Learn how to make smoked catfish on ANY grill or smoker!
Catfish, while normally breaded and fried, comes out GREAT when smoked.
Smoked Catfish is also incredibly easy to prepare, whether you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger or Pit Boss, an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or just a conventional propane grill like a Weber.
- Seasoning your Catfish for Smoking
- Best Wood Choices for Catfish
- Temperature to Smoke Catfish
- Target Internal Temperature
- How Long Does it Take to Smoke Catfish?
- Smoking Catfish with Cedar Planks, Grill Baskets, or Phat Mats
- Setting up your Smoker for Catfish
- Monitor your Grill Temperature
- Serving Suggestions
- 📖 Recipe
Seasoning your Catfish for Smoking
You can go still gentle and delicate with a simple blend of salt, lemon pepper, thyme and garlic if that's your thing.
You can brine or use an italian dressing marinade on your catfish fillets for 4-6 hours, or even overnight, to get even more depth of flavor before seasoning.
Alternatively, you can go a little bigger and use a spicier BBQ rub like our current favorite Three Little Pigs Kansas City BBQ Rub.
Best Wood Choices for Catfish
Because we are only smoking the catfish fillets for such a short period of time, you can really get away with any kind of smoking wood of your choosing.
If you want to keep it simple and straightforward, choose a lighter smoking wood. For smoked catfish we especially like alder, oak, apple, or peach.
Want more smoky wood flavor? Go ahead and mix in some hickory or cherry.
Temperature to Smoke Catfish
We are going to set up the smoker for indirect cooking at 250-275°F.
When we are smoking fish, (unless we are looking to smoke small thin strips for preservation, like jerky where we dry out the protein on purpose at super low temps), anything lower tends to dry out the fish before it cooks completely.
You CAN set the temperature higher if you want a higher heat taste and finish, just know that smoking over 325°F may burn any sugar in your fancy BBQ rub, and the catfish may cook too fast to absorb any smoke flavor before its finished.
Target Internal Temperature
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your catfish fillets, especially because they will cook relatively FAST!
We are particular fans of this one from Thermopro because of its durability and affordable price.
We are targeting a final internal temperature of 145°F on the smoked catfish to know that it is finished cooking.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Catfish?
Some oilier fishes like our Maple Smoked Mackerel will take a couple hours to cook at 250°F
However, at 250°F, the typical catfish fillet will only take about 45-60 minutes to cook and come up to 145°F internally.
This gives it enough of time to absorb a good amount of smoke and really develop some great flavors on the smoker, without taking up your whole day to cook.
But watch your internal temperature closely, smaller fillets may only take 30 minutes to finish cooking!
Smoking Catfish with Cedar Planks, Grill Baskets, or Phat Mats
Option 1: Cedar Planks
You can experiment with cooking your catfish on cedar planks for some added woods-ey flavor.
Make sure to soak the cedar planks in water for at least an hour before putting them on your grill or smoker so that they don't char and burn.
This also helps release steam and flavor the catfish fillets while they are smoking.
Option 2: Use a Grill Basket or Grill Mat
Because catfish fillets, and really any fish, are more delicate than other cuts of meat, you may be more successful if you place the fillets in a grill basket rather than directly on the grill grates.
We are particular fans of the ORDORA Portable Grill Basket because it comes with its own handle, making it much easier to manage and move lots of delicate food, even shrimp, scallops, and asparagus around with one quick motion.
Another option is to use a grill mat, which are becoming increasingly popular in many BBQ circles, especially for delicate veggies and small seafood like oysters.
Our personal favorite is the Grillaholics Mesh Grill Mat.
Just throw it down on your grill to keep your smoked catfish (or any other food) from falling through.
It keeps your grates really clean, and when you are done, you just throw it right in the dishwasher!
Setting up your Smoker for Catfish
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with a few handfuls of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.
Light a charcoal chimney about ¼ way with charcoal and wait about 15 minutes for it to fully ignite.
You will not need too many briquets here because, like our Lemon-pepper Smoked Mahi Mahi, we are only smoking the catfish for about an hour at the most.
Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the dampers about ½ way to ¾ open until the cooking chamber temperature reaches about 225°F. Then slowly close them down until they are just barely open and you are maintaining a temperature of 250° F.
Place 1 chunk of your chosen smoking wood on top of your lit charcoal once the smoker is up to temperature and put your oiled and seasoned catfish fillets on once the smoker is actively producing smoke.
Propane or Electric Smoker
Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.
For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 250° F.
Need a refresher? Check our our Complete Guide to How to Use a Propane Smoker HERE.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
You will need to refill the wood chips every 30 minutes or so as they smolder out in the chip loader.
This is one of the major drawbacks, besides tray size, of electric smokers compared to pellet grills like Traegers and Pit Bosses.
However, we recently found a great solution.
If you are tired of having to reload fresh wood chips into our electric smoker, especially on longer cooks like pork butt and brisket, then check out this Masterbuilt Automatic Slow Smoker Attachment.
It basically burns new fresh wood chips at a constant rate, much like how a pellet grill works, freeing you up to do other things while getting your food nice and smokey!
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Then turn the temperature to 250°F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your seasoned catfish fillets in the pellet grill set up for indirect heat.
Gas or Charcoal Grill
Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home?
Think again. Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill!
If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!
Not sure which is best to use?
In the case of smoked catfish, we would opt for just using the smoker box filled with some wood chips since we will be cooking for probably no longer than 45-60 minutes
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your catfish to be on the other side.
Once the temperature of your grill is around 250°F, place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the coals or lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your catfish on the opposite side of the heat.
Make sure to oil the grates on the indirect side well so that the smoked catfish does not stick.
Monitor your Grill Temperature
Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.
This is what makes them so convenient!
If, however, you are using a charcoal or propane grill/smoker, you can't rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge that come installed on them.
We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from what the true actual temperature at the grill grate level.
This is unacceptable.
This is why you will always see competition cooks, and backyard chefs who know their stuff, using wireless digital probe thermometers to keep track of both their meat AND their cooking chamber.
We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series.
Our current favorite leave in thermometer is the MEATER.
It uses Bluetooth to connect to a free app on your smart phone. It even gives an estimated time for when your food will be finished!
Your smoked catfish fillets should be served immediately after removing them from the smoker.
You can brush them at the end with a BBQ or mustard glaze or just have them simply seasoned right off the grill!
No need to rest or wait to eat!
Smoked Catfish with Cajun BBQ Rub
- Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Wood chunks or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Grill Basket or Grilling Mat (optional)
- Grill Tongs or Spatula
- Instant Read Thermometer and/or Leave in Temperature Probe
- Ziploc Bag
- Filet Knife
- Cutting Board
- 2 lbs Catfish Fillets rinsed patted dry cut into (4) ½ lb portions
- 6 tablespoon Olive Oil
Cajun BBQ Rub
- 1 tablespoon Smoked Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Garlic Powder
- 1 tablespoon Onion Powder
- 2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 teaspoon Dried Thyme
- 1½ teaspoon Celery Salt
- 1 teaspoon Black Pepper
- ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt add more as desired
Prepare and Season the Catfish
- Divide the catfish fillets into 8 oz portions. Rinse well and pat dry.
- Place the catfish fillets on a cutting board and drizzle the olive oil over both sides of each fillet and rub to cover the surfaces.
- Combine the Cajun BBQ rub ingredients in a small mixing bowl and then sprinkle over each side of the catfish fillets.
- Place the fillets in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator while you prepare and preheat your grill or smoker.
Set up the Grill, Pellet Grill, or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker or pellet grill and set up the temperature to 250°F. If using a grill, set up the burners or charcoal on only one side for indirect cooking.
- Brush the grill grates with oil to keep the smoked catfish from sticking or use an oiled grill basket to hold the fillets.
- Add your wood chunk(s) directly to the firebox or on top of the charcoal of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker on a gas grill.
Smoking the Catfish
- Once smoke is being produced, put your catfish filets in the smoker, or on the grill AWAY from the direct heat.
- Cook the catfish fillets continuously at 250°F, flipping and rotating as needed, until they reach an internal temperature of 145°F. This should take about 45-60 minutes.
- Remove the smoked catfish from the grill or smoker, optionally squeeze some lemon juice over the fillets, and serve immediately while hot.