How To Smoke Fish in an Electric Smoker (Including Smoked Salmon)


We know smoke and salmon are a magnificent combination, but care needs to be taken with other types of fish because the smoke flavor can be overpowering. Electric smokers produce less smoke than other types of smokers, which makes them perfect for smoking fish. I wanted to find how to hot and cold smoke salmon and other fish, so I asked some of the best pitmasters for some fish smoking advice.

You can either hot or cold smoke fish/salmon in an electric smoker, and it will take about 1 hour at 220°F, or around 5 hours at 180°F. The taste and texture of the fish will be different depending on the temperature. Brining the fish prior to smoking will enhance the flavor by using a wet or dry brine. Fish has a delicate flesh, so wood selection is important. Be careful not to overpower the fish with strong flavored smoking wood, instead use a mild smoking wood such as alder, pecan or any of the fruitwood varieties.

Key Points

  • Electric smokers can be used to hot or cold smoke fish, including salmon, for about 1 hour at 220°F or around 5 hours at 180°F
  • The taste and texture of the fish will vary depending on the temperature
  • Brining the fish prior to smoking will enhance the flavor by using a wet or dry brine
  • Wood selection is important, as fish has a delicate flesh, so be careful not to overpower the fish with strong flavored smoking wood; instead, use mild smoking wood such as alder, pecan or any of the fruitwood varieties
  • Most smoked fish recipes will recommend a temperature range between 170°F and 220°F; cooking in the lower range (170°F to 180°F) will take longer but may produce better taste and texture, but carries some risk for bacterial growth
  • The time it takes to smoke fish in an electric smoker will depend on the size and thickness of the fish, and the temperature of the smoker
  • Use a meat thermometer to check that the fish has reached an internal meat temperature of 145°F; if the fish flakes when touched or salmon ooze white liquid on the surface, it is also likely done
  • Brining the fish prior to smoking will add flavor; dry brining involves sprinkling kosher salt onto the fish and leaving it in the refrigerator for 2 hours, while wet brining involves soaking the fish in a solution of salt and water
  • To smoke fish, preheat the electric smoker to the desired temperature, place the fish on the racks, and add wood chips to the tray; smoke the fish until it reaches the desired internal temperature, checking regularly with a meat thermometer
  • After smoking, allow the fish to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving

MethodTemperatureTimeAdditional Notes
Hot Smoke220°F1 hour
Cold Smoke180°F5 hours
Brining2 hours (dry) or varies (wet)Enhances flavor; dry brining involves sprinkling kosher salt onto the fish and leaving it in the refrigerator for 2 hours, while wet brining involves soaking the fish in a solution of salt and water
SmokingPreheat electric smoker to desired temperatureUntil internal temperature of 145°F is reachedPlace fish on racks, add wood chips to tray, and check regularly with meat thermometer
Resting10-15 minutesAllow fish to rest before serving

The Best Temperature for Smoking Fish/Salmon

Most smoked fish recipes will recommend a temperature range between 170°F and 220°F. As always, the best approach is to experiment and see what suits your taste. Some people find the taste and texture of the fish is better when cooked lower in the 170°F to 180°F range. However, it will take several hours to cook in the lower range and also carries some risk for bacterial growth. Whenever meat is cooked below 200°F, it will enter the ‘danger-zone’ for microbial growth. Obviously, if you want to cook the fish faster, cook it at the higher temperature (220°F) because it will be done in an hour or so, and it is much safer. As with smoking anything, experiment with different temps, try a variety of techniques and keep a journal until you find a method that suits your taste.

How Long Does It Take to Smoke Fish?

The time it takes to smoke fish in an electric smoker can also be affected by the type of fish you are smoking. For example, a dense and thick fish like salmon will take longer to smoke than a thin and delicate fish like trout.

It’s important to keep an eye on the internal temperature of the fish as it smokes, using a meat thermometer to ensure that it has reached a safe internal temperature of 145°F.

It’s also a good idea to check the fish periodically to make sure it is cooking evenly. If the skin is getting too dark, you can cover it with aluminum foil to prevent it from burning.

When is Smoked Fish Done?

The best way to tell if fish is cooked is to gently press the flesh with a fork or your finger. If the flesh is firm and flakes easily, it is likely done. You can also look for the following signs:

  • The flesh becomes opaque and appears flaky
  • The edges of the fish start to curl inward slightly
  • The juices of the fish run clear when you cut into it

It’s worth noting that these signs can vary depending on the type of fish you are cooking and the cooking method you are using. For example, a steak-like fish like tuna may remain pink in the center even when it is fully cooked, while a delicate fish like tilapia may become more flaky when it is done.

Using a meat thermometer is the most accurate way to determine if fish is cooked, as it takes the guesswork out of the equation. It’s a good idea to invest in a quality instant-read thermometer if you cook fish frequently, as it can help you to achieve perfectly cooked fish every time.

Brining Fish and Salmon

Brining fish before smoking is a great way to add flavor and moisture to the meat. A brine is a solution made of water, salt, and sometimes sugar and other seasonings. When the fish is soaked in the brine, it absorbs the liquid, which helps to flavor and tenderize the meat.

There are two main types of brines that you can use for smoking fish: wet brines and dry brines.

Wet brines involve soaking the fish in a liquid solution for a few hours before smoking. To make a wet brine, you will need:

  • Water
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Other seasonings (such as herbs, spices, and aromatics)

To make the brine, combine the water, salt, sugar, and seasonings in a large container or plastic bag. Place the fish in the brine and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Remove the fish from the brine, pat it dry with paper towels, and proceed with your smoking method.

Dry brines involve rubbing the fish with a mixture of salt and other seasonings, then allowing it to sit for a few hours before smoking. To make a dry brine, you will need:

  • Salt
  • Other seasonings (such as herbs, spices, and aromatics)

To make the brine, mix the salt and seasonings together in a small bowl. Rub the mixture onto the fish, making sure to coat it evenly on all sides. Allow the fish to sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours before smoking.

Both wet and dry brines can add flavor and moisture to the fish, but wet brines tend to be more effective at penetrating the meat. Keep in mind that it’s important not to over-brine the fish, as this can cause the meat to become too salty or mushy.

How To Dry Brine Fish

Dry brining is by far the quickest and easiest method of brining, and produces hardly any mess. Here is how to dry brine fish:

  1. – Sprinkle kosher salt onto the fish, covering every area of the meat.
  2. Place the fish on a tray or plate and cover with plastic wrapping or in a container with a lid.
  3. Leave the fish in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

How To Wet Brine Fish

A straightforward fish brine is 1 cup of salt with 1 gallon of water. However, for a more accurate and safer brine solution, weigh the salt because there many salts and they’re not all equal. I use the quantities from a recipe from BBQ Guru Meathead Goldwyn from amazingribs.com. Here are the steps:

  1. Take a large plastic container or a large zip-lock bag big enough to hold the fish where it can meat can be submerged.
  2. Take a half a gallon of water, mix in about 1/4 of a cup of sugar and pour the brine solution over the fish.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, dissolve 1/4 pound of salt in 1/2 cup of boiled water, then pour the salt water into the brine
  4. Some people add other spices to the brine mix, but this is optional

After 2 hours in the brine, remove the fish and gently pat the meat with a paper towel to remove any excess liquid. Lay the fish on a drying rack until it is dry, but don’t leave it longer than 2 hours. While the meat is drying, a pellicle will form on the outer layer of the flesh. This protective layer will help the fish during the smoking process.

Smoked Salmon Brine

When I’m hot smoking salmon, I use one of barbeque guru Malcolm Reed’s wet brine recipes, and the salmon tastes sensational.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the smoked salmon recipe dry brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon of bbq rub.
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon minced onion flakes

Add a Glaze to the Fish

If you want to take your smoked salmon to the next level, try adding a glaze to the fish in the final 10 minutes of the cook. You can glaze the salmon with any of your favorite sauces that go well with fish, and the sweet sauces work really well. Experiment with barbeque sauces and sweet Asian sauces until you find a glaze that hits the spot.

To add a glaze to the salmon, simply baste the fish with the sauce in the last 10 minutes of the smoke. The sauce should be in the smoker long enough to set but without burning. Keep in mind, sugary sauces burn easily, so don’t keep the glazed fish in the smoker for too long.

The Best Wood For Smoking Fish

According to barbecue and smoking experts, the best wood to smoke fish is a matter of personal preference and depends on the type of flavor you want to impart on the meat. Some popular choices for smoking fish include:

  • Alder: A mild and sweet wood that is great for smoking delicate fish like trout or salmon.
  • Apple: A fruity and sweet wood that works well with a variety of fish, especially salmon.
  • Cherry: A mild and slightly sweet wood that pairs well with a wide range of fish.
  • Maple: A mild and slightly sweet wood that is a good choice for smoking fish with a light flavor.
  • Oak: A strong and robust wood that works well with heartier fish like tuna or swordfish.

It’s worth noting that you don’t need to use a lot of wood when smoking fish. A few small chunks or chips should be enough to provide the desired smoke flavor. It’s also a good idea to avoid using resinous woods (such as pine or cedar) when smoking fish, as they can impart a bitter taste to the meat.

Skin On or Skin Off?

arbecue experts generally agree that leaving the skin on fish when smoking can help to hold the meat together and prevent it from falling apart. The skin also acts as a protective barrier, helping to keep the moisture in the meat and preventing it from drying out during the smoking process.

However, some people prefer to remove the skin from fish before smoking, either because they don’t like the texture or because they want to eliminate the risk of the skin sticking to the grates of the smoker.

If you decide to leave the skin on the fish when smoking, it’s important to keep an eye on the internal temperature of the meat to ensure that it is cooked to a safe temperature. A meat thermometer is the most accurate way to do this, and the USDA recommends an internal temperature of 145°F for fish.

If you are cooking the fish at a high temperature (around 220°F), the skin may become crispy and edible, which can be a nice touch if you enjoy the flavor. However, if you are cooking the fish at a lower temperature (around 170°F to 180°F), the skin may not get crispy and may be more difficult to remove after cooking.

Clean Your Smoker After Fish

The downside of smoking fish in your smoker is the smell. It’s hard to get rid of the fishy smell, because the fish oil will somehow find its way into every crack of your pit. It’s important to wash your electric smoker after smoking fish, otherwise the smell will linger. If you plan on smoking a lot of fish, you may want to consider using a separate smoker used only for seafood.

Quick and Easy Smoked Fish/Salmon in an Electric Smoker

  1. Sprinkle kosher salt or sea salt onto the fish.
  2. Cover and leave in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.
  3. Remove the fish/salmon from the refrigerator.
  4. Turn on your electric smoker and set the temperature to 220°F.
  5. Place a smoking wood in the wood tray. Use a mild wood such as apple, cherry, alder or pecan.
  6. Place fish/salmon in the smoker.
  7. Check the fish after 40 minutes, and measure with an instant-read thermometer. Fish is cooked once the internal temperature reads 145°F. Once the fish flakes, (or seeps white liquid with salmon), then it is close to done.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

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