A significant portion of the human population lives within a few miles of the ocean or an inland waterway. This holds true in the United States and much of Canada. When you also consider the massive boom in aquaculture and inland fish farms, it means that more people than ever have access to fresh seafood.
Of course, the natural fats, oils, and protein content of most fish and shellfish also play nicely with a light amount of smoke applied. There are even anglers out there who target so-called “Rough Fish” like carp, whitefish, bullheads, catfish, suckers and rock bass who will hot smoke fish to eat for a meal, and cold smoke before canning for preservation.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that different parts of the United States and various ethnic cultures also love smoked shellfish. Peel-on shrimp tends to be the most popular, but they are not the only shellfish who shine after a slow smoking session.
What Temperature Range Is Best For Cold Smoking Fish And Shellfish?
Regardless of whether they are skin-on or skinless most fish fillets and shell-on shellfish prefer slow cold smoking temperatures ranging between 65 to 85-degrees Fahrenheit. If you smoke at a temperature hotter than this shellfish like shrimp tend to harden before taking on a pleasant level of smoke.
When it comes to a smoker, this makes consistent temperature control important. A charcoal smoker without some type of automated heat system is pretty much off the radar. A propane smoker with sensitive controls might be in play. Just keep in mind that at low temperatures propane flames can sometimes release unburned hydrocarbons into the air. A smoker that uses natural gas burns cleaner and really doesn’t have this problem.
So, it might be best to look for a smoker with an offset firebox, or one that lets you buffer the heat with a water pan to turn the flame up, and then open an upper damper to let some of the heat out of the primary smoking chamber.
Best Smokers For Cold Smoking Seafood
What Is The Best Temperature For Hot Smoking Fish?
Of course, there are a lot of people who look past the concept of cold smoking seafood for preservation. They simply want to enjoy a fresh-caught fish fillet or lobster with a hint of smoky flavor. The very short answer here is that 160-degrees is a good rule of thumb for smoking most fish fillets.
Though there are certainly variations in time and temperature depending on the type of fish, the thickness of the fillet, the level of doneness, and whether or not the fillet was cured in advance. Salmon, trout and other fish with red meat fillets are traditional in some areas, but there are certainly scores of other fish that do well when hot smoked.
Just bear in mind that if you are buying farm-raised, or fish fillets with the skin removed you might want to use a cedar plank. They sell special cedar planks in the grill section of many box retailers, or available through online vendors. A simple cedar board sold in a hardware store usually has some level of chemical content that makes it a bad choice for cooking. If you are going to use a cedar plank, make sure to soak it for at least an hour if not two. Letting it absorb some water will reduce the chances of cracking when exposed to the hot smoke.
Just like with cold smoking consistency is critical. Though hot smoking tends to be a little more forgiving, which lets you bring into play charcoal grills with an offset smoker box. Just accept that it might take you a few tries to really dial in the consistent heat control.
Salmon fillets make for good practice here. They tend to smoke up to similar temperatures equivalent to steak, though perhaps a few degrees higher. If you like a medium-rare steak with a 135 to 140-degree internal temperature, you might want to target a salmon fillet around 140 to 145 degrees.
The rate of smoke shows up in salmon in the form of a white oily discharge at the edges of the meat or near the bones. A little is okay, but a lot is the fillet’s way of telling you that you are smoking too hot or the temperature is a rollercoaster. A fillet like this is completely edible, it might just be a little on the dry side.
Best Charcoal And Gas Smokers For Hot Smoking Seafood
Wood Pellet Grills For Smoking Seafood
The term “Grill” is perhaps a bit of a misnomer with these “Wood Pellet Smokers.” They just happen to be versatile enough to handle a wide range of high heat applications, while being dialed down low enough to impart a gentle level of smokiness to fish fillets and some types of shellfish like oysters. Just keep in mind that wood pellet grills typically can’t get low enough to truly cold smoke fish without potentially overcooking it.
The automated process inside a wood pellet smoker is a model for consistency. The wood pellets in the hopper are slowly delivered to a fire pot with an electric igniter element and fan. The warm, if not hot, smoke then wafts up to the primary smoking chamber. With the dampers sealed down, the temperature under the lid can equalize enough to let you use a warming rack as an additional cooking grid.
There are even some wood pellet grills that come with WiFi and Bluetooth controls that let you link it to your phone some even include one or two meat probe thermometers. Even if a particular unit doesn’t, you might still want to invest in some wireless meat probes that can also be linked to an app.
This will let you directly monitor the internal temperature of the fish, along with the temperature of the smoke. That way you know exactly what’s going on without having to lift the lid, which will change the heat and temperature dynamics.