When you’re smoking fish, or any kind of meat, the wood you’re smoking on is as important as the sauce you apply on the meat. You want both of those things to be right to avoid ruining the whole thing.
And I’m guessing you already knew that and that is why you are here to make sure you don’t choose the wrong wood when smoking fish.
In this guide I’ll go over everything you will need to know when choosing the best wood for smoking fish. From the different types of woods you can use for best flavor to the top 7 woods you can choose from that will just work at any fish smoking barbecue party.
If you quickly want to know the top woods that I recommend, here’s a list of them. Keep scrolling to know how I chose them and why you should buy them as well.
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When you’re smoking any other meat, you can go bit overboard with the smoke because that tastes better to most people. But when it comes to fish, you should almost always avoid that, unless someone specifically asks for it. You don’t want to overpower the taste of the fish with smoke.
Ideally, the wood you choose should go along with the flavor of the fish or have a milder taste so you can still enjoy the taste of the fish.
The Best Woods For Smoking Fish
Pecan wood is one of the best woods out there provided that you use it carefully. Because if you go overboard with it while smoking salmon, it will end up making the fish warm and pungent which we do not want at all.
Besides that pecan is one of the more powerful woods out there. Not too powerful that it overwhelms the taste of the fish, but also not less powerful than woods that give a more fruity flavor like the apple and maple.
Apple is a subtle wood that adds a sweet fruity flavor to the meat. But you’ll be surprised how many people prefer having that fruity flavor in their smoked meats – it is one of the most popular meat smoking woods out there.
At the time of smoking you get a fruity aroma but the good thing about it is that it doesn’t overwhelm the taste of the salmon or any other fish you are smoking.
Apple wood is best for people who find alder wood to be too weak for them.
Alder wood is the staple of smoking woods out there. It adds a slight taste of smokiness to the fish and lets you enjoy the actual taste of the fish without overwhelming it.
It might be easy for people to consider this wood too weak for their taste but if you are cold smoking salmon that easily lasts for a day, this wood is the best for that.
You can slowly coat the entire salmon with this wood without risking it becoming too sour.
And if you are more of a connoisseur that prefers to mix and match different types of wood and see if you can get a unique flavor out of them, you can use alder wood with almost any other type of wood.
Maple is a hardwood and adds a sweet flavor to the fish. But the good thing about this wood is that it is mild and so you don’t run the risk of overwhelming the taste of your fish.
You don’t get those thick layers of smoke on it, no bitterness, nothing that comes with smoking meats. All you get is just a mild flavor of sweetness to your fish which is perfect if you ask me.
Walnut is the strongest wood in this list. If you use it too much it will make your fish taste bitter in excess and that is why most people prefer to use it when smoking red meat.
But, it is a free world and you can use it to smoke fish. But you have to be cautious with it.
Use this wood if you want to add more smoke flavor to it. But it all depends on how long you plan on smoking your fish for and how strong do you like your flavors to be.
If you’re a beginning, I recommend staying away from walnut wood for now as it can get very overwhelming very easily. Start with alder wood and see how you like it and then go down the list.
Remember, you can mix alder wood with other slightly stronger woods like apple, pecan and maple to experiment with. In most cases, you will find your favorite in one of those 3 woods.
Different Types of Woods For Smoking Fish
When it comes to defining the best wood for smoking fish, it all depends on what type of grill you have an how long you are planning to smoke for. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this as you might already know. Because different woods are known for their different properties as you’ll come to know in a minute.
Wood chips are usually 1-2 inches in diameter and they are irregularly shaped. These are best used in both, small and large smokers as well as grills.
If you are planning to smoke for a long time, these are the best type of wood to use. As the name suggests, these are small logs of wood that you can use for smoking. You can use them in large smokers and grills for a long time with no problems at all.
If you’re having a small fish smoking party, and you don’t plan on smoking for a long time, then wood pellets are best. You can use them in small smokers.
Wood chunks are slightly larger than wood chips. And the good thing about them is you can burn them for longer. So if you have a lot of guests coming over or if you plan on smoking for a long time, then wood chunks are the best wood to use. They are best used in large smokers or grills.
Best Types of Fish to Smoke
Now that you know what types of wood to use to smoke fish, lets talk a bit about what are the best fish to smoke.
Easily one of my best choices out there. Salmon is the most popular fish to smoke and because it has a high fat content, it stays moist when you’re smoking.
Related: 7 Best Salmon Species For Smoking
Mackerel is another fish smoking staple. It has a rich flavor and a high oil content just like the salmon. So it will stay moist when you’re smoking it. Remember, you don’t want you fish to get too dry while smoking because then it will just end up tasting bitter.
Tuna is considered as one of the most versatile fish out there. It can blend perfectly with almost all flavors and it is also one of the easiest fish to smoke along with salmon. If you’re a beginner, you can go with tuna, salmon and alder wood and people will just assume that you’ve been smoking fish for years.
Because of its low mercury content, trout is considered as one of the more healthy option for smokers. It has a mild flavor and delicate texture, but it is easy to smoke it if you’re doing it whole.
But if one of your guests haven’t eaten a fish before, it is before you start them out with either salmon or cod and see if they like it. Trout usually falls a bit more down the list for me because of its flavor.
Cold Smoke Fish vs Hot Smoke Fish
Most home chefs get into cold smoking once they think that they have perfect their hot smoking skills. Cold smoking takes a long time to cook because you are doing it at a lower temperature.
You’re basically dehydrating the fish like they do when preparing jerky but the only difference here is that you are doing it with smoking wood. So you get the added taste and texture from the barbeque wood you are using.
The important thing with cold smoking is that you make sure the temperature does not rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The thinking here should be that you are dehydrating the fish and removing the harmful bacteria from it that way rather than cooking it.
That way, the oils in your fish will remain and once it is ready, it will be moist and delicious.
But the downside with cold smoking is that you require special equipment for it. You cannot recreate that on your backyard grill.
As I mentioned, you are required to maintain the temperature at 90 degree Fahrenheit, that alone will require you to either buy a temperature monitor or a separate grill to cold smoke fish.
You also require safety precautions because you are not cooking the fish to get rid of harmful bacteria. So you’ll need to add salt brine to it to prevent the buildup of that bacteria while you’re smoking it.
Hot Smoking Fish
Hot smoking is the easiest way to smoke a fish. All it requires is that you cook the fish at a decent temperature so that you are not burning it. What you’re doing with hot smoke is bringing the internal temperature of the fish to point where all the harmful internal bacteria will be dead and the fish will be ready for immediate consumption.