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How to Make Smoked Catfish

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. 

Let’s go!

smoked catfish fillets on pellet grill

 

Seasoning your Catfish for Smoking

Catfish, being a firmer fish, holds up well to stronger flavors compared to more delicate fillets like tilapia and halibut.

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.

sprinkling seasoning on catfish before smoking

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 Smoked 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.

pellets in a pit boss pellet grill hopper

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 smokey wood flavor?  Go ahead and mix in some hickory or cherry.

 

Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Catfish

What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Catfish?

We are going to set up the smoker for indirect cooking at 250-275°F.

trager pellet grill set to 250 degrees

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 for Smoked Catfish

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.

placing catfish on the smoker

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.

Check out our complete guide on how to grill with cedar planks HERE.

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 PhatMat Non Stick 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

Char-Broil 12201570-A1 American Gourmet Offset Smoker, Black,Standard
The entry level Char-Broil Offset Barrel Smoker.
Read Char-Broil Reviews on Amazon

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 1/4 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 1/2 way to 3/4 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.

Want to see a list of our FAVORITE Vertical Smokers for 2021?  Check it out here!

 

Propane or Electric Smoker

Masterbuilt MB20073519 Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker with Broiler, 30 inch, Black
The Classic Masterbuilt Electric Smoker
See Masterbuilt Reviews on Amazon

Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.

Debating whether to buy a propane or electric smoker?  Check out our COMPLETE Comparison Guide HERE.

 

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.

 

For Electric: Plug your electric smoker in, open the vents, and turn the temperature to 250° F.

While it comes up to temperature, add smoking wood chips, not pellets, to the smoking wood tray.

Fill the water tray if there is one.

Place your oiled and seasoned catfish fillets either directly on the rack, or on your soaked cedar planks, in a grill basket, or on a Phat Mat, and close the door.

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!

 

Pellet Grill

Z GRILLS ZPG-450A 2020 Upgrade Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker 6 in 1 BBQ Grill Auto Temperature Control, 450 Sq in Bronze

Check out this Z Grills Pellet Grill on Amazon

Pellet grills like the ones from Traeger and Camp Chef are great for smoking catfish.

Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.

Plug in the pellet grill, turn it on and let it run through its start up process.

Then turn the temperature to 250°F.

catfish smoking on a traeger pellet grill

When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your seasoned catfish fillets in the pellet grill set up for indirect heat.

Never used a pellet grill like a Traeger or a Pit Boss before? 

Read our ultimate guide to pellet grills to learn why they are so easy to use and how to set one up for success every time.

Here is also a list of our Favorite Pellet Grills for 2021 priced under $500!

 

Gas or Charcoal Grill

Weber 45010001 Spirit II E-310 3-Burner Liquid Propane Grill, Black

Check out the Weber Spirit on Amazon

On a gas or charcoal grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.

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!

Check out this Step by Step Guide to Smoking on a Gas Grill HERE.

If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!

You can read all about smoker boxes here, and see a selection of our favorite pellet tube smokers here.

Not sure which is best to use?

Check out this guide comparing smoker boxes to pellet smoker tubes.

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.

 

charcoal grill set up for indirect heat

 

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.

Now, if you are using a pellet grill or electric smoker, you should be able to pretty accurately dial in your desired temperature of 250°F with the turn of a dial.

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.

smoked catfish on a traeger

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.

And even if you have a fancy pellet grill like a Traeger or even an electric smoker, it can’t hurt to double check how accurate your temperature settings are to the true temperatures you are getting.

We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series.

 

Best Ways to Serve Smoked Catfish

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 resting on a wire rack

You can also slice up that fish to make delicious smoked catfish tacos, or incorporate it into a dip for a party for all to enjoy.

 

What Other Food Can I Smoke?

Looking for some more smoky inspiration?

So glad you asked.

Check out some of our other great recipes that can all be modified for the pellet grill.

More Seafood

 

Poultry

 

Beef

 

Pork

 

Lamb

 

Other Odds and Ends

 

smoked catfish fillets on pellet grill

Smoked Catfish with Cajun BBQ Rub

We rub our catfish fillets with oil and a delicious cajun BBQ rub before smoking low and slow with indirect heat until they are cooked to perfection.
These simple Smoked Catfish fillets can be prepared on ANY grill or smoker!
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, you can still follow the same basic principles below. 
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Australian, barbecue, BBQ, Mediterranean, Seafood, Smoked
Servings 4
Calories 400 kcal

Equipment

  • 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

Ingredients
  

  • 2 lbs Catfish Fillets rinsed patted dry cut into (4) ½ lb portions
  • 6 Tbsp Olive Oil

Cajun BBQ Rub

  • 1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Onion Powder
  • 2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 tsp Dried Thyme
  • tsp Celery Salt
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper
  • ½ tsp Kosher Salt add more as desired

Instructions
 

Prepare and Season the Catfish

  • Divide the catfish fillets into 8 oz portions. Rinse well and pat dry.
    raw catfish fillets
  • 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.
    seasoned catfish fillets for the smoker
  • 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.
    traeger pellet grill set to 250 degrees
  • 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.
    loading wood chips in an electric smoker

Smoking the Catfish

  • Once smoke is being produced, put your catfish filets in the smoker, or on the grill AWAY from the direct heat.
    placing catfish on the smoker
  • 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.
    brushing a marinade on smoked catfish
  • Remove the smoked catfish from the grill or smoker, optionally squeeze some lemon juice over the fillets, and serve immediately while hot.
    smoked catfish resting on a wire rack

Video

Notes

Technique Video courtesy of Bummers BBQ
Cajun Rub inspired by Bon Appeteach
Keyword barbecue, bbq, BBQ fish, BBQ Rub, big green egg, cajun, Camp Chef, camp chef pellet grill, catfish, Masterbuilt, seafood, smoked catfish, smoked fish, smoked seafood, traeger

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