Seeking Advise for Smoking Smelt...

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fish hunt man

Original poster
Feb 3, 2011
Hello All,

Went smelting last year for the first time. Cleaned them up but couldn't find enough people interested in eating these babies. I decided to smoke them up when it gets a bit warmer here in MN. I am looking for advise on how to do this. I have 2 typical cheap smokers with charcoal on the bottom pan, a water pan and then I've added chicken wire shelves so I can add much more meat to smoke. This has worked well for thick cut venison jerky and summer sausage in the past, this is my first attempt at smoking fish though...

The heads are removed, gutted with a scissors and toothbrush cleaned along the spine, then quick frozen in water in 1 gallon bags....

While I have made smoked vension and jerky (see my pics in album) I have yet to try and smoke fish, let alone something so small as smelt.

Brine Recipes?
So, lay on racks? Hang in some fashion?
How long to smoke?

I have posted photos of the actual smelting here:

Please take a look and let me have it! All advice welcome!

Thank you!!
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I have not smoked smelt specifically, however, from what I hear these smelt are extremely tasty and they smoke up nicely..

I would do them very similar to trout.. just soak them in a brine for about 1 to 1.5 hours, let them dry a little in the open air then smoke them on a low temp until they reach 145 degrees or so.

My brine is as follows:

1 gallon of drinking water

1 cup of kosher salt

3/4 cup of brown sugar

Soak the cleaned fish in the brine for at least an hour but no more than 1.5 or 2 hours.

Smoke them wrapped individually in foil with a little butter and lemon and open on one end or just lay them on a cookie sheet or even directly on the grate if you wish. Keep the heat low for best results, I like to keep it about 160 or so to keep the fat/oil from cooking out of the meat. I am not sure how long this will take but I'm guessing at least a couple of hours.

Watch them carefully and when the meat flakes, the fish are done.

Maybe there are others who have smoked smelt, that will be able to be a little more definitive.
Thanks Jeff, sounds simple, aside from wrapping all those little fish :)M

Made my mouth water thinking about it! Have any ideas about how to store, once smoked?


Not sure about the storage of smoked smelt ...maybe vacuum sealed and into the freezer?

Enjoyed your smelting photos Fish Hunt Man... very interesting!
Mike, Afternoon. I have smoked them.  We fished the Nooksack River in Washington. The smelt in that run were really really oily. Very high quality fish. I brined them and smoked them until "hard smoked" on wire racks. Low heat, long time (120/24 hrs). Great with beer. My buddy would string his smelt up using a needle and thread and hang in the smoker. Vacuum pack in a jar or bag and put in the freezer. If they last that long?
Thanks for your help Dave, really appreciate it!

So by "hard smoked" do you mean they dry out and turn hard or hardwood smoked? Or something else? :)

I think the needle thread would be the best use of space in the smoker.

Thanks again!
Morning, By hard smoke I mean, until the fish is dry and hard. Turns out like salmon jerky. I have sprinkled black pepper on the fish, before the smoke, while damp. Anything is possible. Because the fish is so small I treat it as if it were a snack treat. Dont worry about the bones. They add more crunch.
Awesome pics! I was just thinking about smoking smelt, when I stumbled across this thread. 1st I need to go catch some of those little suckers! lol Pleeeeease let us know how you made out, as I'd love to try too. I'm hoping to go next week ice-fishing for them. Good-luck!!!
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Oh... BTW--I had them deep-fryed out on the ice just last week, using Zaterain's original mix. WOW--are they good! Can't imagine not finding people to eat em up.
Up here we call them hooligan.  We usually net a few gallons every spring and freeze them up.  They are wonderful smoked and make a great snack.

The natives call them candle fish due to the fact that the oil content is so high that when dried they can be lit and burned like a candle.

I got some thawing right now.  I may take some photos and such of the process I use to share.

Till then here is a video I took of the girls a couple years ago catching some hooligans.

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Thanks alot for posting Bilder! Really cool you get to bring your girls our for the fun!
I'm gonna give smelt a smoke this weekend.  Just bought a kilo for under $3 frozen here in Thailand.  So far, I've only had them fried crispy and the Thais eat them whole, from head to tail....guts included.  I usually stop at the head.  The ones we have here are either Japanese or Chinese and full of delicious eggs. I've read a few recipes that mostly say to brine for a short time [less than 2 hrs] and smoke for a long time [4 hrs], at low temps [160f].

My only experience with smelt is here in Thailand and was wondering if other cultures eat them whole....head to tail?? Google tells me that their diet before spawning on the beach is krill and plankton so maybe no pollution to worry about??

Any tips??
Alaska holligan (eulachon is the correct spelling) are very delicate, extremely oily, and ridiculously plentiful. They also smoke up very nicely.

For smoking I make a quick pass with the knife to gut them and a quick pass with a stiff brush to remove the kidney along the backbone and keep the head on. Always keep them as cold as possible!!!

Brine in standard 2:1/1 brine; two cups brown sugar, one cup salt to one gallon of water for exactly 90 minutes. Fudge to the short side, not the long.

Rinse in clear, cold water and place on racks to air-dry and form a pellicle.

Place racks in smoker with lots of smoke and very low heat (under 150F) for at least a couple hours.

After a couple hours start raising heat while maintainiing a good flow of smoke. Keep heat around 180 or so.

Because they are so rich smelt will tolerate higher temperatures and still produce a very rich, oily, smoked product.

The skin will wrinkle and be removable with minimal effort after about 4 hours. At that point the meat from the sides can be gotten at by bending the fish and getting something under the flesh to start it moving away from the spine. The pin bones will stay with the skeleton and produce wonderful strips of slighty salty, firm, sweet pieces of dried fish.

Canning, freezing, and further drying will work at this point to produce ultra-long-term storage fish.
My buddy would use a needle and thread.... run through the heads and hang them in the smoker.... They are a very good eat...  I've dipped them in the Nooksack and Cowlitz rivers...   I cooked and ate them guts, feathers and all....   Bride refused that technique and had to clean them like AKhap described.....   The egg skein, in the females, was really good...  Dave
My buddy would use a needle and thread.... run through the heads and hang them in the smoker.... They are a very good eat...  I've dipped them in the Nooksack and Cowlitz rivers...   I cooked and ate them guts, feathers and all....   Bride refused that technique and had to clean them like AKhap described.....   The egg skein, in the females, was really good...  Dave
Years ago Lake Michigan used to have smelt and people held large smelt fries. I remember stopping at one where they ran the smelt thru an old ringer washer and then agitated then fried. It wasn't very impressive. Lake Michigan smelt are now gone.
I remember they were smoked sardines wrapped plastic packages of 5-6. I remember they were salty and rubbery with head and tail intact. I was too young and only tried a taste and didn't like them. I would probably like them now.
Haven't heard of this one............  unless it was an adult beverage I never took part in....
Blind Robins were smoked smelt that were wrapped and placed on a poster boards and sold in bars and stores.  It was my introduction to smoked foods a good 60 years ago.

The company is no longer in business, can't understand why, they were so good.

Fish Hunt Man  are you up in Duluth?

Went smelting on the Knife river a couple times when i lived there.

Getting warmer?  You know Duluth

9 months of Winter 3 months of bad sledding 

At least you will have some good smoked smelt

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