How to Smoke Fish

Photo: Matthew Hranek
Prep Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 30 mins

Where there's smoke, there's flavor. Smoking fish at home may sound intimidating, but it's no more complicated than grilling. Just add aromatic wood to a charcoal grill and let the fragrant, flavorful smoke do its work.


For the Brine

  • 2 cups water

  • 1 cup muscovado sugar or packed dark-brown sugar

  • Coarse salt

For Trout Fillets

  • 2 skin-on trout fillets (8 ounces each), boned

For Whole Trout

  • 1 whole trout (1 ¼ pounds), backbone and pin bones removed

For Side of Arctic Char

  • 1 side skin-on arctic char (1 ¼ pounds)

For Smoking

  • Wood trimmings or apple wood chips (1 cup for trout fillets or 2 cups for whole trout or char)

  • Vegetable oil, for grill basket


  1. Make the brine: Combine water, sugar, and 1/2 cup salt. Place fish in a nonreactive dish; cover with brine. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

  2. Heat charcoal grill to medium, piling coals on 1 side to set up direct and indirect heat zones. Set a drip pan under the grill grate in the indirect heat zone.

  3. Soak wood trimmings in water for 30 minutes. Drain (if smoking whole trout or char, leave 1/2 cup wood in water); add to coals.

  4. Smoke the fish: Once smoke develops, place fish in a lightly oiled grill basket. Transfer to grill rack, and set over drip pan. Open lid vent, and position over fish. (This will direct smoke to impart maximum smokiness.)

    For the trout fillets: Smoke fish until cooked through but not dry, 12 to 15 minutes.

    For the whole trout: Smoke for 10 minutes. Flip basket. Drain remaining 1/2 cup wood; add to coals. Smoke fish until cooked through but not dry, 8 to 10 minutes more.

    For the side of arctic char: Smoke for 10 minutes. Drain remaining 1/2 cup wood; add to coals. Smoke fish until cooked through but not dry, 13 to 15 minutes more.

Cook's Notes

Fish can be brined overnight for a deeper flavor. Pickled onions, tomatoes, capers, sour cream, and cream cheese all pair beautifully with smoked fish.

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