Many people may think of pork or beef when they think of smokers, but smoked fish is also a popular dish in many parts of the world. The type of wood used in a smoker can have a major impact on the flavor of the food cooked over it.
The type of wood you choose to smoke your fish can make a big difference in the flavor of your final dish. Read on to learn more about the best wood for smoking fish and what types you can use for good results.
The Best Woods for Smoking Fish
Some of the same woods that are used on heavier, richer meats like beef, pork, and venison can be used on fish too. However, many smokier types of wood like hickory and pecan can be too strong for the mild flavor of white fish.
Woods that complement these more delicate types of fish include the following (Source: Oklahoma Joe’s Smokers):
- Apple: Applewood is one of the most popular types of smoking wood for fish, and with good reason. These wood chips have a mildly sweet, fruity flavor that acts as a good compliment to white fish. Smokers should keep in mind that applewood may overpower the mildest types of fish if left to smoke too long, such as scallops.
- Cherry: Like most fruitwoods, cherry lends a sweet flavor that is deep and fruity to fish. Cherry wood chips blend well with more neutral wood types such as oak or birch. Since it’s an all-purpose wood that can be used to smoke many types of meat and fish, it’s a great addition to smoking blends.
- Maple: Maple makes a good mix with apple and hickory since the mild flavor of maple wood can help tame the stronger flavor of hickory and blend well with the fruit smoke from applewood. Maple is an especially popular wood for smoking Acadian sturgeon. (Source: Browne Trading Company)
Using one type of wood chips in a smoker can provide a clean, clear flavor of the wood you choose. Many people who use smokers to smoke fish like to choose a blend of different wood chips to achieve a more balanced flavor. This is especially useful if more aromatic wood types are used, such as cedar or hickory.
Other Types of Wood for Smoking Fish
Along with fruitwoods, there are several other types of wood that work great for smoking fish, including some types that are native to Australia. Here are a few other great types of wood for cooking fish in your smoker:
- Hickory: Hickory is an aromatic type of wood that typically works better as part of a mixture of wood chips if it’s being used to smoke fish. Hickory is popular in cold-smoking methods, and fatty fish types like salmon and tuna lend a better result than lean fish. Keep in mind when adding hickory to a smoking blend for fish, a little goes a long way.
- Cedar: Cedar is a resinous softwood with too many terpenes to be used for burning in the smoker. However, smoking salmon in a regular BBQ grill on top of a cedar plank that is heated indirectly over the fire helps lend the fish an aromatic flavor without releasing chemicals in the wood that will cause the cedar to taste overpowering.
- Oak: Oak has a deep and unique flavor that pairs well with a wide variety of fatty fish such as trout, salmon, and mackerel. Oak is one of the more difficult types of wood to get smoking since it takes a high level of heat to burn. This makes it a good choice for cold-smoking fish. (Source: Cockles and Mussels)
- Ti Tree: Ti tree wood (also known as melaleuca) is a moderately aromatic wood that works well with smoked fish. Like many woods that contain aromatic oils, less than a handful should be added to the smoker to avoid overpowering the flavor of the fish.
It’s a good idea for home chefs to keep a record of what type of fish they smoke on what wood blends, with flavor notes. This is one of the best ways to remember which combinations of wood go best with which types of fish. Learning how to s moke fish over wood may take some experimentation to find the best combinations.
Wood Alternatives for Smoking Fish
Along with traditional wood chips, there are also a few other alternatives that are interesting to experiment with when you are trying out new recipes for smoked fish. Here are some things you can try to mix in with your wood to add new flavors to your fish:
- Grapevine: Dried grapevine cuttings used in a smoker can offer many of the same sweet flavors as other types of fruit woods like cherry or apple, though the flavor is a little tarter.
- Seaweed: Seaweed lends fish a savory flavor known as umami. Fresh seaweed can be foraged and used in the smoker, but it should be left out to dry completely before using in the smoker to avoid making steam. Dried seaweed sheets like the type used in sushi can also be used in the smoker if fresh seaweed is unavailable.
- Wine barrel chips: Wine barrels spend many hours being saturated with the flavor of stored wine. This flavoring can be paired with fish since its fruity, acidic flavors are a good compliment to mild white fish and fatty cuts of fish alike.
Each type of wood or smoker additive gives the fish a different flavor, so home chefs shouldn’t be discouraged if one type of wood doesn’t suit their taste. It may take a couple of smoking sessions to come on a wood combo you like, but finding a good one is well worth the wait.
Tips for Smoking Fish
No matter what type of wood you use when you’re smoking fish, there are a few general tips you can follow to make sure that you end up with a good result at the end of your smoking session. Here are some things to try (Source: The Fishing Website):
- For leaner cuts of fish, use a drip pan full of water in the smoker to help prevent the meat of the fish from drying out.
- Try brining fish before smoking to add more complex layers of flavor and also ensure that the fish stays succulent during the smoking process.
- Never use treated or varnished wood chips in your smoker for fish or any other type of meat. These chemicals can give the meat an off-flavor and can also contaminate it.
- Keep individual pieces of meat apart from each other on the smoking grill to keep them from developing a discolored appearance where the pieces of fish are pressed together. It also makes it more difficult for the smoke to circulate properly in the smoker.
Your methods may change greatly in smoking depending on what type of fish or wood you use, but the above advice can be used to help improve the outcome of any smoking session.
Wood Is Great for Flavoring Fish
Fish is delicate meat compared to some types of meat used in a smoker. That means it has to be smoked carefully. But there are still plenty of different types of wood that can be used to add delicious aroma and flavor to your favorite smoked fish dish. And, if you’re not in the mood to bust out the wood, there are alternatives.