the 1960s.

Across almost all online smoking forums, the Big and Little Chief smokers from this company are touted as some of the most reliable and beloved fish smokers.

You can plug the Big Chief directly into a standard household outlet and trust that it will maintain a constant low temperature: perfect for smoking delicate fish.

Our Pick

Big Chief

  • Fuel Type: Electric (120V/450W)
  • Cooking Area: N/A
  • Cooking Capacity: 50lbs of fish (11.34kg)
  • Temperature Range: max. 165 Fahrenheit (74 Celsius)
  • Dimensions: 24.5″ x 18″ x 12″ (62cm x 46cm x 30cm)
  • Weight: 17.5lbs (7.9kg)
  • Notable Features: Top-loading; 2-year warranty

This top load model (also available as a front loader) gives you great versatility, since you can pull all five racks out at once and lay your fish out most efficiently.

The only major issue to be aware of is that these smokers can struggle to achieve and maintain temperature in cold weather.

Loyal users recommend covering the smoker with a box or some other insulation to lend it a helping hand.

Pros

  • Reputable and trustworthy American brand
  • Super inexpensive, friendly to most budgets
  • Top-loading allows you maximum efficiency for laying out fish
  • Comes with a two-year warranty

Cons

  • May struggle to reach and maintain temperature during the colder months
  • No temperature control (you get what you get)
  • No front window to inspect fish whilst smoking
  • Low smoking temperature

Little Chief Front Load Electric Smoker by Smokehouse Products

I’ve just reviewed the Big Chief, top loader version of this smoker for smoking fish. And yet, I still think this ‘Little’ version deserves its own entry on my list.

Lightweight and portable, thanks to its embossed aluminum construction, the Little Chief offers a little extra versatility when compared with its bigger brother.

Little Chief

  • Fuel Type: Electric (120V/250W)
  • Cooking Area: N/A
  • Cooking Capacity: 25lbs of fish (11.34kg)
  • Temperature Range: max. 165 Fahrenheit (74 Celsius)
  • Dimensions: 24.5″ x 11.5″ x 11.5″ (62cm x 29cm x 29cm)
  • Weight: 12.2lb (5.5kg)
  • Notable Features: Front-loading; 2-year warranty

This smoker can be more easily transported elsewhere (say if you want to go smoke fish at a friend’s house).

The Little Chief is also front-loading, rather than top-loading. Which style you prefer depends on your own smoking needs.

Many, however, enjoy the front loader because it allows them to deal with individual racks one at a time. On top of this, the Little Chief doesn’t require the extra muscle that the large top loader Big Chief does.

Plug the Little Chief into the wall and it will happily smoke up to 25lbs of freshly-caught fish all day. It maintains a steady smoking temperature of 165 Fahrenheit, though may struggle to maintain this in winter.

Pros

  • Reputable and trustworthy American brand
  • Super inexpensive, friendly to most budgets
  • More portable than the Big Chief version
  • Comes with a two-year warranty

Cons

  • May struggle to reach and maintain temperature during the colder months
  • No temperature control (you get what you get)
  • No front window to inspect fish whilst smoking
  • Low smoking temperature

MB20074719 Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker by Masterbuilt

Another regular feature on most online smoking forums is the Masterbuilt range.

Masterbuilt have been in the game for some time now, and are at the head of the game when it comes to merging old-school smoking techniques with modern technology.

The MB20074719 is a prime example.

Connect your phone to your smoker through the Masterbuilt app, and you can actually control the temperature and smoke time of your fish smoking remotely.

You just need to plug the Masterbuilt in and away you go. It has a maximum temperature of 275 Fahrenheit which, whilst much higher than the Smokehouse Products smokers, may be too low for some.

For smoking fish, though, it’s kind of perfect. The patented side-loader for your wood chips ensures you don’t have to open the door (and let cold air in) to replenish your chip tray.

MB20074719

  • Fuel Type: Electric (1200W)
  • Cooking Area: 975 inches2 (2476cm2)
  • Cooking Capacity: 16 chickens, 4 turkeys, 8 racks of ribs, or 8 pork butts (no information on fish)
  • Temperature Range: max. 275 Fahrenheit (135 Celsius)
  • Dimensions: 19.68″ x 25.2″ x 41.73″ (50cm x 64cm x 106cm)
  • Weight: 66.31lbs (30kg)
  • Notable Features: Bluetooth Smart control app; patented side wood-chip loading system

This smoker comes with four high-quality aluminum grill trays, and a window in front so you can check the progress of your fish smoking without opening the door.

Pros

  • Clever Bluetooth remote control app allows you to control your smoke remotely
  • High-quality construction, yet lightweight enough to be portable
  • Front window allows you to check your fish without opening the door
  • Patented side-loader for wood chips allows you to replenish chips without opening the door
  • Applauded temperature control provides consistent results

Cons

  • Only four trays, despite the additional height (when compared to smaller competitor models)
  • Some issues reported with the app not always working properly

DGO1176BDC-D Charcoal Offset Smoker by Dyna-Glo

The sheer internal cooking area of this monster makes it an impressive smoker from the off.

With six removable, stacked grill racks, the Dyna-Glo DGO1176BDC-D can handle a heck of a lot of fish (up to 150lbs in all).

Offset smokers are, as I stated in the introduction, pretty conventional smokers in the smoking business.

Most, however, are not suited to smoking fish, since they get too hot, too fast. The Dyna-Glo is, thankfully, an exception to the rule.

With its vertical construction, you are provided greater ease of temperature control, despite it being a burner.

MB20074719

  • Fuel Type: Charcoal/Wood
  • Cooking Area: 1890 inches2 (4800cm2)
  • Cooking Capacity: 150lbs of fish (68kg)
  • Temperature Range: 100-350 Fahrenheit (38-180 Celsius)
  • Dimensions: 21″ x 43″ x 50″ (53.3cm x 110cm x 127.5cm)
  • Weight: 83lbs (38kg)
  • Notable Features: Removable ash pan; removable firebox; adjustable damper and smokestack

The only issue with the construction is that you need to swap trays around regularly, to ensure your receive equal smoke exposure and cooking temperatures.

This smoker for fish comes with a removable ash pan and firebox, to assist you in cleaning it. It also has an adjustable damper and smokestack to help you achieve the perfect thin blue smoke for your fish.

Pros

  • Huge smoking area
  • Can hold up to 150lbs (68kg) of fish when fully loaded
  • Conventional offset smoker gentle enough to handle fish
  • Large temperature range
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • No means of automatic temperature control
  • Users report the Dyna-Glo struggles to surpass 200 Fahrenheit in low temperatures

Lil’ Tex Elite 22 Smoker by Traeger

The Lil’ Tex Elite 22 is a smoker designed to look and function like a classic offset smoker. And yet, it’s anything but.

This smoker from Traeger (a reputable, if expensive, brand in the smoking community) is actually fully electric.

According to some fishing aficionados, the Lil’ Tex Elite range is the range reliable enough that you can leave them be whilst you return to the river.

Certainly, Traeger guarantees that it won’t deviate more than 20 degrees either side of the temperature you set it at.

The Lil’ Tex Elite 22 comes with a pellet hopper with an impressive 18lb capacity for wood pellets.

The smoker is designed to automatically pull pellets from the hopper on a conveyance system, and only when they’re needed. Instead of constantly monitoring the fuel for your smoke, this smoker does it for you.

Lil Tex Elite

  • Fuel Type: Electric
  • Cooking Area: 418 inches2 (1062cm2)
  • Cooking Capacity: 16 burgers, 4 whole chickens, or 5 racks of ribs (no information on fish)
  • Temperature Range: 100-450 Fahrenheit (38-230 Celsius)
  • Dimensions: 42″ x 22″ x 49″ (106.68cm x 56cm x 124.5cm)
  • Weight: 98lbs (44.45kg)
  • Notable Features: 18lb capacity pellet hopper; portable; LED temperature control

It also has an LED temperature control, which you set by a dial and monitor on-screen. The only major downside to this smoker is that it’s a little small, meaning you may have to smoke your fish in batches.

Pros

  • Automatic, large pellet dispenser hopper makes your job easier
  • Reliable LED temperature control dial
  • Trusted and reputable brand name
  • Versatile smoker (low and slow, or hot and fast cooking)
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • A little small, meaning you may have to smoke fish in batches

Digital 6 Rack Electric Smoker by Bradley

If there’s a brand of smokers more beloved and championed by fisherfolk than Bradley, I’d like to know about it.

Even over and above the Big and Little Chiefs from Smokehouse Products, Bradley is a name synonymous with smoking fish.

This digital 6-rack electric smoker is a huge machine, yet still lightweight enough to be portable.

Whilst I could find no clear information on the fish capacity, with 3432sq” of smoking space, you could surely smoke your entire day’s catch in one go.

Set the temperature on the Bradley for your smoke and you are guaranteed a nice, consistent burn throughout, thanks to the internal thermostat.

You can even walk away and leave the smoker to its own devices for up to 9 hours, provided you use Bradley wood briquettes to stock the smoker.

Bradley 6 Rack

  • Fuel Type: Electric
  • Cooking Area: 3432 inches2 (8717cm2)
  • Cooking Capacity: N/A
  • Temperature Range: max. 280 Fahrenheit (138 Celsius)
  • Dimensions: 19″ x 22″ x 41″ (48cm x 56cm x 104cm)
  • Weight: 69lbs (31kg)
  • Notable Features: Separate burners for smoke and oven; digital thermostat; Bradley briquettes automatic refiller

This is because the smoker controls the loading of briquettes into the burner as and when needed.

Bradley reportedly have excellent customer service, too, making this the first choice smoker for smoking fish for many fishers.

Pros

  • Recommended throughout the fish smoking community
  • Bradley have excellent customer service
  • Consistent, reliable temperatures for your smoke
  • Automatic Bradley briquette loading device
  • Huge smoking capacity
  • Versatile, with separate burners for smoking and oven cooking

Cons

  • One-year warranty a little short when compared with competitors

5 Things To Consider When Choosing A Smoker For Fish

smoker for meat and fish

Now that I’ve taken you through my top picks for fish-smoking smokers, I think it’s a good idea for me to remind you of the aspects you should be considering when choosing a smoker for smoking fish.

1. Fuel Type

The type of fuel a smoker uses has a huge impact on the way that smoker operates, and the overall quality of the smoke, among other things.

Fuel can also impact running costs and the practicality of the smoker. So, too, can fuel type make a difference to the experience of smoking fish.

There are actually only two fuel types available through the smokers I’ve hand-picked for this article, but that doesn’t mean those are the only fuel types for smokers out there.

Typically, smokers can be fuelled by:

  • Propane
  • Electricity
  • Charcoal

Strictly speaking, conventional BBQs, grills, and smokers (including offset smokers) utilize charcoal for fuel.

Many smokers tend to prefer this conventional method since they feel it gives their fish the most naturally-woody flavor.

However, charcoal smokers cannot be temperature controlled, meaning that you have to “babysit” them throughout the smoke.

If you don’t, temperatures could soar and/or plummet, either undercooking or majorly overcooking the fish.

Electrical smokers are probably the most popular type of smokers for fish.

This is primarily because electricity can be counted on to deliver a steady, consistent temperature to the smoker. Consistency of temperature ensures that the smoke is even and gentle on delicate fish.

Moreover, electric smokers tend not to be able to achieve temperatures at which fish could spoil (especially necessary given the long smoke times required to smoke fish).

Propane smokers are not advised for smoking fish.

Temperature control with propane smokers requires a lot of smoking experience and even then can prove temperamental.

Moreover, propane tends to burn hotter than either electrical burners or charcoal, which is not ideal for fish.

If you’re looking for temperature control, opt for electric. If you’d rather smoke the traditional way, go for charcoal. Avoid propane.

2. Temperature Range

Of course, temperature range is a key factor in any smoker.

Certain cuts of meat require cooking at different temperatures, whilst it’s important to be able to finely-tune temperatures for smoking.

However, when it comes to smoking fish, temperature range is actually less of a major concern.

Take the Little and Big Chief electric smokers, for example. These smokers, though well-loved, have a maximum temperature of just 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 Celsius).

Whilst that’s a good temperature for smoking fish, it would have minimal functional use for actually cooking anything much bigger or more robust (think brisket or ribs).

Temperature range really comes into play when considering whether you’re buying a smoker solely for fish (pun intended), or for a wider variety of smoking.

If you’d like to be able to smoke salmon and brisket, then you’re going to have to find something with a higher max. temperature than the Chiefs.

Similarly, if you’d like a smoker you can use to grill as well as just smoke, then you need one with a temperature range that can reach 350-450 degrees Fahrenheit (180-230 Celsius).

3. Functionality

Some traditional smokers opt for fulfilling the most basic needs of the consumer (smoking fish), and nothing more. And, do you know what? That’s fine!

There are plenty of us out there (including myself) who enjoys the experience of smoking with a conventional offset.

However, this is the 21st century, and technology can be useful when smoking fish. Thankfully, there are plenty of smoker manufacturers out there who agree with me.

You should consider what level of functionality you’re looking for when choosing a smoker.

Some smokers, like the Masterbuilt MB20074719, come with Bluetooth-connectable apps so that you can actually control the temperature and smoke time of your fish smoking from afar.

Others have digital LED displays and dial-pads like a microwave.

Still, other manufacturers have equipped their smokers with simpler, less electronic fixes to common problems.

A window on the front of the smoker, for example, allows you to inspect the progress of your smoke without opening the door and letting all the cold air in.

Similarly, a side-loader for your wood chips can make cleaning easy and reloading possible without opening the smoker.

Furthermore, if you’d like to just turn the smoker on, put the fish in, and walk away, then you’ll need to invest in a smoker like the Lil’ Tex Elite 22, with its pellet hopper to automatically keep the unit stocked with smoke fuel.

4. Capacity

Capacity is key. Not all fishing trips prove fruitful, but when they do, you don’t want to have to sit around smoking your catch in batches.

Fish require long, slow hours of delicate smoking to taste just right, and splitting that process into batches is painstaking.

When choosing your smoker, you want to look for a unit with a capacity you’re happy with. If you only intend to smoke a few fish at a time, then you could happily go for the Lil’ Tex Elite 22, or the Little Chief.

However, if you plan on smoking fish in large batches, you need something that can handle them all at once. Think the Bradley Digital Smoker or the Big Chief.

An important note which I often find myself forgetting, too, is that smoker capacity does not always matter as much as the number of racks does.

Think about it, the Big Chief has smaller dimensions than the Masterbuilt, but it has one extra tray. An extra tray equals an extra layer of fish that you wouldn’t be able to smoke in the Masterbuilt.

5. Skill Level

Not many people like to talk about skill level when it comes to smoking, but I think it’s crucially important. Don’t be embarrassed if you’re completely new to the game – we all were once!

However, if you are new to smoking fish, it’s probably best to avoid jumping in at the deep end.

Offset and charcoal smokers (the traditional kind) require a much higher level of expertise to use than do electric smokers with temperature controls.

What’s more, smoking fish is a difficult, delicate process, making conventional smokers even harder to use for it.

Depending on your skill level, you should consider a smoker that sounds like you could operate it safely and effectively. Don’t be a hero! Respect your fish.

3 Top Tips For Smoking Fish

fish smoker machine

We’re approaching the end of the article, now, but there’s still one all-important thing left to tackle. How do you actually smoke fish?

Fish is a delicate meat, much more so than pork or even poultry, and on a completely different plain to something as heavy and robust as beef.

Smoking fish requires patience, practice, and a light touch. Thus, without further ado, here are my top tips for smoking fish.

1. The Best Fish For Smoking

When smoking fish, the general rule of thumb is that the fattier and oilier the fish, the better it will take on the smoke flavor.

Oily fish are generally more robust, too, meaning that their natural flavor comes through even after smoking. Here’s a list of my top fish for smoking.

  • Salmon – one of the most traditional fish for smoking, salmon is also a good fish for newcomers to start with.
  • Trout – lean and nutritious, you should always smoke trout whole; fillets may be overpowered by the smoke.
  • Tuna – oily, fatty fish are best for smoking, since the fat absorbs all of that lovely smoky flavor; tuna are super oily!
  • Seabass – whilst expensive, seabass is a deliciously meaty fish best smoked whole; definitely buy it if you find it on sale.
  • Sablefish – known also as “butterfish”, sablefish melts in the mouth like butter when smoked; it’s relatively cheap, too.
  • Sardines – sardines are probably the “fishiest” fish in this list, but they are also perhaps the most flavorful when smoked.
  • Mackerel – smoked mackerel is one of my favorite dishes; these fish are hardy, so experiment with stronger woods!
  • Haddock – the healthiest, leanest fish on this list, haddock is extremely versatile; smoked haddock is also great in soup.

2. The Best Woods to Use

Fish, as I’ve said many times now, are delicate creatures. Their meat cannot typically withstand the pungent power of heavy woods like mesquite and hickory.

Instead, I tend to opt for fruitwoods, citruses, and light, floral woods. Here’s a list of the woods I most prefer when smoking my fish.

  • Alder – the king of fish smoking woods, alder is very smooth and mellow, with just a little smokiness.
  • Beech – nutty, light, clean and cool, beech is best with lean white fish, medium-strength dark fish and trout.
  • Grapevine – a controversial choice, grapevine is mild, fruity, tart but can be overpowering; only for the oiliest fish.
  • Oak – oak has a natural, strong earthy flavor, and is one of the most traditional woods used for smoking fish.
  • Pecan – intensely sweet, with a well-rounded smokiness, pecan can pair incredibly well with meaty fish like swordfish.
  • Citrus – orange wood and lemon wood go hand-in-hand with smoking fish; use these on absolutely any fish you like.
  • Hickory – I know I said not to… but hickory can work wonders for fish if and only if it is paired with a lighter wood.

3. The Best Smoking Times For Fish

The length of time you should smoke fish low and slow for differs, depending on the fish. Some fish also benefit from a cold smoke (at really low temperatures), whilst others you want to smoke hot.

Let’s take a quick look at the recommended smoking times for my favorite fish to smoke (as listed above).

  • Salmon – 6-24 hours (cold-smoke), around 1.5-2 hours (hot-smoke)
  • Trout – 2-4 hours (hot smoke)
  • Tuna – 2 hours (hot smoke)
  • Seabass – 2-4 hours (hot smoke)
  • Sablefish – 2-3 hours (hot smoke)
  • Sardines – 4-5 hours (hot smoke, low temperature)
  • Mackerel – 1-2 hours (hot smoke, low temperature)
  • Haddock – 7+ hours (hot smoke, 90-150 degrees Fahrenheit)

FAQs

How long do you smoke fish in a smoker?

The length of time you should smoke fish in a smoker depends entirely on the fish you’re smoking. It also depends on whether you’re smoking fish whole, or in fillets (some fish benefit from the former, whilst others the latter). Generally speaking, most fish require anywhere from 1.5-4 hours in the smoker. Some fish, like sardines and haddock, require longer. Check out my top tips for a full breakdown on fish smoking times.

What temperature do you smoke a whole fish at?

Whole or filleted, the temperature you should smoke fish at remains the same. It’s the time that differs (whole fish generally takes longer to cook in a smoker than filleted fish). You should smoke whole fish at a temperature of 175-200 degrees Fahrenheit (80-93 Celsius). A fish is cooked through when the internal temperature reaches 160 Fahrenheit (about 71 Celsius).

How do you tell if smoked fish is done?

Smoked fish is cooked and smoked properly, and ready to eat, when it reaches an internal temperature of about 160 Fahrenheit (71 Celsius). You can also use your eyes and touch to measure a smoked fish’s readiness. Smoked fish are done when they’ve got a nice glaze all over, and are dry to the touch.

How long should you brine fish before smoking?

“Brining” fish is the process of leaving them in a salty solution (or rub) so that the salt pulls the moisture out from the fish. It’s not always necessary but is recommended before smoking most fish. I would recommend you brine your fish for at least 2 hours before smoking. Ideally, though, you want to brine fish in the fridge overnight. You can leave fish in brine for a few days, if you like, but I wouldn’t leave them in brine for more than 5 or 6 days.

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