Full of moisture and intense flavor, mackerel is the perfect fish for smoking. Smoked mackerel is easy, delicious, and requires only 3 ingredients. It will soon become one of your favorite ways to use the smoker.
Smoked mackerel can be used for so many dishes and it is worth making a larger batch and storing some in the freezer. It’s amazing as a main, but also an excellent ingredient for salads, sandwiches, and dips.
Another reason to make a larger batch is because the smoky, flaky fish meat is a highly addictive treat. I can’t tell you how many times the smoked fish I made didn’t even last 30 minutes!
🍽️ Why This Works
👉Full of Nutritional Value. Mackerel is very high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals including vitamin B12, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and selenium, and of course, protein.
👉Extra Tasty. The rich, slightly sweet, buttery taste of mackerel is perfect for those of us who want to taste our fish and savor it. The addition of smoke – as you know, that is our preferred way to enjoy almost any meat and it works well here. It is an excellent choice for smoked fish dip, soup, stew, or pâté.
👉Fast to the Table. Unlike many other smoked meats, you can get smoked mackerel to the table in just 2 hours.
🛍️Mackerel Fillets – Always get the freshest fish you can find. Look for a fish without a strong smell. Fish should be firm and pink. It should not look like it is yellowing or extra slimy. I went fishing and landed a few Spanish Mackerel, but if you can get King or Cero Mackerel, they will work perfectly as well.
🛍️Kosher Salt – Coarse Kosher salt will help draw out the moisture in the fish and allow it to take up more smoke flavor.
🛍️Olive Oil – Adds flavor and helps keep the fish from drying out.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
✔️Sharp Filet Knife | This tool is essential whether you are preparing your own fresh fish for smoking or picking up mackerel at your local market. A dull knife will tear up your fish. Filet knives are flexible making them perfect for the job.
✔️Smoker | We like to use our Big Green Egg which works as a charcoal smoker and grill. Any smoker you have will work – a Traeger or another pellet smoker, an electric smoker, an offset smoker….etc.
✔️Basting Brush | If you don’t want to make a mess pouring and rubbing oil over the fish by hand, use one of these handy brushes to spread the oil.
✔️Smoker Gloves | These allow you to pick up the hot smoked fish and flip it.
☑️Step One: Preheat your smoker for indirect heat at 275ºF. Fillet the fish. Keep the skin on the mackerel and make sure to remove the blood line on each fillet.
That is the center line on each fillet and can be removed by cutting down both sides of it at an angle and lifting it out.
☑️Step Two: Sprinkle some salt in a non-reactive dish. Lay the fillet, skin-side down on the salt, and sprinkle some more salt on top of the meat.
You only need a little bit to draw out residual moisture and allow the fish to form a sticky pellicle, which will help the smoke adhere.
This is called dry-brining. You can move on in 5 minutes like we did or let it sit here for up to 45 minutes in the salt.
☑️Step Three: After 5 minutes, remove the fillet and rinse it thoroughly. Pat it dry with a paper towel.
☑️Step Four: Rub the skin side of the fillet with olive oil. This will minimize the chances of it sticking to the grill grate.
☑️Step Five: Add wood chips to the smoker. I recommend a fruitwood like apple or cherry. Add the fish to the smoker straight on the grill grate.
☑️Step Six: Let the fillet smoke for about 2 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Remove and serve. Make an extra fillet or two for a smoked fish dip!
❗ Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Cast iron, aluminum, or unlined copper are all reactive materials. They will leach into foods when exposed to an acid. Instead choose stainless steel, glass, or glazed ceramic.
- Mackerel has a higher oil content, which is what makes them perfect for smoking. If you aren’t sure how much a smoke flavor you will like, aim for a nice, slow, and steady trickle of smoke. You really don’t need a lot to give the fish this amazing flavor.
- Keep the skin on! Regardless if you’re smoking mackerel fillets or whole mackerel, I highly recommend keeping the skin on. It helps hold the delicate meat together, adds flavor, and it may crisp up slightly as some of its fat renders keeping the fish moist.
🧑🍳 Storage and Reheating
When properly stored, smoked fish will have the same texture and flavor after reheating. Let’s explore our options!
💠Fridge – Keep smoked mackerel in an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to 7 days.
Remember this shelf life estimation also depends on how fresh the fish was when you smoked it, how soon it was refrigerated after smoking (ideally, right after it cools down), and whether your fridge is able to maintain a constant temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below.
Tip: Do not portion or flake the fillets if you’re keeping them in the fridge. Whole fillets last better. It’s better to tear it when you’re ready to use it.
💠Freezer – If you need to store the fish for longer than a week, freeze smoked mackerel and it will last for up to 3 months. In this case, I recommend you break it up before freezing if you plan to use it in a salad, or a dip. It will thaw faster!
To freeze, wrap the smoked mackerel in cling film or Press N Seal, then place it in a Ziploc bag. The delicate meat is susceptible to freezer burn, so the extra layer of protection is needed.
💠Thawing – Speaking of, the best way to thaw smoked mackerel, whether it was frozen whole or flaked, is in the fridge. Keep in mind that fish is highly perishable. Keeping it on the counter can speed up spoilage and make it unsafe to eat.
Both the stovetop and microwave work for reheating smoked mackerel. If you can choose between them, I recommend the skillet method. The microwave can dry out the fish.
For the best texture and flavor, let the smoked mackerel sit out for 10-15 minutes before reheating. Do not reheat frozen mackerel until it is fully thawed.
🔸Skillet Method: Warm up a skillet over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. For flaked mackerel, the safest approach is to use a non-stick pan. Otherwise, it may break apart more, and/or burn.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil or butter to the skillet. This will prevent the fish from sticking and drying out.
For whole mackerel fillets, place them skin side down in the skillet. Heat for 2-3 minutes, flip, and do the same for the other side.
For flaked mackerel, stir gently, and sparingly. This is very delicate meat, and you can easily break it into smaller pieces. If it seems too dry, you can add a splash of white wine, vegetable or fish stock, or lemon juice for a brighter flavor.
Remove from heat as soon as it’s warmed through.
🔸Microwave Method: Place the mackerel in a microwave-safe dish.
Cover with a microwave-safe lid or a damp paper towel so the fish stays moist.
Using the “reheat” mode or a low power setting, heat the fish in 30-second intervals, stirring or flipping in between.
- As I already mentioned earlier, this fish is perfect for pre-cooking in bulk and keeping some in the fridge or freezer.
- Once your smoked mackerel has cooled down, portion it based on your meal plans. To use as a main course, save some whole fillets. For salads, sandwiches, spreads, and dips, it can be stored flaked or chopped.
- Another practical option is to make lunch boxes with the leftovers. They can save you on a busy weekday and can be stored in the fridge or freezer, depending on how soon you plan to use them.
🌶️Additions and Substitutions
👉Season it up. The purpose of this 3-ingredient smoked mackerel recipe is to make it simple and versatile. Honestly, the salt is enough if you want to enjoy the natural flavors of this fish.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get creative every now and then. I love Old Bay Seasoning when I’m craving the classic seafood taste.
Another option is to use your favorite store-bought seafood rub or try a homemade one. Occasionally, I make this Carribean jerk seasoning because its sweet, mild flavor pairs wonderfully with smoked fish.
It’s also possible to get the best of both worlds. Go beyond salt but not too far. Salt, black pepper, and dry mustard is a popular seasoning combination that will give you a straightforward, yet delicious taste profile.
👉Wood Varieties for Smoking. While apple or cherry wood chips are our go-to for their mild and fruity notes, don’t hesitate to experiment with other types.
Pecan wood, for instance, adds a subtly sweet and nutty flavor that complements mackerel beautifully.
Other fruit woods like peach or even maple can also be excellent choices, each adding their unique aroma and essence to the fish.
👉Fish Alternatives. This recipe is quite versatile and can be adapted to various types of fish.
Salmon, tuna, whitefish, sole, hake, mahi-mahi, bluefish, and butterfish are all good candidates for this smoking method. You can also use herring but it is very bony.
👉Adding a Twist. If you’re feeling adventurous, try incorporating herbs like dill, parsley, or thyme into your rub or as a garnish.
Lime, lemon, and orange zest can add a refreshing taste. For a warm, spicy kick, a sprinkle of cayenne or a dash of your favorite hot sauce will be enough.
The only difficult part about choosing a side for smoked mackerel is there are too many options. For a BBQ cookout, consider having 2 or more sides to cater to different tastes.
🥄Classic BBQ Sides. Coleslaw or a fresh green salad like my grilled peach and arugula salad are a wonderful way to introduce a crunchy texture, and a whole array of nutrients to your meal.
A smoked potato salad or smoked mac and cheese are heartier alternatives easy to scale up for hungry guests.
Or serve with some crackers or toast for a fun snack.
🥄Grilled And Smoked Vegetables. Double the smoky flavor and keep the calories low with some delicious grilled or smoked vegetables. Smoked asparagus bundles, grilled tomatoes, grilled broccolini, or grilled carrots with balsamic glaze are excellent next to smoked fish.
🥄Potato Dishes. Add some mashed potatoes, regular French fries, or smoked fingerling potatoes next to the smoked mackerel for a classic combination that will remain forever satisfying.
🥄Dips And Sauces. Horseradish sauce, tartar sauce, or a yogurt dressing are some of my favorite sauces to serve with fish. Fish likes a bit of acidity, so I always choose the tangy ones. Let me know if you have any secret recipes that go well with smoked mackerel!
🥄As A Topping. Smoked fish meat is always excellent over rice, pasta salads, noodles, and in dips like this smoked fish dip.
🥄Pickles. Pickled cucumbers, onions, beetroot, and sauerkraut are also acidic and will help cut through the richness of smoked fish.
♨️More Smoked Fish Recipes
What I love most about this easy smoked mackerel, is the short smoking time. For those situations when you don’t even have a couple of hours, try this whole grilled Spanish mackerel. It’s a simpler, faster way to enjoy mackerel.
👍Thick and meaty smoked tuna steaks are a special treat. We used a quick brine for them and they don’t usually need more than 90 minutes in the smoker.
👍Cod is less fatty than mackerel and salmon, for example. Smoked cod is one of my favorite options for a light lunch or dinner, but also makes an eye-catching appetizer.
👍If you don’t love strong fishy flavors, this smoked trout is something you should try. Trout has a very pleasing mild taste profile. After a smoke infusion, it will only get better.
👍Rockfish is another mild, clean-tasting fish with a natural sweetness that merges with the smoke for a rich, multi-layered flavor. Smoked Pacific rockfish is also ready in about 2 hours so you don’t need to plan ahead to enjoy it.
❓ Recipe FAQ
Yes. You can freeze whole fillets, individual portions, or flaked fish for up to three months in an airtight container.
275ºF worked perfectly for us and the fish was ready in a couple of hours.
Smoked mackerel has a slightly sweet, buttery flavor and is similar in flavor and texture to salmon. Being a naturally oily fish, expect a moist and tender texture if cooked properly.
The salt dry brining process we did before smoking will add the salty taste. All of this mixed with the naturally mild fish flavor adds up to a complex umami-rich taste profile.
While smoked mackerel is full of protein, omega fatty acids and other essential nutrients like Vitamin B12, it can also be high in salt.
Use a digital meat thermometer and aim for an internal temperature of 160°F.
According to USDA’s safe temperature chart, 145°F is enough for the fish to be safely cooked. However, a higher temperature of 160°F will further minimize the risk of contracting food-borne illness and ensure a flaky consistency.
Tried this recipe? Please leave a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. You can also stay in touch with me through social media by following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook!
- 2 Mackerel Fillets
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- ¼ cup Salt kosher or Sea Salt
- Set up smoker to indirect heat at 275°F.
- Fillet the fish. Keep the skin on the mackerel and make sure to remove the blood line on each fillet. That is the center line on each fillet and can be removed by cutting down both sides of it at an angle and lifting it out.
- Sprinkle some salt in a non-reactive dish. Lay the fillet, skin-side down on the salt, and sprinkle some more salt on top of the meat. You only need a little bit of salt. The salt will draw out residual moisture and allow the fish to form a sticky pellicle which will help the smoke adhere.
- After 5 minutes, remove the fillet and rinse it thoroughly. Pat it dry with a paper towel.
- Brush the skin side of the fillet with olive oil. This will minimize the chances of it sticking to the grill grate.
- Add wood chips to the smoker. Aim for a slow and steady trickle of smoke. You don't want large, billowing clouds.
- Let the fillet smoke for about two hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Remove and serve.