For some reason, fish is often overlooked when it comes time to smoke foods. The truth is that fish was probably one of the first foods dried and smoked, making it the foundation for other types of meats. Smoked fish is delicious and a great way to try something new. Just as with beef, poultry, or pork, you can use your favorite marinade, rub, or brine to enhance the fresh flavor of the fish.
Today, the process of smoking fish has become quite sophisticated. The great thing about using fish is that it cooks at such low temperatures. For instance, most pork and beef must be smoked around 240 degrees but with fish, you can choose the cold smoking technique, which cooks around 80 degrees over several days. However, you can hot cook fish if you like, which would be done around 200 degrees within a few hours.
We suggest you soak your fish in saltwater brine for 15 minutes per one-half inch thickness to pull some of the fishy taste out. To make brine, simply mix three tablespoons regular table salt for every one cup of water. After mixing, pour over the fish in shallow pan, allowing the meat to rest. The taste you end up with in the smoker is not salty but fresh and smoky. If you like, other spices can be added to include dill, peppercorns, cayenne, or even wine or brown sugar.
In most cases, the fish will absorb the smoky flavor quite well. Because of this, just about any type of fish works well although trout and salmon seem to do best. Additionally, some people will smoke the entire fish, fins, tail, and everything although fish filets are also fine. The same is true for skin - you can leave the skin on or take the skin off, whatever your personal preference.
As far as wood to use in the smoker for fish, you can go with just about anything. Now, we personally like fruit or alder in that it produces the perfect smoky flavor. In fact, using alder for smoking salmon is something that has been done for a long time. The only wood we suggest you skip is mesquite. This particular wood species is strong and since fish absorbs the smoke so well, it can create a bitter taste.
Again, fish can be smoked cold or hot. If possible, try to keep your smoker at 150 degrees for the first hour. During the time, the fish will absorb the smoke flavor best. Then after the first hour, you can increase the heat to 200 degrees. Now, make sure you use an internal thermometer, again checking that the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, indicating the fish is done.