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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated
to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.
Everyone loves a barbecue, and sometimes you want to prepare something besides burgers, chicken, and hotdogs. Fish is a healthy alternative that is simple to grill or smoke, and mackerel is an excellent choice. Smoked mackerel is an extremely popular dish because it’s affordable, tastes great, and can be served on everything from toast to a bed of rice. Although time-consuming to prep, it’s very simple to make. Follow our step-by-step instructions so you can feed your guests the best smoked mackerel they’ll ever have.
1. What You’ll Need?
When learning how to smoke mackerel, the first item you need is a good smoker. There are many models available on the market, so it can be overwhelming to find the right one. However, there are two broad smoker categories from which you can choose.
The first is a simple box-shaped smoker. It works indoors and outdoors and can be used over a variety of heat sources, from a camp stove to a stovetop. This unit is ideal if you are a mackerel smoking beginner.
Alternatively, you can opt for a barrel smoker, which is perfect if you’re an avid outdoors pitmaster who wants to expand their culinary repertoire by learning how to smoke mackerel. This unit operates with charcoal and offers precision heat regulation using vents to control the smoke chamber’s airflow.
2. Wet Smoking vs. Dry Smoking
There are two techniques you can use to smoke mackerel: wet and dry smoking. Both methods require wood chips and an enclosed smoker; however, wet smoking uses a pan of water inside the smoke chamber to create steam, giving the fish a moist, flaky texture.
Dry smoking is better suited for preserving mackerel long-term and results in an intensely flavored, slightly chewy fish, similar to jerky.
3. Choosing the Right Wood Chips
Mackerel is an oily fish that absorbs flavor readily. So, it is critical to choose the right wood chips for your fish to avoid overpowering the mild-flavored flesh.
Applewood is a classic wood chip for smoking fish. It has a delicate aroma that adds a touch of sweetness. It also produces billowing smoke to coat the fish evenly.
If you are dry smoking your mackerel and want wood chips that can stand up to the intensely concentrated fish flavor, try mesquite chips. Mesquite emits a bold smoky aroma, so it is essential to use it in moderation. Add a handful of mesquite combined with milder wood such as cherrywood.
The first step is to scale and gut the fish and remove the head. If you choose to dry smoke the fish, fillet the mackerel. For wet smoking, leave the mackerel whole, as they retain their moisture better, and the bones are easy to remove once cooked.
Next, coat the fish inside and out with coarse sea salt or pickling salt and leave them in a tray for around an hour. The sea salt helps dry the fish out, removing excess blood and moisture and firming up the flesh. This prevents it from losing shape when smoking.
Rinse the salt from the fish under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.
While preparing the fish, soak the wood chips in a bowl of water to prevent them from burning too quickly when placed in the smoker.
Light the charcoal in the smoker while the mackerel is draining, and the wood chips are soaking, so it reaches the ideal temperature, approximately 225°F. Make sure the vents are open to help the air circulate.
Place the mackerel on the smoker’s grid belly side down for whole fish or skin side up for fillets. Then, add the wood smoking chips to the charcoal. If you are wet smoking, add a water pan ¾ full of water, beer, or cider, depending on the flavor profile you want to impart.
Keep an eye on the smoker. There should be some gentle white smoke coming from the top. If there is no smoke, you may need to add more wood chips. If there is too much smoke, then the coals are too hot, and you need to close the vents to lower the temperature.
The mackerel can take anywhere from 20-40 minutes to cook, depending on the fish’s size and the heat from the coals. You can check the internal temperature of the fish using a meat probe thermometer. When the mackerel reaches an internal temp of 140°F, it is ready to remove from the grill.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a meat thermometer, you can check if the fish is cooked by piercing it with a fork and lifting the skin. The mackerel’s flesh should be white and flaky. If the flesh is pink or see-through, the mackerel is not ready yet. When mackerel is overcooked, it becomes dry and flavorless.
6. How to Serve Smoked Mackerel?
Many side dishes go well with a smoked mackerel, from creamy potato salad to saffron rice. One of the most popular choices is baked potato or sweet potato. Wash your potato and pierce it with a fork. Wrap it in tin foil and place it next to the coals as soon as you light them. Potatoes can take about 90 minutes to cook, depending on their size.
Another option is garlic bread which can either be bought from the store or made at home. Simply wrap the garlic bread in tin foil and leave it on the grill when the coals are cooler. The idea is to heat the bread rather than cook it.
Some other sides that go well with a smoked mackerel are salads and grilled vegetables.
You can also flake the smoked mackerel and incorporate it into various dishes, including pasta, soup, salad, dips, and sandwiches. Although smoked mackerel fillets are delicious when served right off the grill with a wedge of fresh lemon.
7. Upgrade Your Cook-Out With Smoked Mackerel
Smoked mackerel is a delicious and nutritious addition to your cook-out. It’s easy to cook, affordable, and can be served in a host of ways. Whether you are entertaining guests or relaxing on the weekend, smoked mackerel is a tasty menu option.
However, it is essential to understand the right techniques for preparing the fish and controlling the smoker to achieve the most delicious results.