Barbecue smoked mackerel cooked low and slow over oak wood. Rich in fishy flavor and matched with an easy dry brine, this is as good as smoked fish comes. Find out everything you need to know with our hot smoked mackerel recipe.
Smoked mackerel is unlike any other type of fish. Unlike white fish like haddock or smoked tilapia, it’s an oily fish that is packed full of moisture and flavor. This makes it perfect for hot smoking. Best of all, it couldn’t be easier to do at home!
In our simple recipe, we prepare the fish in a dry brine consisting of just salt, before smoking each mackerel fillet for a couple of hours over low heat.
You can season them with black pepper and mustard, or just the fillets alone! The fish oil does wonders at locking in moisture and natural smokey flavors from your grill’s coals, and is a cut above any store-bought mackerel.
How to Filet Mackerel for Smoking
Fileting a mackerel makes it easier to smoke as it creates an even surface for the fish to cook. Luckily, mackerel is one of the easiest fish to prepare, even for novices. As long as you have a sharp filleting knife and follow these instructions, your fish will be ready in no time.
Lay the fish on the table so it’s parallel to the edge. Place your knife behind the pectoral fin (that’s the fin closest to the head) and angle your knife at a 45-degree angle towards the back of the fish. Once your knife hits bone, level it out and cut parallel towards the tail. Flip the fish over and repeat on the other side. This should separate the head and the spine from the flesh.
Then, take each fish side and place it skin side down. Cut around the visible rib cage and throw the bones away. If you want, you can flip the filets over and remove the skins, but mackerel skin is fairly thin and picks up plenty of flavor in the smoker.
Finally, remove the blood line: the thick, dark red vein running down the center of each filet. Make a shallow cut on each side of the vein and pull it out. Your mackerel is now ready to smoke.
How to Brine Mackerel Filets for Smoking
Once you separate the mackerel filets, you should brine them before smoking. Brining mackerel creates more flavor and keeps the fish nice and juicy as it cooks.
First, gather your ingredients. You’ll want plenty of cold water, heaping amounts of salt, and seasonings. The choice of seasonings depends on your personal preferences. Choose herbs and spices that hold up well to soaking in water, such as juniper berries, bay leaves, or mustard seeds.
Grab a big pot and fill it with enough cold water to cover the mackerel. Then, throw in a raw, unpeeled potato. You don’t need to cook the potato; you just need it in the brine to tell you when the solution is salty enough. Add salt until the potato floats—you want the brine to be as salty as the sea.
Finally, your brine is ready for your mackerel filets. Make sure that the filets are clean and rinse them under cold water to get rid of any blood or guts. Soak them for at least thirty minutes before smoking.
Cold Smoking vs. Hot Smoking
Once you have your smoker ready, you can make cold or hot smoked mackerel. But what’s the difference?
Hot smoked mackerel is cooked in a slightly heated smoker. The result is a juicy, tender fish that is ready to eat in a few minutes. Hot smoked mackerel is ready to serve immediately.
Cold smoking pumps smoke but no extra temperature into the smoker. Cold smoking fish takes longer, up to 2 days, and the fish is still raw afterward. It’s a great way to preserve fish to use later, but you have to cure it beforehand. Cold smoking mackerel is far more complicated.