I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to break with my invariable custom of writing posts that are completely useless and actually tell you how to do something.
First, though, I should mention that the reason I seldom tell you how to do anything is that, no matter what it is, there are people out there who do it better than I do. The list of links over on the right side of this page will take you to all kinds of places where you can learn how to cook, hunt, forage, or garden from people who are really good at it.
But I will say that we hot-smoke a mean bluefish in this house, and we do it on an ordinary kettle grill. No smoker required. Here’s how to do it.
First, buy a boat.
You can skip that step, though, as well as all the ones I’m going to skip – the ones that involve finding, catching, and fileting the bluefish. Let’s fast-forward to the part where you have a few bluefish filets in your possession.
Step 1: Brining: Make a brine of ¾ c. Kosher salt, ½ cup sugar, and 2 T. lemon juice per half-gallon of water. (I only specify Kosher because it’s what I have in the house. You can use ordinary table salt, but it’s finer-grained, and takes up less volume than the same weight of Kosher salt. If you use table salt, use a little over half a cup.) Soak the fish in the brine overnight, in the refrigerator.
Step 2: Drying: Drain the filets and pat them dry. Lay them out on racks and let them dry until they form a shiny skin, called a pellicle. This usually takes 2-4 hours. The pellicle is supposed to seal in moisture, but I’m not convinced this is true. One of these days, I’m going to do a blind taste test of pellicled vs. non-pellicled bluefish to see if I can tell the difference. In the meantime, though, I don’t have the nerve to disregard centuries of fish-smoking advice. I dry the fish. Once they’re dry, I sprinkle them liberally with freshly ground black pepper.
Step 3: Smoking: This is the tricky part, but Kevin has developed an excellent method. You’ll need hardwood chips, charcoal, and a large disposable aluminum roasting pan. First, soak about two cups of hardwood chips in water for a few hours. In a kettle grill, start a large chimney of charcoal. When the charcoal’s surface is mostly covered in ash, spread the coals in a rectangle roughly the size of the roasting pan in the middle of grill, leaving the sides clear. Drain the woodchips and spread them over the charcoal.
Punch a bunch of holes in the bottom of the roasting pan and place it, upside down, over the charcoal and wood chips. The pan prevents any direct heat from reaching the fish, helps keep the fire low, and lets the smoke out through the holes.
Put the filets on the grill, and cover it. Adjust the vent so it’s almost completely closed, so the fire doesn’t get too hot. You’re aiming for a temperature of about 150 degrees. If your grill doesn’t have a thermometer, Kevin recommends installing one. You can buy one at any store that sells grilling accoutrement and install it by drilling a hole in your grill cover.
Smoke the filets until they’re cooked through. This should be about an hour for 1/2-pound filets, an hour and a quarter for 3/4–pound filets, and an hour and a half or longer for larger filets.
And that’s all there is to it. Next post, I promise to go back to being useless.