Smoking the fish to attain those perfectly tender and salty fillets is an ancient culinary method. If you’re a beginner to smoking fish, keep your supplies handy and be prepared to experiment. Things you need to savor that subtle smokey taste are: high-in-fat fish, grill or stovetop, a pellet smoker box, and the best wood for smoking fish.
You might have assumed that choosing the right kind of fish is the only important aspect here, but that’s not true. Having that perfect flavorful wood to smoke your fish is another essential aspect of this culinary practice.
Back in the days, fishers would use any wood to dehydrate fish fillets and preserve them for off-season feasts. But today, we have nicely dried and ready-to-use wood that adds the subtle nutty flavor to our salmon or trout.
Don’t settle for any smoking wood; pick one that satiates your taste buds. You can enjoy different tree aromas and flavors in your fish through the smoking wood. Therefore, this quick guide is here to help you pick the best wood for smoking fish that sits just right with your taste buds.
What are the Best Types of Fish to Smoke?
Although instant smoked fish is a rage these days, the classic methods still require you to select fish with sufficient fat contents. Interestingly, coldwater fish have higher oil and fat percentages than warm water species. When you smoke fish with thick layers of fats, retaining its texture is easier. Therefore, go for salmon, mackerel, black cod, trout, tuna, sturgeon, bluefish, etc.
Salmon is the most popular and flavorful smoked fish. Families prepare salmon fillets for special events because experiencing authentic smokey and nutty flavor is an absolute treat. Although curating that subtle salmon taste requires practice, it’s still the best for smoking.
If you prefer juicy and tender fillets, trout is the ideal option. This fish has high-fat contents, making it softer and more succulent than other varieties. A trout is also a healthy option for regular consumption, so you can smoke its larger quantity and store it for later without losing its original flavor.
What Wood to Use for Smoking?
Preserving the fish’s texture is quite challenging but doable with good-quality smoking wood. Alder wood adds a neutral and light taste to the fish, making each bite more delicious.
Alder wood doesn’t overpower fish’s original flavor, something hard-to-achieve otherwise. If you prefer a mild and subtle taste, alder wood will suffice. You can find this smoking wood in different forms and use it with both stovetops and grills.
However, remember that alder wood burns quickly, so you’ll have to re-fill the burner quite often.
Applewood preserves the fish fillets’ flavor and makes them sweeter. If you don’t like aromatic and fast-burning smoking wood, applewood is the solution. It makes a thin crust on the fish to enhance its taste and retain the moisture.
This wood’s chunks infuse a subtle aroma and citrus flavor to the fish without suppressing its tenderness. Whether you smoke tuna, salmon, or mackerel, applewood will treat it with a sweet, neutral taste.
- Subtle Sweet flavor
- Chunk size pieces
- Four pound bag
- 350 cu. in. (0.006 m^3) sized bag
When attaining a long-lasting and fresh taste is your priority, opt for beechwood. This wood slowly burns while adding that flavorful mild aroma to the fish.
This wood produces a light and clean smoke that doesn’t overpower the meat’s taste. If you do cold smoking, beechwood is a reliable solution because it helps you maintain a steady burner temperature.
Even if you’re new to smoking fish, beechwood will infuse that nutty flavor to the fish, making it an instant hit on the dinner table.
Oakwood infuses a tannic taste to the meat, which makes it suitable for cold smoking. Its flavor is denser than alder or applewood, so beware if you prefer lighter aromas.
Oakwood needs pre-heating and close temperature monitoring, prefer using it for bigger fish batches. If you smoke whole fish or several fillets at once, oakwood will perfectly treat them while retaining their tenderness.
Although most smoked fish lovers go for tannic or nutty tastes, it’s still good to do something different. If you like experimenting with food, cherrywood will be the best option.
Its sweet flavor treats your fish without requiring much effort. Cherrywood adds a thin zest to the fish, which enhances its taste and makes it more presentable.
Woods to Avoid
You cannot pick any wood to smoke fish because each tree/shrub has a different flavor, which might even ruin your salmon’s taste. Here are some noteworthy woods that don’t sit well with fish smoking:
Cedarwood doesn’t burn well and takes more time than usual to soften your fish.
Hickory burns too quickly, which means it needs close monitoring and frequent top-ups.
Mesquite ruins the fish’s original taste with its punchy flavor, so avoid it at all costs.
Greenwood tastes bizarre, which makes your fish inedible and sour.
What to Keep in Mind When Choosing Wood?
Select easy-to-use and reliable wood because fish smoking takes time. If you throw too big (or small) wood pieces in the smoker, it’ll waste your time and might overcook (or undercook) the fish. Therefore, consider the following points while buying the best wood for smoking fish:
Size and Shape
Smoking wood is mostly available in three forms; chunks, chips, and dust.
Chunks are useful for cold smoking as they don’t need much upkeep and provide a balanced smoke to treat bigger fish fillets.
Chips are easily usable with both stoves and grills but require regular top-ups as they burn fast, so only opt for chips if you have time to check the smoker.
Dust wood is ideal for instant smoke when you have a few fillets to treat. But when you need significant batches of fillets, dust won’t help much.
You can find common smoking wood varieties, for example, wood pellets, in most grocery stores and big-box stores. But if you need a unique smoking wood, i.e., cherry, peach, etc., you’ll find several authentic online stores that stock them; always go for well-established and trustworthy stores.
Smoking wood mostly comes in 1-2lbs packs; you should keep 2-3 bags handy while smoking because sometimes it’s difficult to simultaneously burn all chips/chunks.
If you’re a beginner, alder or oak are perfect for you because they’re easy to work with. But if you like citrusy flavors, applewood is the best wood for smoking fish that’ll satiate your taste buds like a pro. Similarly, go for cherry or pear wood if you like that subtle nutty and light taste in your smoked fish.