Tilapia fish is a beautiful delicacy, especially when prepared properly. One of the best ways to prepare it is by making smoked tilapia. When it is cooked low and slow with suitable smoke wood, and at the right temperature, smoked tilapia is one of the most ways to consume this flavorsome fish.
Tilapia is a freshwater fish that is in the top four of the most consumed fish in the country. It is affordable, healthy, rich in omega 3 fatty acids, and is easy to prepare. The meat of this popular fish contains less saturated fat than meat like beef and yet is packed with proteins and other beneficial nutrients.
You can bake or fry the tilapia, but you will enhance the fish’s natural flavors to a whole new level by smoking it.
Here is a brief guide for making smoked tilapia and everything you will need to have and know to prepare the fish in your smoker.
What kind of fish is tilapia?
The tilapia lives in streams, ponds, lakes, and rivers and is a common name for about 100 different cichlid fish species. The most commonly available and consumed species are the Oreochromini and the Coptodonini.
Tilapia is a very popular fish in the US due to its affordability and its mild flavor, and easy preparation.
It is a healthy fish that contains high levels of potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B, and selenium. It is also low in saturated fat and contains only 130 calories per 100 grams.
It does not contain as much mercury as some of the other freshwater fish higher in the food chain, such as trout and salmon.
The tilapia is easy and inexpensive to produce as it eats a vegetarian diet.
The light and mild flavor of tilapia make it a preferred choice for people with different tastes, as it is pretty versatile and can be prepared and served with just about any side, dip, or other food combination.
What kind of wood to use for smoked tilapia?
As mentioned earlier, this fish has a mild and light flavor, so you should carefully choose the wood that will not overpower it during the smoking.
For the purposes of smoking tilapia, you should opt for lighter smoke woods such as cherry, maple, alder, or mulberry.
You can opt for other fruity foods, but it is not recommended to use hickory or mesquite.
You should also avoid using heavier hardwoods like oak when smoking tilapia.
Here are the pros and cons of the best woods for smoked tilapia:
- Alder is among the best woods to smoke delicate meat like fish. It gives the food a very subtle sweet flavor and will not overpower it.
- Apple is sweet, fruity, and light.
- Peach is very similar to apple.
- Cherry can be stronger than the apple but is still fruity and sweet without being too overpowering.
- Mulberry is lighter than apple and is suitable for most mild-tasting fish.
- Maple has a more robust flavor but is sweet and mild too.
You should avoid using softwood for smoking and stick to fruit or nut trees that do not have too much resin, which can ruin the taste of the food.
Prepping the tilapia for smoking
Clean the fish and remove all of the bones.
Mix a cup of salt into a gallon of water to create your own simple brine for the fish.
Place the fish in an airtight glass or plastic container or a ziplock bag and fill it with the brine by covering the entire fish.
Let the tilapia sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or an hour if it is frozen.
The brining will help lock the moisture inside the meat and will tenderize it. This will help prevent it from drying out during smoking.
You can add sugar or citrus to the brine, as well as herbs and spices of your choice as well.
Be careful not to add too many spices and strong tastes so that you can enjoy the natural smoked flavor of the fish.
After 30-60 minutes in the brine, you can proceed to rub the fish.
An excellent homemade rub includes salt, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, thyme, celery seed, paprika, and cayenne.
Use equal parts of the ingredients and mix them well. You can use some oil as an adhesive for the rub.
Sprinkle the rub on the fish fillets without overdoing it.
Smoking the tilapia
Set your smoker to a temperature of about 185 degrees Fahrenheit, or as low as you can get it if using a grill.
When the desired temperature is reached, place the fish fillets on the cooking grate and let them smoke for 2 hours. Cook them for less if the temperature is higher than 185 degrees F.
The low and slow cooking will ensure that the tilapia remains tender and moist and that it will be embedded with that delicious smoky flavor as well.
When the fish is ready, you can remove it from the smoker and serve it with pasta, rice, salad, a drizzle of lemon or other dressing, and a good light white wine.
Now, you and your family or guests can enjoy the beautifully prepared smoked tilapia!
Quick guide for making smoked tilapia
- Time for prep: 10 minutes
- Time for cooking: 2 hours
- A smoker
- Charcoal or pellets and alder smoking wood
- 1 tilapia fillet per serving – cleaned and deboned (4pcs for this recipe)
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Kosher salt to taste
- Minced garlic cloves – 4 pcs.
- Fresh basil chopped – 2 tablespoons
- A rub of your choice
- A lemon – sliced
- Set up the smoker with a 2-zone cooking setting, and aim for a temperature of 170-185 degrees Fahrenheit
- Add the smoke wood of your choice
- Prepare the fish by cleaning, filleting, and deboning it
- Brine the fish in a salt and water solution in a fridge for 30-60 minutes
- Mix the ingredients for your rub
- Apply some olive oil on the fish fillets using a basting brush
- Sprinkle with the mixed ingredients or the rub of your choice on both sides
- When the temperature in the smoker reaches the desired level, place the fillets on the grates or racks of the smoker
- Close the lid, and open the vents (adjust them if necessary during the cooking to keep the temperature consistent)
- Monitor the temperature of the smoker with a reliable thermometer
- Smoke the fish fillets for 1 ½ to 2 hours
- Pull it off the smoker and serve it drizzled with some lemon and oil or other dressing of your choice.