Incredible mahi-mahi fillets coated in lemon pepper and herb seasoning before cooked low and slow on cedar planks. This mild-but-sweet hot smoked mahi-mahi recipe is the perfect way to enjoy barbecue seafood at home.
Mahi-mahi is a mild-tasting versatile fish that lends itself to all manner of seasonings and dishes, making it a staple at many seafood restaurants. With slightly sweet and flakey meat, mahi-mahi is perfect for backyard low and slow smoking.
Mahi-mahi is a saltwater fish found in tropical and subtropical warm waters throughout the South Pacific, Mediterranean, and the Caribbean. The name mahi-mahi is Hawaiian in origin and what most people know the fish by but in the Caribbean, it is also commonly called the Blue Dolphin Fish.
Mahi-mahi has a mild taste comparable to swordfish but with a slightly sweeter flavor. It is a lean whitefish that is often considered one of the healthiest to eat as the meat holds an abundance of vitamins, including vitamins B3, B6, and B12. Even though it is a lean fish, the fat it does contain is made up of omega-3 fatty acids.
Mahi-mahi is also publicized as one of the more sustainable fish options. This is because they are usually caught with a hook and line rather than by netting, meaning they aren’t overfished. Their life and reproduction cycle is short, meaning their populations sustain healthy levels without issues.
The skin of mahi-mahi, although pretty (and the reason for its other name, ‘Dorado’, thanks to its shimmering golden appearance), is very tough and inedible, but that’s one of the factors that makes it so good for smoking!
Mahi-mahi is cooked with the skin on, which helps to keep the meat together, it will have a firm but flakey texture once fully cooked.
Mahi-mahi can usually be bought all year round as either fresh or frozen fish, but the prices can vary depending on the time of year and where it is being fished from.
When looking for mahi-mahi for grilling or smoking, you want to purchase fresh fish with the skin-on. You should have the option to buy it as whole fish that has been headed and gutted or as pre-cut fillets – any of these three options is fine; it just depends on how ‘hands-on’ you want to get with the prep.
To ensure you’re choosing fish with optimum freshness, the skin should be bright, and the meat should feel firm and have a slightly pinkish hue.
Filleting Mahi-Mahi for Smoking
There are many different ways to prepare and fillet fish, based on how their bodies are structured. Heading and gutting will always be a similar process regardless of the fish, but where and how to cut to get the most meat will vary.
Mahi-mahi is no exception; it’s known as the Dolphin fish as it has a broad bulbous or elongated head much like a Dolphin; this is meat you don’t want to miss out on. Male mahi-mahi has a larger head than females, but both should be prepped in the same way to ensure you don’t miss out on this additional tasty head meat.
Make sure to use a sharp knife when filleting fish; if the blade has a bit of flexibility and ‘give’, it can make the job easier.
Also, make sure that you have a sufficient working area, mahi-mahi can be large fish, and it’s sometimes easier to change your position around the fish than it is to turn and flip the fish around on a small workspace.
- Make a cut behind the pectoral fin, and then angle your knife upwards to cut along the top side of the head. Once you reach the front of the head, turn your knife and continue the cut up and along to meet the spine.
- Run your blade just through the top layer of skin along the spine to the point where you can feel it running along the spine. When you reach the end of the spine, slide your knife further through to make a complete cut releasing the meat from the tail.
- Make the cut along the spine deeper by slowly running the blade back through while lifting the meat away from the bones. Then, work down into the fish slowly and carefully.
- Since mahi-mahi is a large fish, once you have hit about halfway through, you can always take the blade and run a cut through the fish (from just above the pectoral fin and down the middle of the body) to give you fillets that are easier to handle.
- The spine bone on mahi-mahi protrudes so it can help to lift the meat that has already been released and angle your knife down slightly to release the fillet; otherwise, you risk losing a good amount of meat if you run or rest your blade flat along the spine.
- Moving on to the bottom loin fillet, run your blade (angled down) across the rest of the bones in the remainder of the meat.
- Work carefully as you release the fillet at the front of the fish to avoid getting any pin or rib bones in your fillet. Run your knife over the top of them; if you feel any resistance reposition the blade to a slightly different angle until it slides through cleanly.
- Run your hand along the meat of the loin fillets to check for and remove any pin bones the knife might have caught.
- Divide your loins up into manageable-sized fillets ready for grilling or smoking.
Removing the Bloodline
You will notice that your mahi-mahi fillets have a strip of red meat running through them (if you have halved your fillets for more manageable handling, it’ll be at the bottom of the top loin and the top of the bottom loin). This is called the bloodline and should be trimmed off as part of your prep work; if left on it will give the fillet a strong fishy taste which isn’t desirable for mahi-mahi.
Times & Temperatures
Mahi-mahi works best when smoked on a grill (set up for indirect heat) set to around 250-275℉ (120-135℃). The fish will be fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 145℉ (62℃) which should take around 45-60 minutes.
Obviously, this can vary depending on the size of a fillet, so be sure to keep an eye on whatever you are smoking to ensure it isn’t drying out.
When choosing which type of wood to smoke your mahi-mahi over, it’s important to find one that compliments the natural taste of the fish rather than one that masks it.
Alder wood can give a slightly smokey flavor that is subtle enough not to overpower the taste of mahi-mahi; you also have milder woods such as Pecan and Apple that have a sweet taste that pairs nicely with fish.
- We recommend using cedar planks (like these on Amazon) for most smoked fish recipes since they stop your mahi-mahi fillets from sticking to your smoker’s grates. A good fish basket is a fine backup, while a last resort is to apply a thin layer of canola oil to the grates before firing up your smoker.