The Ultimate Guide to Smoking Delicious King Mackerel

If you’re a seafood lover looking to elevate your culinary game, hot-smoked king mackerel is a must-try delicacy. This flavorful fish is a favorite among anglers and foodies alike, and smoking it at home is easier than you might think. In this ultimate guide, we’ll walk you through the process of hot-smoking king mackerel, from brining to smoking and serving, ensuring you create a mouthwatering masterpiece every time.

Why Smoke King Mackerel?

Smoking is an age-old preservation technique that not only extends the shelf life of foods but also infuses them with an irresistible smoky flavor. King mackerel, with its rich, oily flesh, is an excellent candidate for smoking. The smoking process enhances the natural flavors of the fish while adding a delightful smoky aroma and texture.

Brining: The Key to Flavorful Smoked Fish

Before you begin smoking your king mackerel, it’s essential to brine the fish. Brining serves several purposes:

  • Improves the flavor and appearance of the fish
  • Enhances the texture by strengthening the flesh, which is crucial when hanging the fish for smoking
  • Prevents bacterial growth, ensuring food safety

For optimal results, most experts recommend an 80-degree brine, which translates to 21% salt by weight or 2.2 pounds of salt per gallon of water. However, if you prefer a milder saltiness or are following a low-sodium diet, you can use a 30-degree brine (7.9% salt by weight or 0.98 pounds of salt per gallon of water) and brine the fish overnight in the refrigerator.

Brining Mackerel: Step-by-Step

  1. Prepare the Brine: In a large bowl, combine water, salt, brown sugar, curing salt (optional but recommended for food safety), lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, and allspice. Whisk until the sugar and salt are fully dissolved.

  2. Brine the Fish: Place the gutted and cleaned mackerel in a deep pan or container just large enough to fit the fish. Pour the brine over the fish, ensuring it is fully submerged. Weigh the fish down with a plate to keep it submerged.

  3. Brine Time: Brine the fish for 1-2 hours at room temperature. If brining overnight, use the 30-degree brine and refrigerate.

  4. Rinse and Dry: After brining, thoroughly rinse the fish under cold running water and pat it dry with paper towels.

Drying: Developing the Pellicle

After brining, the fish needs to be dried to develop a thin, tacky layer called the pellicle. This step is crucial for achieving the desired color and flavor in smoked fish. Hang the fish or place it on racks in a well-ventilated area and allow it to dry for 1-2 hours, or until a thin, shiny layer forms on the surface.

Hot Smoking: A Three-Stage Process

Hot smoking is a three-stage process that involves gradually increasing the temperature and smoke intensity. This method ensures the fish is cooked through while developing a rich, smoky flavor and color.

Stage 1: Drying and Curing

  • Temperature: 86°F (30°C)
  • Duration: 30-60 minutes
  • Smoke: Light smoke (optional)
  • Purpose: During this stage, the skin hardens, preventing breakage, and the dampers of the smoker should be fully open to maximize airflow.

Stage 2: Smoke Infusion

  • Temperature: Gradually raise to 122°F (50°C)
  • Duration: 30-45 minutes
  • Smoke: Heavy smoke
  • Purpose: This stage infuses the fish with intense smoke flavor. The damper should be open only a quarter of the way.

Stage 3: Cooking and Finishing

  • Temperature: Raise to 176°F (80°C) until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C)
  • Duration: Minimum of 30 minutes at 145°F (63°C)
  • Smoke: Light smoke (optional)
  • Purpose: The fish is fully cooked, and the desired color is achieved. For larger or thicker fish, you may need to increase the smoker temperature to 194°F (90°C).

The total smoking time will typically be around 4-5 hours.

Cooling and Storing

After smoking, it’s essential to cool the fish quickly to prevent bacterial growth. Place the smoked mackerel in a large ziplock bag and submerge it in an ice water bath until it reaches 50°F (10°C). Then, transfer it to the refrigerator to bring the temperature down to 38°F (3°C) within 12 hours.

Smoked mackerel can be enjoyed immediately after smoking, but many prefer it chilled. For short-term storage, wrap the fish in wax paper or foil and refrigerate for up to 10 days. For longer storage, freezing is an option, but it may affect the texture, making the fish mushy.

Serving Suggestions

Hot-smoked king mackerel is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed in various ways:

  • Serve it as an appetizer or main course, accompanied by lemon wedges, dill sauce, or remoulade
  • Flake the smoked fish and toss it with pasta, salads, or scrambled eggs
  • Use it as a topping for bagels, crackers, or crostini
  • Incorporate it into dips, spreads, or fish cakes

No matter how you choose to enjoy it, hot-smoked king mackerel is sure to become a new favorite in your household.


Smoking king mackerel at home is a rewarding culinary experience that yields a delicious and impressive result. By following the proper brining, drying, and smoking techniques, you can create a mouthwatering, smoky fish that will have your taste buds dancing with joy. So, gather your ingredients, fire up your smoker, and get ready to impress your friends and family with your newfound smoking skills.

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