Learn how to make smoked tilapia on ANY grill or smoker! Tilapia is such an easy fish to learn how to smoke and is a great "blank canvas" to try out a host of seasoning and flavor ideas.
Whether you are using a pellet grill like a Traeger, Camp Chef, or Pit Boss, an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or just a conventional propane grill like a Weber, we've got you covered.
Tilapia really is like a blank canvas when it comes to seasoning.
You can go gentle and delicate with a simple salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon combo.
Start with a light coating of olive oil and then add the salt, pepper and freshly minced garlic. You can also add in some smoked paprika for color and depth of flavor.
Squeeze the lemon juice over the smoked tilapia filets AFTER they come off the smoker.
If you want to go EVEN BIGGER with your seasonings, try brushing some warmed up honey on your tilapia and counter the sweetness with a Cajun spice rub, or a seafood blackening seasoning like this one we like from Black Magic.
Best Smoking Wood
Because we are only smoking the tilapia 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 like oak, apple, or peach.
Middle of the road? Try hickory or cherry.
If you want a full in your face mesquite flavor, well, use mesquite. Just be prepared for it to possibly overpower a lot of the tilapia flavor.
If you want a more delicate flavor, then go lighter with some conventional wood choices.
Keep in mind that you want wood chips for an electric smoker or smoker box, wood pellets for a pellet grill, and wood chunks for smoking on a charcoal grill or using a firebox on a gas or pellet grill.
You can also experiment with cooking your tilapia on cedar planks for added wood-ey flavor.
We are going to set up the smoker for indirect cooking at 275°F.
Because tilapia is so lean, anything lower tends to dry out the fish before it cooks completely. Anything higher and it cooks too fast to absorb any smoke flavor before its finished.
Monitor your smoker 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 275°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.
We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from what the true actual temperature of your smoker at the grill grate level is.
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.
Target Internal Temperature
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your tilapia filets, 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 tilapia to know that it is finished cooking.
At 275°F, the typical tilapia filet will take about 2 hours to cook and come up to 145°F internally.
This gives it plenty of time to absorb a good amount of smoke and really develop some great flavors on the smoker.
Optional: Use a Grill Basket
Because tilapia is more delicate than other cuts of meat, you may be more successful if you place the filets in a smoker 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 around with one quick motion.
Another option is to use a grill mat, which are becoming increasingly popular in many BBQ circles.
Our personal favorite is the Grillaholics Mesh Grill Mat.
Just throw it down on your grill to keep your fish (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!
Alternatively, you can put the tilapia directly on the grill grates, skin side down if they still have skin on.
Best Ways to Serve
Your tilapia filets should be served immediately after removing them from the smoker.
No need to rest or wait to eat.
For drinks, a crisp white wine like chardonnay or Riesling pairs nicely with the white fish if you kept the seasoning simple.
If you went big and bold with a Cajun blackening rub, you might do better pairing your tilapia with a crisp beer like a an American pale ale or a Belgian White Beer.
Honey Smoked Tilapia with Cajun Spice Rub
- Grill or Smoker
- Wood chunks or a pellet tube smoker with pellets or a smoker box with wood chips
- Grill Tongs
- Instant Read Thermometer
- Basting brush
- 12 Tilapia filets (2 per person)
- 1 Cup Honey warmed in microwave
- Black Magic Cajun blackening spice Rub or your favorite spicy BBQ rub or seafood spice blend
- Cooking Oil
Prepare the Tilapia for Smoking
- Spread the tilapia filets out on a baking sheet. Brush the bottoms of the filets with a thin layer of cooking oil so they do not stick ot the grill grates on the smoker.
- Brush a little bit of warmed honey onto each filet. You do not need too much.
- Sprinkle the Black Magic Spice rub or your favorite BBQ seasoning on the filets.
- Add any additonal salt and pepper as needed.
Set up the Grill or Smoker
- Light or turn on your smoker and set up the temperature to 275°F. If using a grill, set up the burners or charcoal for indirect cooking
- Brush the grill grates with oil to keep the fish from sticking.
- Add your wood chunks directly to the firebox of a smoker, or use chips in a smoker box, or pellets in a tube smoker on a gas grill.
Smoking the Tilapia
- Once smoke is being produced, put your tilapia filets in the smoker with the seasoned honey side UP.
- Continue cooking the tilapia in the smoker until they reach an internal temperature of 145°F using an instant read thermometer.
- Remove from the smoker and serve immediately.