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What is the Best Cold Smoker for Fish? Light and gentle cold smokers are the best for fish. Either you can hang or lay the fish on racks for cold smoking. The best cold smokers for fish allow airflow and an environment with a higher humidity assists also.
I’ve used various cold smokers over a few decades; I wanted to summarise a helpful and informative guide to choosing a cold smoker for fish based on my experiences.
When I started to catch a few fish in my early years, I got interested in cold smoking, and over the years, I have worked out better ways to cols smoke fish. I have tried many techniques and different equipment, with some results being epic wins and some failures to learn from.
So I’ve learned a lot about cold-smoked fish from different countries around the world I have been lucky enough to visit. Always learning and gathering ideas along the way.
It really doesn’t have to be complicated when it comes to cold smoking, but the key thing is your curing and drying the fish out in an environment that has cold smoke running through it.
I have written a full guide on cold smoking and also the difference between hot and cold smoking here. But specifically, this is about the best cold-smoking gear I have used for making fish.
My suggestion for the simplest, easiest, and best cold smokers are (drumroll please):
- Pellet Tube Smoker
- Maze Style Smoker
Probably the biggest reason why I like these simple apparatuses is they are portable, flexible and reliable and I’ve used them in many different tasty smoking scenarios!
I wrote a page about recommended pellet tubes & maze smokers I like here.
Probably the biggest thing you need to figure out for a cold-smoked fish is where you’re going to be cold smoking for just flavor we can be cold smoking for preservation.
Cold smoking preservation takes quite a bit longer, but it’s pretty cool to have something that doesn’t need to be refrigerated because these days, we rely pretty heavily upon refrigeration and freezing our foods.
But if you’re after a cured find, like Gravalax or Lox with a cold smoke flavor, that’s a cool starting point, and you can just consume those delicious slices within a week or so.
Some of the chambers I use this type of smoker in are,
- Old Kettle Grill BBQ
- Commercial Hot Smoker Chamber (Switch off, obviously)
- Large Card Board Box
- Gas Grill BBQ
If you want just an overview of the different ways of smoking, I wrote a beginner guide as well, just going over a bunch of smoking techniques.
My First Cold Smoker
It was a smoke generator, which is a vertical metal tube you fill with wood, more than likely wood pellets.
You get the wood pellets burning through a hole on the side; an air pump uses the venturi effect to pull the smoke through a tube into the smoking area. It’s adjustable, so you have a variable pump for airflow.
I’ve bolted one of these onto my old barbecue kettle grill or used it to pump cold smoke into my large five-burner gas grill barbecue.
I’ve mentioned this second because I think a pellet tube will be cheaper and more versatile for anyone starting out wanting something simple.
But if you want to control the level of smoke, smoke generators are fantastic!
You can stick a pellet tube or a maze smoker straight into your smokehouse with enough room and clearance, and this will give you a nice, consistent smoldering smoke.
Best Cold Smoker for Fish
Here is a quick rundown of how I generally set up cold-smoking my fish for the best results.
Once I’ve done a complete salt curing or wet brining of my fresh fish, whether freshwater or ocean fish, it doesn’t matter.
It’s usually the time of the year when the humidity and moisture levels are slightly higher at night, generally around 70-80%, sometimes 90%.
This is something I learned and read about in a commercial cold smoking book, which upped my game when it came to longer forms of cold smoking, more weight loss, but still a level of moisture in the finished product.
The temperature usually is well under the 86°F/30°C needed for cold smoking.
It’s more around 10 to 20°C at night. So before I go to bed, I get a torch burner and, for five minutes, get the wood smoke pellets inside the pellet tube going.
Making sure there’s some good airflow going through the smoking chamber, here is an example of my basic kettle grill setup. I took some photos to give you an idea of my fundamental setup (air holes at the bottle of the kettle grill let the smoke flow in).
I know it’s going to be cold smoking for 3 to 5 hours, reliably.
Then, the following day, I hang it up in the shed or garage, where it sits for a day. If it’s a bit warmer during the day, like over 68-77°F / 20-25°C, I put it in my homemade curing chamber at about 10 to 15°C and 70% humidity.
Curing chambers are an excellent tool for all sorts of food projects. If you want more info on building one, check out a rundown here.
The next evening, I repeat the process until I get the cold, smoky flavor and weight loss I want from the fish.
If your looking for the 'ducks nuts' (that means a very good bit of equipment). A smoke generator can be used as a cold smoker, or adding smoke to indirect cooking which equates to a form of 'low & slow' bbq or making smoked ham and some much more.
The inventor of smoke generators was Smokai, it's a simple device that uses the venturi effect and a variable air pump to control the amount of smoke you are pumping.
I have a range of cold smoking options, and the Smokai is my favorite.
By far the smokai is the most efficient cold smoker I've come across because you have control.
It also burns very clean, which flavors the food exceptionally well. I've been using smoke generators for over 10 years, and this one is the ducks nuts.
Check out this review I did of the Smokai Smoke Generator here.
You Can Cold Smoke Any Fish Oily or White Fish
It’s a general way of categorizing many types of fish. Still, things like salmon, mackerel, sardines, or anchovies are a form of oily fish, which lend themselves nicely to cold smoking or hot smoking, for that matter.
Oily fish seem to taste like they hold more moisture because the healthy oils are still in the flesh after the salt from the cure has removed the water moisture.
Here are some useful tables and times for cold smoking I put together.
Here is a recipe for cold smoking yellow tail also know as Kingfish.