Best wood for smoking mullet | A tasty and versatile smoker fish

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  February 6, 2022

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Mullet fish is one of the common types of fish from tropical and temperate waters. It has thick skin and big scales with a natural fat layer between the scaly skin and the meat.

Therefore, mullet is a great fish for smoking because the oily fish retains much of its moisture during the smoking process.

These fish have a long body (1-3 feet) and silver color with large scales.

Just ask Gulf Coast fishermen and they’ll tell you this fish is actually much tastier than people think. Texans just use mullet as bait but it’s surprisingly tasty when smoked.

Best wood for smoking mullet | A tasty and versatile smoker fish

The best wood for smoked mullet is a stronger flavored wood like hickory because it can infuse the oily flesh with a tasty bacony and smoky BBQ flavor. If you prefer a lighter, sweeter, and fruitier alternative, apple wood is best. I’m also sharing an unusual option: bay wood (but beware, it’s not for everyone).

A combination of hickory and apple creates the perfect flavored smoke you can combine with creole seasoning or Cajun-style condiments.

It all depends on what type of flavors you prefer but check out all the smoking wood options for this tasty fish.

Best wood for smoked mullet fish

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Smoked mullet fish is an oily fish with delicate white flesh and a slightly nutty flavor. Therefore, it pairs well with sweet and fruity woods like apple or orange wood.

But, the stronger smoke woods like hickory, maple, and pecan give it an intense smoky aroma that imparts enough flavor into the oily flesh without overpowering the natural aromas of the mullet.

Other oily fish that are great smoked are eel of king mackerel

If you want sweet, smoky, and fruity mixes, the most perfect combination is applewood, hickory, and cherry. I love mixing smoking woods for flavor combinations.

Here are the best wood chips to use when smoking mullet:

Hickory

  • Intensity: strong
  • Flavors: bacon-like, earthy, bold, very smoky

There’s nothing quite like hickory wood for smoking meat – but did you know that it’s the best choice for mullet?

Although hickory isn’t as popular with fish as alder or apple, it is flavorful and delicious.

When you smoke fish fillets or butterflied mullet with hickory wood chips the smoke imparts a strong bacon-like taste with an earthy and slightly sweet aftertaste.

This is the wood they use for traditional Southern barbecue so you know it will have an intense smokey and meaty flavor.

If you use too many wood chips or pellets you can over-smoke the mullet and it can become pungent so use hickory sparingly or blend it with fruitwood like apple

In fact, the combination of hickory and apple is the top flavor for oily fish like mullet.

The oils absorb more wood smoke hence the flavor is bold but the fats also prevent the flesh side from drying out in the smoker.

You can’t go wrong with Camerons Products Hickory Wood Smoker Chips because there’s a bit of bark mixed in there which enhances the intensity of the hickory smoke.

Apple

  • Intensity: mild
  • Flavors: subtle, fruity, sweet

As I mentioned, fruity woods are a great choice for smoking all kinds of fish and mullet is no exception.

The reason why so many pitmasters like to use applewood chips to smoke mullets is that the smoke is subtle and doesn’t take away from the fishy and nutty taste of the mullet.

But, this delicate fruitwood adds a pleasant sweet aroma that’s strong enough to taste but light and refreshing.

If you like fruity aromas, you’ll enjoy using apple wood to smoke fish.

Apple is also a fine choice if you want to tone down the flavor of a strong wood like hickory or maple.

Apple and pecan is another good combination because it adds some nuttiness and earthiness to the sweet wood chips.

Although some people are tempted to use green wood for smoking, it’s best to use seasoned apple wood chips for mullet because you want to avoid bitterness since the fish is delicate.

Using green apple wood for smoking creates creosote which tastes awful!

I like to use Mr. Bar-B-Q apple chips in my smoker because they start smoking right away.

Did you know you can also use crab apple to smoke with?

Orange

  • intensity: mild
  • flavors: light, citrusy, fruity, tangy, and slightly sweet

Mullet has a light nutty taste and this makes it a great fish to smoke with citrus woods like orange.

In fact, orangewood is a great wood to smoke fish with oily flesh because it removes any fatty flavors and imparts a subtle fruity, tangy, sweet, and citrusy taste.

Although orange wood chips are difficult to find, you can just get some orange wood and cut it into smaller chunks and place those in your smoker tray.

The overall flavor of orange smoke is mild and delicate, somewhat similar to other fruit woods such as apple and cherry. What makes it stand out though is the citrusy and tangy smoke flavor profile.

This adds a certain “fresh” taste to the smoked fish and complements creole seasoning.

Since this fruitwood isn’t quite as sweet as the others like apple, it’s a good option for those who prefer mild wood chips but don’t want the fish to be too sweet.

If you have a pellet smoker, you can try the Tropical Spark orange wood pellets from Amazon.

Maple

  • Intensity: mild to medium
  • Flavors: sweet, smooth, subtle smokiness

One of the most popular woods for smoking fish is maple wood. This wood offers a very subtle sweet smokiness but it’s different from most of the fruit woods.

Sugar maple is the sweetest variety but all the maple wood chips are slightly sweet but they lack that tangy fruitiness.

Instead, you get a smooth subtle smokiness that doesn’t overpower the mullet’s natural flavors.

The main benefit of using maple wood chips in your smoker is that this wood doesn’t leave any nasty aftertaste or bitterness.

Fish is already delicate but when it’s covered in salty brine and all kinds of seasonings, the maple’s sweetness is a good complement for the savoriness of the smoked mullet.

The Western Premium maple wood chips are affordable but don’t require soaking.

Pecan

  • Intensity: medium
  • Flavors: nutty, slightly earthy, slightly sweet, rich & smoky

Pecan is an excellent choice to smoke fish with an oily texture and lots of scales because pecan smoke can penetrate the flesh and impart tons of flavor.

Pecan wood chips are a great choice if you like nutty smoke aromas. Mullet already has a slightly nutty flavor so if you combine it with nutty and sweet pecan wood chips, you end up with lots of flavors.

This sweet and nutty smoke aroma complements cajun and creole seasoning mixes very well so your mullet fish never tastes bland.

Mullet already has a slightly nutty taste so you might find pecan a bit overwhelming but if you like rich smoke flavors, pecan is the best milder alternative to hickory.

Since pecan burns pretty slowly, you can create smoke with a small quantity of wood chunks or wood chips. Just don’t overdo it or else the pecan can leave a slightly pungent aftertaste.

Weber wood chips are very affordable so you can do a lot of smoking but they’re also versatile so you can use pecan to smoke other meats and fish too.

Alder

  • Intensity: mild
  • Flavors: subtle smoky, slightly sweet, slightly earthy

Alder wood has a great mild flavor profile. The smoke is delicate, subtle, and slightly sweet, making it the perfect go-to smoke flavor.

I would even go as far as to say it’s kind of a neutral smoking wood because it’s delicate and mild tasting. It has a light earthy flavor and a hint of sweetness to it.

Alder wood chips are the universal wood chips for smoking fish. You can use alder wood to smoke any kind of fish. It’s commonly used as an alternative to cedar planks when smoking salmon.

It’s a good option for white and dry fish. However, since mullet has a high oil content compared to some others, alder doesn’t impart a strong flavor.

Therefore, you should use it if you want a milder smokey flavor. This wood has a neutral smoky taste with a very subtle sweetness. If you prefer the strong BBQ taste of mesquite or hickory, skip alder.

You can use alder as a mixing wood with sweet fruity wood if you want to tone down the fruitiness.

Camerons Products Alder Wood Smoker Chips are coarser but burn a clean, light smoke, making them suitable for smoking fish fillets and butterflied mullet.

Bay wood

  • Intensity: very strong
  • Flavors: earthy, strong, herby

Here’s a recommendation you don’t usually hear about but you can actually use bay leaves to smoke mullet.

The Bay tree is a member of the laurel family of plants and shrubs. As long as your tree does not belong to the Mountain Laurel family, it is safe to smoke.

However, it’s not a common smoking wood.

It can be used for smoking some dark meats or fish, but it is a powerful, aromatic wood that should be blended with lighter woods to balance the aromas.

It has a herby flavor and a full-bodied and rich taste so it can be overpowering for smoking most fish.

Mullet can take it but only use a small amount of bay wood and blend it with a milder fruity wood like apple wood chips.

Use the wood if you like the taste of bay leaves. If you don’t like that intense flavor, skip it.

What woods to avoid

You should never smoke food with any softwoods.

Softwoods such as cedar, elm, pine, fir, cypress, and others should never be smoked. There is a lot of harmful and toxic resin, oil, and sap in these woods which can make you sick!

Toxins and chemicals found in many softwood tree species, particularly conifers, can be transferred from the wood to food or the environment.

Creosote and toxins can penetrate the fish which then makes the flesh taste bitter but also makes you have stomach pains.

Also, avoid using mesquite which is even stronger than hickory but it has a much stronger earthy and smoky flavor so it’s just too overpowering for the delicate mullet flesh.

Is mullet good for smoking?

Yes, mullet is a good fish for smoking and definitely not just a baitfish like some like to say.

In the Florida area and Gulf Coast region it’s a popular cooked and smoked fish because it has a tasty fatty and oily flesh which absorbs wood smoke very well.

The smoked mullet may also be converted into another Florida favorite dish, the smoked fish sandwich or smoked fish dip and spread.

Mullet is commonly butterflied and removed first before being smoked.

The fillets are served warm straight from their smoker and usually eaten with leftover fillets on a salad. The whole smoking process may take 2 or 3 hours.

The fillets can be prepared in the smoker with the bones intact and removed after. The fish is stuffed with lemon wedges potato soup, smoked coriander, broccoli, or shaved Brussels slaw.

Also read: How to Grill Fish on a Charcoal Grill

How long to smoke mullet?

Before you start smoking fish, you should brine it.

In a mixing bowl or aluminum turkey roasting tray, put your fish and create the salt brine. Mix water, kosher salt, packed brown sugar, black pepper, and some bay leaves.

The best way to smoke mullet is to slice it down the belly and open it up like a book on the smoker grates. Be sure to place the fish skin side down. This process is called “butterflying” the fish.

This smoking method is better than whole smoking fish because the scaly skin and fats can remain in the fish, not drip out and dry the mullet out.

Therefore, mullet fish is best smoked open rather than just in fillets.

There are several recipes for smoked mullet and some recommend a longer smoking time while others say shorter is better.

The general consensus is that you can smoke the mullet for 2-3 hours at 185-200 degrees F.

Smoke until the internal temperature of the fish is 140 to 145 degrees F. You can continue smoking the fish if it hasn’t reached the proper temperature yet.

Get yourself a good wireless BBQ smoker thermometer to monitor your meat’s temperature

Takeaway

If you’re looking for the ultimate wood for smoked mullet, a classic bacony hickory wood or sweet and fruity apple is the kind of flavor you should go for.

Mullet smoked on a charcoal grill has an amazing smoky flavor so it can definitely compete with your smoked salmon recipe if you smoke fish the right way.

When still warm, it’s possible to enjoy the smoked fish right off the smoker. Freshly smoked mullet tastes amazing with lemon slices and a bit of extra virgin olive oil or on top of toasted baguette slices.

Oily fish fillets will stay in the fridge for several days so you can enjoy the fish later. Just beware that fillets dry out a bit so they can become chewy.

Looking for more inspiration for smoking fish? Here are the top 10 smoking choices for the seafood lover

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.