FAQ: What is the best type of wood for smoking fish?

What is the best type of wood for smoking fish?Question:  I love using my smoker to smoke turkey, brisket, ham and other meats… however, I’ve never smoked fish.  I’m very interested in smoking trout or the occasional other type of fish (both caught myself and purchased at the store).  What type of wood chunks would you recommend for this?

Answer:  Smoked fish is considered a delicacy in our home.  Although it can be a smaller meal with fewer leftovers, if you are going to take the time to smoke fish you should certainly do it the right way.

Start out with a good brine for your fish.  Using a good brine makes all the difference in smoking.  About the only thing we don’t brine is pork ribs (the meat is usually so tender to begin with and the ribs cook fast enough as to not get dried out).

The type of wood you use is a matter of choice, however we smoke our fish with the following types of wood…

  1. Hickory – Although hickory smoker imparts a stronger flavor to the meat, and is traditionally used for pork, beef and wild game… it can also be used for fish.  Personally, I don’t care much for the taste of some of the “stronger-tasting” fish (like Catfish), therefore, with these fish I use hickory to impart some other flavor to the fish.  One exception is Tuna… although I like the taste of Tuna, I use Hickory because I enjoy the mixture of flavors and aromas.
  2. Alder – This is probably our favorite wood to smoke with.  Professional smokers also consider Western Red Alder chunks or chips the “go to” wood for smoking fish or anything else.  This tree grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest and has a very high sugar content.  Because of this, the smoke has a very sweet flavor.  Although I have never smelled it myself, I have heard that Alder syrup smells like bananas.  I can assure you, however, that the smoke from Alder chips will not make your fish smell like bananas.
  3. Apple – This fruit tree provides a lighter smoker that is both sweet and flavorful, without overpowering the flavor of the fish.  If you love the taste of fish in general, or you are smoking a particular fish that naturally has a great taste, try apple chunks… you won’t be disappointed.
  4. Cherry – Again, this is a fruit tree with a relatively higher sugar content, yet provides a light flavor to whatever you are smoking.  This is my “go-to” wood for fresh Trout, Crappie, Salmon, and sometimes Tuna (although I typically prefer to smoke my Tuna fillets with Hickory chunks… see the first bullet).

This probably goes without saying, but you should smoke your fish slow and low… at about 190 to 200 degrees F.  The fish will typically smoke for about 2 hours, give or take depending on the thickness of the fish.  Use a meat thermometer to ensure that your fish is up to 140 degrees before removing from your smoker.

After that, we wrap our meat in individual pieces of foil to cool.  This allows the fish to cool without losing too much of the flavor or moisture.  After about 30 minutes, your fish will be the perfect temp to enjoy.

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4 Responses to FAQ: What is the best type of wood for smoking fish?

  1. Jesse says:

    We usually use Alder. My mate is a bit traditional, and Alder is a very traditional wood for smoking any meat.

  2. Bradley says:

    Alder is very good wood to smoke with. Like you, I use Alder to smoke a lot more than fish. Many of the “old school” professional smokers use Alder almost exclusively… but, the “art” of smoking does allow for some experimentation. :-)

  3. Larry Smith says:

    Hey Brad

    Thanks for the info, it was a great help………….Question Im a New Yoker………..in a BIG CITY trying to get that small country back yard taste. Have you ever heard of JERK CHICKEN ?….Is a Jamaican thing…………………..Any sugestions on the best wood chips to use? …………….

    • Bradley says:

      Thanks for the question, Larry. The best way to smoke Jamaican Jerk is the traditional way… with Pimento wood. Pimento is the wood from the “Allspice” tree, which is only grown in Jamaica. Fortunately for us, Pimento wood can be found here in the good ole US of A. Where do I get my Pimento wood? Where else, but at http://pimentowood.com. Good luck.

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