Smoking fish is much different than smoking other cuts of meat. Because the meat itself has a different texture (and this texture can vary further depending on the type of fish), it both cooks and accepts smoke differently than red meat and poultry. I’ve done my best to find the best smoker for fish on the market today, and I’ll introduce you to my top picks in this article.
Cold Smoking Fish
While fish can be smoked the same way that any red meat or poultry can, there’s one method that stands out: cold smoking. While cold smoking is technically usable for any type of meat, it works best for fish because it cooks much faster.
Cold smoking is a somewhat contentious method of preparing meat. Because the meat never reaches a high enough temperature to kill all bacteria inside, there is a chance that you could contract a parasite or disease from cold-smoked meat.
In fact, the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends that any cold smoked meats be cured, fermented, or salted before smoking to deter bacterial growth. At-risk individuals, such as the immunocompromised or the elderly, are advised to avoid cold-smoked foods altogether.
Because there are always health risks involved with eating raw fish, no matter how carefully you prepare it, I can’t recommend cold smoking your fish without curing or salting them first. Of course, curing your fish doesn’t prevent the risk entirely, but it does help lower your risk of infection.
So what is there to be done about cold smoking? If you can accept the risks that come with it, properly prepared cold-smoked fish is incredibly delicious, and it’s easy to make, too. However, if the risks seem too much to you or if you’re immunocompromised, you should stick to standard smoking practices (where the meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature before consumption).
Regardless of whether you decide to smoke or cold smoke your fish, you have plenty of options to choose from! Fish can be smoked in any number of ways, including smoked whole, with the skin on, or in smaller, prepared fillets. Different types of fish accept smoke differently, too.
For the most part, oilier, fattier fish absorb more delicious smoked flavor than typical fish. This means salmon, sea bass, tuna, and mackerel are all excellent smoking options. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t smoke regular fish, either — it just means you may have to adjust your strategy slightly.
I would recommend smoking whichever fish is your favorite variety. If you don’t like fish, you can look at other species of seafood, too. Oysters taste excellent after smoking, as do crab legs, sea scallops, lobster, and much more.
According to fish smoker reviews, the best types of wood to use are light, aromatic woods like apple, cherry, and alder. Because most kinds of seafood are full of delicate flavors, a stronger wood like hickory can overpower them. This isn’t to say that you can’t create delicious smoked seafood with hickory or another pungent lumber, but it requires some practice.
Best Smokers For Fish
It’s useless to decide on which seafood you want to smoke until you’ve purchased your smoker! I’ve done my research, and the “best smoker for fish” picks below are my favorites so far.
Masterbuilt 30-Inch Digital Electric Smoker
Masterbuilt has a fabulous line of electric smokers, and while they come in many different shapes, sizes, and price ranges, the 30-inch digital is my favorite model. It strikes an excellent middle point between large, expensive, fully-featured models and small, flimsy, bare-bones models.
I’ve found, personally, that an electric smoker is the best smoker for fish and other seafood. This is because, since fish are full of such delicate flavors, they tend to absorb unwanted flavors very easily.
An electric smoker avoids the gas smell you can sometimes get with propane smokers as well as the ashy, bitter taste that charcoal smokers can impart.
Even at 30 inches, the Masterbuild smoker is big enough to smoke enough fish for your entire family. However, as it is, it doesn’t work for cold smoking, though we’ll look at an accessory attachment later in this guide that can make it cold-smoking friendly.
Unfortunately, the 30-inch Masterbuilt smoker does come with a few issues. Customer service is a bit hit-and-miss, so if you end up with a faulty product, even by no fault of your own, you may have to fight with Masterbuilt to get it repaired or replaced.
This unit has a hard time producing smoke below 200 degrees, as well. Since it does such an excellent job of retaining heat, the unit will often heat up before any embers are created in your wood chips. These issues can be remedied by making a few “home repairs” to the smoker, but if you’re not confident fiddling with the unit yourself, you may want to consider a different model.
- Large smoking size
- Retains heat very well
- Digital interface
- Not suitable for smoking at low temperatures
- Customer service can be troublesome
Masterbuilt Cold Smoking Kit
If you were hoping to find a way to cold smoke your fish in this guide, this cold smoking kit is an excellent solution. Essentially, this unit attaches to any existing digital Masterbuilt smoker and takes over the smoking process. It takes a bit of practice to get it entirely right, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to make delicious cold-smoked fish, cheese, sausage, and seafood.
The only thing that bothered me about this cold smoking kit is how it’s a bit of a pain to set up. It can be challenging to attach to your Masterbuilt smoker (depending on which model you have), and it takes a while to get the hang of operating it. The first few times I used it, I ended up with too much creosote in the smoker, ruining several servings of gorgeous food.
However, with some more home remedies, this cold smoking kit works like a dream. I’d even venture to say that you could probably rig this kit with other smokers — not Masterbuilt brand — if you’re willing to tinker with them a bit. I found, personally, that attaching a dryer hose between the cold smoker kit and the Masterbuilt smoker itself made the whole thing operate much better.
Ironically, the cold smoking kit solves a lot of the issues that the Masterbuilt smoker above experiences, too — specifically, the ones where the unit has trouble creating enough smoke.
- Solves some issues with Masterbuilt smokers
- Allows cold smoking
- Easy to operate — simply turn it on and let it run
- May require some jury-rigging
- Requires a bit of practice to use properly
Weber 18-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker
The Weber 18-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker is one of the most popular barbecue smokers on the market today. Because it’s so portable, barbecue enthusiasts everywhere love this unit for competitions as well as backyard barbecues.
As such, this unit isn’t necessarily designed to be a fish smoker, but because it’s such an excellent unit, it makes the list. Do keep in mind that this is a charcoal smoker, not an electric or propane smoker. If you enjoy the taste of charcoal-smoked fish, you will likely love this unit, but if not, you may want to look elsewhere.
Because this is a charcoal unit, it’s challenging to regulate the temperature for cold smoking. If you’re an experienced barbecuer, you should be able to accomplish it with a bit of practice. Still, it will be more challenging to keep the temperature stable without a digital monitor.
This smoker comes in three sizes: 14-inch, 18-inch, and 22-inch. While I decided to look at the 18-inch smoker here, the 14-inch is probably sufficient for almost any family. The 18- and 22-inch smokers are only necessary if you’re feeding a party or your whole neighborhood.
- High build quality
- Holds temperature well
- Available in several sizes
- Thermometer could be more accurate
- Need to remove the top grill rack to access the bottom one
- Charcoal only
Dyna-Glo Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker
I know I said that electric smokers are best for smoking fish, but I couldn’t resist including an offset smoker. The reason why is because offset smokers are already perfect for use as cold smokers. Because this is a charcoal smoker, you’ll need to handle the temperature regulation yourself.
Overall, this smoker seems to work exceedingly well, both as a cold smoker and a standard smoker. However, you’ll need to be extra careful to line everything up correctly while assembling it. Otherwise, you may end up with some smoke leaks. You may find it helpful to use a high-temperature sealant during assembly as a preventative measure.
The best part about this unit is its price. This unit is the cheapest on our list by a small margin, but since you don’t need to purchase an accessory to make it work as a cold smoker, you’ll save money in the long run.
- Works as a standard smoker and cold smoker out of the box
- Tricky assembly process
- Charcoal only
Cameron’s Mini Gourmet Stovetop Smoker
While the Cameron’s Gourmet Mini Stovetop Smoker isn’t anything fancy, it’s still something that aspiring smokers might want to consider, especially for fish smoking. These little stovetop smokers are inexpensive, space-saving, and very easy to operate and maintain stable temperatures with. As such, this unit should work well both for standard smoking and cold smoking.
Since this stovetop smoker works with any heat source, you should be able to use it outdoors next to a bonfire, on your grill, on a gas stove, on an electric stove, or even in a pizza oven if you so choose.
This stovetop unit is only 7” by 11” by 3.5”, so you won’t be able to cook many large fish fillets all at the same time, but it’s appropriately-sized for an individual looking to dabble or even a small family.
This unit is well-constructed and retains smoke well, so it even works for small apartments . It’s a great consideration for those who don’t have the backyard or funds necessary to own a large outdoor smoker. Unfortunately, this unit is a glorified baking pan, so while it comes with a lot of useful accessories, most people could probably assemble something similar with a quick trip to a thrift store
- Small, portable, and inexpensive
- Great for aspiring smokers without backyards
- Economical — uses far less wood than a large smoker
- Can’t smoke much meat at one time
- Easy to build something similar yourself (potentially for free)
So, which of these smokers is the best smoker for fish? In my opinion, it depends on your experience level, what kind of smoking you’re planning to do, and whether you like the grilling with charcoal.
If you’re only looking to smoke your fish, then the Masterbuilt electric smoker is probably your best bet, as it will automate most of the process for you. The Masterbuilt smoker is also the best choice for beginners, even if you decide to purchase the accessory cold smoking unit.
However, if you’re okay with taking on the challenge of smoking your fish with charcoal, both the Weber and the Dyna-Glo are great dual-purpose smokers, as well. They will both work for standard smoking and cold smoking, though you might need to practice at getting the temperature just right.