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.
Let’s get started!
Seasoning your Tilapia for Smoking
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 Wood Choices for Smoked Tilapia
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.
And if you want a full in your face mesquite flavor, well, use mesquite. But prepared for it to possibly overpower a lot of the tilapia flavor.
But if you want a more delicate flavor, then go lighter with some conventional wood choices.
You can also experiment with cooking your tilapia on cedar planks for added wood-ey flavor.
Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Tilapia
What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Tilapia?
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.
Target Internal Temperature for Smoked Tilapia
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 Powlaken because of its durability and affordable price.
We are targeting a final internal temperature of 145°F on the tilapia t know that it is finished cooking.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Tilapia?
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.
Setting up your Smoker for Tilapia
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 PhatMat Non Stick 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.
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 1/4 way with charcoal and wait about 15 minutes for it to fully ignite.
You will not need too many briquets here because we are only smoking the tilpai for about 2 hours 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 275° 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 tilapia 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 275° F.
For Electric: Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to 275° F.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
Place your oiled and seasoned tilapia filets on the rack and close the door.
Pellet grills like the ones from Traeger and Camp Chef are great for smoking tilapia.
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 275°F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your seasoned tilapia directly on the grill grates or in a grill basket.
Never used a pellet grill like a Traeger or a Camp Chef 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.
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!
In the case of tilapia, we would opt for just using the smoker tube filled about half way with pellets since we will be cooking for longer than the 20-30 minutes a smoker box full of wood chips will last.
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 tilapia to be on the other side.
Once the temperature of your grill is around 275°F, place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the coals or lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your tilapia on the opposite side of the heat.
Make sure to oil the grates on the indirect side well so that the fish 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 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.
Best Ways to Serve Smoked Tilapia
Your tilapia filets should be served immediately after removing them from the smoker.
No need to rest or wait to eat.
IFor 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.
What Other Food Can I Smoke?
Looking for some more smoky inspiration?
So glad you asked.
Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Prime Rib on a Traeger Pellet Grill
- Smoked Ribeye Roast
- Spatchcocked Chicken on a Pellet Grill
- Smoked Turkey Breast with Cajun Butter Injection
- Hot and Fast Smoked Beef Brisket
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder with a Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoked Lamb Shanks
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Ribeye Steaks: The Ultimate Guide
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Smoked and Reverse Seared Ribeye Steaks
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Pellet Grill Turkey
- Smoked Asparagus
Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours! You’ve got to check it out!
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.