In this ultimate guide to smoked mackerel, you’ll learn how to make the perfect mackerel on your pellet smoker grill. We’ll guide you through everything, from choosing the best fish in the store to pairing your smoked mackerel with side dishes.
Table of Contents
How to Choose the Perfect Mackerel
When shopping for fresh fish, here’s how to choose the best one:
- Smell it. It shouldn’t have a strong or unpleasant fishy smell.
- Look at the eyes. The eyes should look clear, not murky or sunken in.
- Touch it. When you poke the flesh, it should bounce back and feel firm, not squishy or slimy.
How to Clean Mackerel
To prepare your mackerel to smoke, you need to clean and filet it. Here’s how.
- Start by cutting the mackerel clean in half lengthwise, running your knife along the spine. Leave the head intact (if you were to cut the head, there would be one eye on each side). Now that the spine is exposed, you can remove it in one whole piece, including all the small bones.
- Then, cut out the stomach lining. Here, you can decide if you want to keep the skin on or off. To remove the skin, slide your knife between the skin and meat, pulling the skin back and forth as you gently push your knife down the fish filet.
- Once you’ve cut your fish into filets, simply rinse the mackerel in cold water to finish cleaning.
Equipment and Ingredients for Smoked Mackerel
This smoked mackerel recipe is a bit more involved than a basic steak. To make the best smoked mackerel on your pellet smoker, you’ll need several things.
Equipment for Making Smoked Mackerel
- cutting board
- sharp knife
- paper towels
- large zip-top bags OR a covered baking dish
- wire rack
- basting brush
- Z Grills pellet smoker
- Z Grills wood pellets
- meat thermometer
Ingredients for the Smoked Mackerel Brine
- 1-quart cold water
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ an onion, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp ground pepper
- ¾ cup pineapple juice
Ingredients for Smoked Mackerel Glaze
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Other Ingredients for Smoked Mackerel
- vegetable oil
- fresh mackerel
How to Smoke Mackerel on a Pellet Smoker
Smoking mackerel on a pellet grill is simple, but it is an investment in your time. Here’s how to make the best smoked mackerel you’ll ever taste.
1. Brine the Mackerel
The key to making the best smoked mackerel is great brine. For this recipe, we recommend bringing your mackerel for 8 hours overnight—however, you can get away with 4 hours in a pinch.
The brine will cause the mackerel to form a pellicle, which is a thin coating on the exterior of the fish that absorbs the smokey flavor from your pellet grill.
After you brine the mackerel for 6-8 hours, you’ll rinse and dry the fish.
2. Smoke the Mackerel on Your Pellet Grill
As the fish dries, you can preheat your pellet grill to 225°F. Once the grill is hot, you can grease the grill grates with vegetable oil and place the mackerel skin side down.
Close the lid, and your mackerel will be fully cooked in roughly 3 hours. The time it takes for your mackerel to reach an internal temperature of 145°F will depend mostly on the size of your mackerel filets.
3. Brush Glaze on Your Mackerel
After 30 minutes on the grill, you can glaze your fish. Then, you’ll glaze it every 20-30 minutes until it finishes cooking.
This recipe uses a balsamic maple glaze with Dijon mustard, black pepper, and a dash of cayenne.
What to Serve with Smoked Mackerel
This smoked mackerel has an intense smokey flavor, so it pairs best with plain sides like:
- potato salad
- roasted potatoes
- crackers and cheese
- salad with fresh vegetables
But don’t be afraid to serve your smoked mackerel with more complex flavors, especially these pellet grill recipes:
- Grilled eggplant
- Grilled asparagus
- Grilled watermelon
- Peppery grilled okra
- Grilled cauliflower steak
What Temperature to Smoke Mackerel
When smoking mackerel, 225°F is the sweet spot for your pellet smoker. Remember, the internal temperature of your fish should reach 145°F for food safety.
At 225°F, it will take your mackerel about 2-4 hours to smoke. Although this may seem like a long time, it’s well worth it once you take your first bite!
Tips and FAQs for Smoked Mackerel
This smoked mackerel is easy to make, but you might still have questions if this is your first-time smoking mackerel on your pellet smoker. Here are the tips and answers you need to know.
1. What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Mackerel At?
We recommend smoking mackerel at 225°F for several hours for the best flavor.
2. Is Smoked Mackerel Healthy?
Yes! It’s packed with protein and plenty of essential nutrients for heart health and an energized body.
3. Does Smoked Mackerel Need to Be Cooked?
No. Smoked mackerel is safe to eat hot or cold. Once it is cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F during the smoking process, it is ready to eat!
- vegetable oil
- 16 oz fresh whole mackerel
For the Brine
- Clean the fish by removing all bones and scales, but leave the skin on. Filet or butterfly into 8 oz portions.
- Rinse mackerel filets in cold water.
- Mix all the brine ingredients together in a large container. You can use a bowl, bucking, baking dish, or zip-top bag.
- Gently place the mackerel filets in the brine and soak them overnight in the fridge for 6-8 hours.
- Then, gently remove the mackerel from the brine, and rinse it under cold water again.
- Pat the mackerel filets dry with paper towels. Then, let them air dry on a wire rack in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
- While the mackerel dries, prepare the glaze and the grill. Mix all of the glaze ingredients together in a microwave-safe bowl.
- Preheat your Z Grills pellet smoker to 225°F.
- Using a paper towel soaked in oil, grease the grill grates.
- Once your pellet smoker is preheated to 225°F, place the mackerel skin side down directly on the grill grates.
- Smoke the mackerel for about 30 minutes with the lid closed.
- After 30 minutes, apply the glaze with a brush. If the glaze becomes too thick to brush on easily, microwave it for 10 seconds until it thins out.
- Every 20-30 minutes, brush another thin layer of glaze on the mackerel.
- When the internal temperature of the mackerel reaches 145°F, remove it from the smoker and serve immediately. Your smoked mackerel will take about 2-4 hours total, depending on the size of your mackerel fillets. Watch your thermometer closely!