Best fish to smoke | Top 10 smoking choices for the seafood lover

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  January 9, 2023

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Everyone knows about smoked salmon, especially when using the cedar plank method. But there are many more types of delicious fish you can cook in your smoker.

Cod, mackerel, trout, and tuna are all delicious options for your smoker next to the tried and true salmon. The fattier, the better because those absorb the smoke wood flavor very well. Not only do you get tasty fish, but also better health, as fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids.

In this guide, I’ll share the best fish species to smoke and how to do it so you’re not stuck on salmon forever.

Can you smoke any fish?

Technically, yes, you can smoke any type of fish. However, it’s best to smoke fish with a high-fat content because it absorbs much more of the wood smoke aromas compared to non-fatty fish.

You can smoke fish whole or cut it into fillets and smoke it that way. Most pitmasters prefer to smoke fillets with the skin on them because this makes for very flavorful and tasty smoked fish.

Then you can use alder, oak, and other hardwoods to give the fish that delicious wood smoke aroma.

You can read all about the best wood for smoking fish in my full guide on woods for smoking fish and their respective flavor profiles here.

What fish is best for smoking?

Whether you’re sourcing your fish from the supermarket or fishmonger, or you fished it yourself, chances are, it’s good for smoking!

But if you’re looking for tried and tested amazing flavors, try the following 10 fish species.

1. Salmon

a whole salmon on butcher paper with slices of lemon inside

The overall best fish to smoke (especially using the cedar plank method) is salmon. It’s a fatty fish that absorbs the wood smoke flavors extremely well, so ends up being very tasty when you eat it.

Also, since it has a high-fat content, salmon stays moist while you smoke it.

Look out for the Coho salmon variety because it’s one of the most sought-after fish. It has high-quality meat.

2. Mackerel

Best fish to smoke mackerel is a great choice

If you’re looking for a rich fishy flavor, it’s hard to top barbeque smoked mackerel.

It’s best smoked low and slow with a hardwood, like oak. Mackerel is a very oily fish that stays moist during the smoking process.

People usually use a dry brine on this fish to bring out its delicious aromas. Mackerel is most suitable for cold smoking.

Learn more about how to cold smoke here (+ a review of the best cold smokers & generators)

3. Trout

whole trout on a platter with surrounding herbs

If you prefer a mild fish flavor, trout is an excellent choice. It has a light, delicate texture and flavor, and retains its natural moisture and juices while smoking.

When you take a bite of smoked trout, you’ll notice it has a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture, which is why it’s one of the most popular types of smoked fish among people who smoke at home!

Since trout has a low mercury content compared to other fish, it’s considered quite healthy.

It smokes in roughly 1.5 to 2 hours, so it’s a quick and tasty smoke!

Find out which woods are best when smoking trout here

4. Cod

row of cod fish held up by wooden poles

Cod (especially black cod or sablefish and butterfish, as it’s also called) is a great fish to smoke. It’s a good alternative to sea bass because it’s easier to get and more sustainable.

This fish has white meat and it has a very mild fishy flavor.

Cod meat is extremely soft like butter and has a very high oil content. Even the flavor is similar to butter, but combined with the smoke wood aroma, it’s one of the tastiest!

Smoked cod is a good choice if you’re looking to make fish tacos.

5. Tuna

closeup of whole tuna fish

Tuna has a pretty strong fishy flavor and firm texture. Its unique flavor profile makes it the perfect choice for smoking.

It tastes great when you blend it with any type of smoking wood because it pairs nicely with all types of flavors.

Ahi tuna is the tastiest variety to use in your smoker because of its high-quality reddish-pink meat. Yellowfin tuna is the second best and is also flavorful.

Smoked tuna is very popular all over the world and you can preserve it for a longer period by smoking it.

Tuna is also great on a charcoal grill, especially with this delicous marinade!

6. Sea bass

2 whole seabass on a wooden cutting board with surrounding herbs

Sea bass is delicious fish to smoke, especially if you’re not the biggest seafood fan. It’s not as smelly as most other fish.

Compared to some other fish varieties like tuna, sea bass has a very mild, sweet, and delicate fishy flavor.

The fish has a high-fat content and the meat is dense. Sea bass absorbs wood smoke aromas very well and the wood smoke combined with the buttery taste of the fish is amazing!

7. Sturgeon

whole sturgeon on a white plate with lemon wedges

Although it’s a bit more expensive than other fish, sturgeon is a true delicacy, especially when smoked.

Sturgeon has lean meat and is full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It has a firm texture that’s somewhat similar to chicken, but it’s healthier because it’s low in sodium.

What makes sturgeon so good for smoking is that it’s a boneless fish and has a light, mild fishy flavor. Therefore, it’s easy to clean and prep for smoking. Plus, it’s very easy to eat since there are no bones!

8. Bluefish

rows of whole bluefish on smoker with slices of lemons

Smoked bluefish is very delicious, but it’s also one of the few fish that has very tasty skin when smoked. You can definitely eat the smoked skin too, which has a strong fishy flavor.

Bluefish has a strong fishy smell and taste, and is best smoked with hardwoods like mesquite and hickory that can infuse it with a lot of wood smoke. If you use mild wood, it can’t compete with the intense bluefish taste.

In order for the bluefish to retain some of its moisture, you need to brine it ahead of smoking.

9. Rockfish

whole rockfish with lemon halves

The Pacific rockfish is a common fish in the Western Pacific Region of the USA. It tastes great when smoked!

It’s a lean fish with a mild and delicate flavor. It leaves a nutty and sweet aftertaste so if you want to taste all the delicious aromas, it’s best to use mild smoke woods when smoking rockfish.

When smoked, this fish is very moist and tender. It’s great for those who prefer milder smoked fish meat.

10. Sardines

row of sardines strung up

Yes, you can smoke small fish like sardines too! And they taste delicious.

Sardine is a saltwater fish and there are 20 species you can choose from. All of them are good for smoking because sardines have very rich and dense meat.

They’re also very oily, so they retain moisture and the wood smoke flavor.

It’s best to smoke sardines slowly for about 5 hours using a nutty and sweet wood, like almond.

Learn about more tasty and easy ways to cook sardines at home here

Try smoking these tasty fish choices

Don’t be afraid to try smoking all types of fish. While some fish have a milder flavor than others, the fattier fish are always going to have a better smoky taste because the meat can absorb more smoke.

It’s always best to check a list of the best woods for smoking fish so you know which flavors pair well together.

Keep in mind that there’s more to smoked fish than just smoked salmon!

Next, check out my roundup of the best meats to smoke

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.