Smoking Bluefish in the Backyard: A Beginner's Guide

Jun 6, 2014


For thousands of years smoking fish was a go-to method for food preservation. So now we have refrigeration and flash-freezing - but something in your ancestral genes still calls out for that smoky flavor, right? (Think bacon.) Smoking your catch in the backyard is not difficult to do, and it can add new color to the flavor palette of your summer. Here's what you need to know to get started.

At its most basic, hot-smoking is just slow-cooking with heat while infusing the fish with great smoky flavor. 

Oily fish with strong flavors are generally preferred for smoking - we're talking fish like bluefish, mackerel, and salmon. Kevin Blinkoff, editor of On The Water magazine, says smoking balances out the strong flavors, while drying out and "firming up" the fish in a good way.

Smokers need not be complicated. It's possible to smoke fish on a home gas grill. Place the fish filets on one side with the heat off; on the other side of the grill place the wood chips in a foil package, or in a metal "chip box." You are looking to cook by indirect heat. Your smoke source - wood chips or chunks - you can cull from neighborhood, or buy packaged almost anywhere that sells grill equipment.

$150 or so (or more, depending how fancy you want to get) will buy a purpose-built smoker, such as these. Or you can build your own; youtube abounds with how-to videos for simple smokers, such as this, or these.

There are many smoking recipes to explore, but a good way to get started in our area is with bluefish. Blinkoff suggests seasoning the filets much as you would for grilling (black pepper, salt, red pepper, paprika...) then arranging them on the racks. You are aiming to maintain heat at around 180-200 degrees for 2 hours - though plenty of people like to smoke their fish longer. Eat warm right from the smoker, or refrigerate and make into a pate by mixing with sour cream and cream cheese.

The Fishing Round-up

Big stripers are showing up in numbers (at last!), particularly along the Elizabeth Islands, Martha's Vineyard, and the south side of the Cape, with reports coming in of 40lb fish, and even 50lb trophies. Fishing also picking up at Race Point and along the inside of Cape Cod Bay.

Here's audio of Steve Junker and Kevin Blinkoff discussing how to get started with smoking fish.