A B C’s of Smoking Fish-Hot & Cold Smoking Technique

BBQ Smoking is Not Only For Salmon!!!


 “Slow Smoked Catfish Fillets Recipe” 

Fish takes on a deliciously moist texture
when slow smoked in a smoker.  The meat of the fish easily peels away in tender, flaky chunks as it is infused with all the flavors of sweet smoky wood.  

In this blog, I will discuss the simple methods and techniques on getting a great smoke on whether a Salmon or a Catfish. 

Our goal was an internal temperature of about 130°F to 140°F.  “If you cook a piece of salmon (or trout or char) at too high a heat, what happens is the muscle fibers in the meat contract so violently that they extrude a protein, if you’ve ever seen fish ‘bleed’ a white, creamy substance that’s a protein called albumin, which immediately congeals on the surface of the fish, It’s ugly.  You prevent this by keeping your heat gentle.

The “hot smoke” process for smoking fish differs from the “cold smoke” process in a fundamental way. The “cold smoke” process requires that the fish never reach an internal cooking temperature (less than about 90 F), while the “hot smoke” process cooks the fish to the center (about 145 F or higher). Between those two temperature extremes are conditions that can create an environment favorable to the growth of food poisoning bacteria. Both products must be refrigerated.


Cold-smoking is a method of preserving fish where the ambient cooking temperature stays in the range of 68-86°F (20-30°C) for 6-12 hours. The flesh loses some of its moisture and becomes denser without being cooked. The exterior of the meat remains soft rather than hardening as it would when cooked at higher temperatures. The obvious issue with cold-smoking is with the fact that the meat remains in the temperature danger zone (40-140°F) for several hours. The antimicrobial properties of dry-curing and smoking are what make the fish safe to eat, but this method may be best left to seafood processing experts with strict sanitation and safety measures in place to monitor pH and water activity to ensure the result is pathogen-free. I recommend a hot-smoking method that is safer and yields a moist, flaky result that doesn’t disappoint.

For my Electric Smoker Friends here is a link to the an Electric Smoker Blog on Cold smoking :  http://www.electricsmokerguy.com/


Hot-smoking takes place with an ambient temperature in the range of 215- 225 F, well above the danger zone. The fish is smoked until the internal temperature of the meat reaches your desired degree of doneness. The higher cooking temperature will kill any existing microbes so you’re guaranteed that the salmon is safe to eat

Fish Temps from Raw to Overcooked:  

In his book On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee outlines what happens to the fish at different temperatures during cooking, and its characteristics at those temps.

  • 70°F:Soft, slick, smooth, and translucent. Fiber-weakening enzymes are active, and some water begins to escape.
  • 100°F:Soft, slick, smooth and translucent with a wet surface due to accelerated water leaking from protein cells.
  • 110°F:Protein begins to shrink, flesh becomes firmer, opaque, and juice is exuded.
  • 120°F:Flesh continues to shrink and becomes resilient, is less slick and more fibrous, opaque, and exudes juice when chewed or cut.
  • 130°F:Sheets of protein begin to separate and become flaky, fiber-weakening enzymes denature and become inactive.
  • 140°F:Protein continues to shrink, the texture becomes firm, fibrous and fragile, and little free juice is left. Collagen dissolves into gelatin.
  • 150°F:Protein is becoming progressively more firm, dry, flaky, and fragile.
  • 160°F:The flesh is stiff and dry. All protein fibers have denatured and coagulated.

FAQ’s Smoked Fish

What are the Best Smoking Woods to use for Fish?

When considering the right type of wood for your smoked fish you must understand there are essentially two types of woods: hard and soft. Commonly, as preferred by most BBQ’er   , they enjoy using hard wood, such as:  Apple, Cherry, Pecan, Peach, Maple or Alder. Remember that a little wood goes a long way. Too much smoke will make the fish taste bitter.

How long does it take to cook fish in a smoker?

Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. Preheat a smoker to 225 degrees. Place fish on the smoker. Smoke for 60 to 90 minutes, or until fish flakes nicely.

What is the Gray portion of the tissues seen on the Fillets once skin is removed ?  

The gray fatty tissue is fatty deposits rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in the natural pigments found in the rest of the fish.

Is farmed salmon safe to eat?

Yes, Farmed salmon is not only safe to eat, it is very good for you. This type of Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to help reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, premature births, and arthritis symptoms. In addition, salmon is low in saturated fat and high in protein. Farm-raised salmon is one of the most available and affordable sources of these healthy omega-3 fatty acids

Is it O.K. to freeze smoked fish?

  Fresh and vacuum-packaged cold smoked salmon can be frozen for up to 6 months. Re-freezing smoked fish a second time is not recommended, as it adversely affects the quality of the product including deteriorating color, moisture and texture.  Frozen smoked salmon should be thawed in a refrigerator at 40 F  or below.

 How long can smoked fish safely sit at room temperature?

When serving smoked fish, do not allow it to remain at room temperature (for example, as part of a buffet) for more than three hours.

Can you smoke previously frozen fish?

Frozen fish can be thawed completely and then smoked, too, but once again, make certain that it was in good condition before it was frozen. If you’re buying your fish in a supermarket, choose fresh fish over frozen fish. That way, if you later need to freeze the fish you’ll have no doubts about its initial quality.

What is the difference between Salmon and Trout?

Smoked Salmon is a somewhat dryer fish. Smoked Trout is moister because it has a higher natural oil content.

Slow Smoked Catfish Fillets Recipe 


All Purpose Fish Brine:

  • 1 Gallon of Water
  • 3/4 cup non-iodized table salt, or canning salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper


  1. Stir All Purpose Fish Brine in large non-conductive bowl until sugars dissolve. Add catfish, to brine, pressing to submerge. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove catfish from brine; discard brine. Rinse Catfish under cold water. Place Catfish, on rack. Let stand until top is dry to touch (do not pat dry), about 1 hour.
  2. Lightly apply Extra Virgin Olive Oil to both sides of the Catfish.
  3. Apply Three Little Pig’s Championship Rub to the Catfish.
  4. Prepare smoker with All Natural Lump Charcoal and set smoking temp to 225 degrees for the fish.
  5. Arrange Catfish, on rectangle. Place catfish on foil on grill. Add your choice of flavor wood (Cherry) to the smoker, cook until Catfish is firm to touch and glaze forms over Catfish, usually 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  6. Remove Catfish from foil, leaving skin on foil. Lightly glaze with Three Little Pig’s Competition BBQ Sauce, transfer to platter or plate; serve warm or at room temperature. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

 Chris Marks (CBBQE) Three Little Pig’s Rubs/Sauces & Good-One Manufacturing 

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