A Beginner’S Guide To Smoked Meats And Fish


Smoking is one of the oldest methods of preserving food that dates back to prehistoric times; it is a cooking method that adds a unique flavor and aroma to meats and fish that can not be replicated through any other cooking methods such as grilling, baking, or frying.

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about smoking meats and fish, including the history of smoking, different smoking methods, types of meats and fish suitable for smoking, and how to smoke them.

What is Smoking?

Smoking is, of course, a cooking method that involves exposing meats and fish to smoke from burning wood. The smoke is used to add flavor and aroma to the food while preserving it. The smoke breaks down the connective tissue and infuses the meat or fish with a unique smoky flavor. The food is usually smoked at low temperatures, which ensures that it is cooked through while maintaining its tenderness and juiciness.

History of Smoking Meats and Fish

Smoking is thought to have originated in prehistoric times when humans discovered that meat and fish that were stored in smoky environments lasted longer without spoiling. In ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, smoking was a common method of preserving meat, fish, and cheese. In the United States, smoking became popular in the South during the 1800s, where it was used as a way to preserve meat before refrigeration.

Types of Smoking Methods

There are three primary methods of smoking meat and fish: cold smoking, hot smoking, and smoke roasting.

Smoked cold meats on black buried board
Smoked cold meats

Cold Smoking

Cold smoking is a method that involves smoking the meat or fish at a temperature range between 20-30°C for anywhere between 12 to 24 hours. This method is used to flavor the food but does not cook the meat or fish through. Food items that are commonly cold smoked include cheese, salmon, and bacon.

Hot Smoking

Hot smoking is a method that involves smoking the meat or fish at a temperature range between 52-80°C until it is cooked through. The cooking process takes anywhere from 1 hour to 12 hours, depending on the size of the cut of meat or fish. Hot smoking is a popular method for smoking meats and fish such as brisket, salmon, and pork.

Smoke Roasting

Smoke roasting is a hybrid method that involves smoking the meat or fish at a high temperature range between 175-225°C. This method involves both smoking and roasting the food at the same time, resulting in a juicy and tender texture with a crispy outer layer. Smoke roasting is commonly used for cooking pork, chicken, and turkey.

Types of Meats and Fish for Smoking

Not all meats and fish are suitable for smoking; some meats and fish can become dry and tough when smoked, while others absorb the smoke and flavor well, resulting in a delicious dish. Here are some of the meats and fish suitable for smoking:


Beef is a popular meat choice for smoking; it is best to use cut of meats that are well marbled, such as brisket, short ribs, and chuck roast. The slow smoking process breaks down the connective tissue in the meat, resulting in a tender and juicy meat.


Pork is another popular meat choice for smoking. Cuts of meats such as pork shoulder, ribs, and ham are great for smoking. Smoked ham is a traditional holiday dish.


Chicken can be smoked whole or in parts such as thighs and breasts. The slow cooking process infuses the chicken with a smokey flavor, making it juicy and tender.


Smoked turkey is a popular Thanksgiving dish. The slow cooking process results in a juicy turkey with a smokey flavor.


Salmon is a commonly smoked fish. Cold smoking is the best method for smoking salmon, as it allows the flavors to penetrate the meat without overcooking it.


Tuna is a firm fleshed fish that is ideal for smoking. The firm texture of the meat holds up to the smoking process and results in a robust smokey flavor.

How to Smoke Meats and Fish

Smoking meats and fish can seem intimidating, but with the right equipment and the following steps, anyone can smoke delicious meats and fish at home.

Preparing the Meat or Fish

The first step in smoking meat or fish is to prepare it. Trim off excess fat, as it can result in a greasy finished product. Marinating or dry rubbing the meat or fish with seasonings can add additional flavor to the dish.


Seasoning the meat or fish is essential to adding additional flavors. Dry rubs and marinades are the best seasoning choices; they help flavor the meat and keep the texture of the meat juicy and tender.

Smoking Time and Temperature

The amount of time and temperature required to smoke the meat or fish depends on the size and thickness of the meat or fish being smoked. Generally, meats are smoked at a temperature range of 52-80°C, while fish is smoked at a temperature range of 20-30°C. Beginners should start with small cuts of meat or fish and gradually work their way to larger cuts as they become familiar with the process.

Serving Suggestions

Smoked meats and fish can be served hot or cold, depending on the dish. Placing the smoked meat or fish in a sandwich or burger is a great way to enjoy it. Smoked fish can be served on a charcuterie board or cold smoked salmon can be served with crackers, cream cheese, and capers.

Tips for Successful Smoking

Here are some tips to ensure successful smoking outcomes:

Choosing the Right Smoker

The type of smoker, wood, and accessories used can have a profound effect on the final product. Choose a smoker that is the ideal size for the amount of food you plan to smoke. Electric smokers are beginner-friendly, while the traditional wood-fueled smoker offers more traditional smoking experience.

Using the Right Type of Wood

The type of wood used for smoking has a significant impact on the flavor of the finished product. Different types of wood provide different smoky flavors. For example, applewood provides a fruity flavor, while hickory wood provides a strong, robust flavor.

Keeping Consistent Temperature

Maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the smoking process is essential for smoking meats and fish. Investing in a good digital thermometer can help determine the correct temperature for the food being smoked.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning and maintaining the smoker regularly can help extend its lifespan and ensure consistent and delicious results from smoking meats and fish.


Smoking meats and fish is a fun and delicious way to flavor food while preserving it. The process of smoking may seem intimidating at first, but with the right equipment and following a few steps, one can be an expert in no time. Experimenting with different types of meats, fish, seasonings, and woods can help develop new and delicious flavors.


What is the difference between hot smoking and cold smoking?

Hot smoking cooks the meat or fish at a temperature range of 52-80°C, while cold smoking is done at a temperature range of 20-30°C and is used to add flavor rather than cooking the food.

What types of meats are suitable for smoking?

Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and lamb are some meats suitable for smoking.

What is the best type of wood to use for smoking?

Different types of wood provide different flavors. Applewood provides a fruity flavor, while hickory wood provides a strong, robust flavor.

How long does it take to smoke meats and fish?

The smoking time varies depending on the size and thickness of the meat or fish being smoked. Generally, meats take anywhere from one to 12 hours, while fish takes 12 to 24 hours to smoke.

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