Learn how to make smoked scallops on ANY grill or smoker!
Smoked scallops are a delicious entree or appetizer and the smoking them correctly adds a deep and complex flavor profile that will take their taste to the next level.
Let’s get started!
We are going to cover:
- What to look for when buying scallops to smoke
- How to prep your scallops for the smoker
- How to set up different grills and smokers for smoked scallops
- What temperature to smoke your scallops
- The best wood choices for smoked scallops
- How to know when your smoked scallops are done
- Our FAVORITE recipe for Smoked Scallops
Wow, that’s a lot…so let’s “dive in”!
What to Look for When Buying Scallops to Smoke
What is a Scallop?
Scallops are one of the easiest shellfishes to prepare because unlike lobsters and oysters, they are generally sold already cleaned and removed from the shell.
A scallop is simply a single adductor muscle that opens and closes the shell. Unlike mussels or clams, it does not filter toxins or perform any other functions, so it is a very clean and simple protein.
Distinguishing Quality Scallops
Scallops do not stay fresh for very long once removed from the ocean, so they should be bought and consumed as quickly as possible.
Look for fresh, never frozen scallops that are labeled with the date they were harvested as well as a “Best By” date.
“Diver Scallops” are the highest quality because they are harvested by actual divers who go into the coastal waters to find them, rather than being grown on a farm.
According to Mr. Recipes, you should look for scallops that are firm and translucent, and “smell faintly of the sea”. They should not smell fishy or pungent.
Yes…It’s OK to ask to smell the scallops.
If you are in a good seafood market, they will be used to this request and should have nothing to hide.
You will likely not find quality fresh scallops at your local chain grocery store so take some time to find a good local seafood market in your area if you want to buy the best.
Choosing What Sized Scallops to Smoke
Similar to shrimp, scallops are sold on a count-by-pound basis, i.e. if you buy 10-20 count sized scallops you will get a number somewhere in that range per pound.
The smaller the count, the larger the scallops.
You can find tiny scallops in the 4-50 count range, but these are best for seafood soups and other meals where you want bite sized proteins.
For smoking scallops, we want to look for the largest size we can find, likely the 10-20 count range.
Preparing your Scallops for Smoking
Rinse and Dry your Scallops
Even if your scallops look clean, make sure to give them a quick rinse under cold running water.
Pat and dry well with a paper towel. You want them scallops dry before you start seasoning and smoking them.
Seasoning Scallops for Smoking
Because scallops are so delicate you want to go VERY gentle with your seasoning.
Do not marinate them in anything acidic or they will pre-cook (this is known as ceviche and not what we are going for here.)
Coat the rinsed and dried scallops in a light coating of olive oil. Then, a pinch salt and fresh ground black pepper work best and if you desire you can add a simple lemon, butter, and garlic drizzle after they come out of the smoker.
See below for our specific recipe for this.
If you want to go bigger with your seasonings, try a cajun spice rub or a seafood seasoning like this one we like from Chef Paul.
Want to go even BIGGER with your smoked scallops?
Before we “dive in” further…you have to check out this great video from Ted Reader demonstrating how he makes bacon wrapped diver scallops topped with crabmeat in his Bradley electric smoker.
This will surely give you some additional inspiration for what is possible with smoked scallops.
Check it out!
Best Smoking Wood Choices for Scallops
Because we are only smoking the scallops 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 aok, 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 scallop flavor.
If you are wrapping in bacon and covering with a heavy saude, then a heavier wood chose may be the way to go.
But if you want a more delicate flavor and to really be able to taste those delicious scallops, then go lighter.
Best Times and Temperatures for Smoked Scallops
How Long Does it Take to Smoke Scallops?
This will depend on what type of method you want to use for your smoked scallops.
You have 2 options before you:
- Conventional low and slow smoking and cooking indirectly.
- Adding some smoke while you cook them hot and fast over direct heat or higher indirect heat.
Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each.
Low and Slow
This is going to be the more “traditional” method of smoking meat or seafood. Set up the smoker for indirect cooking at a low temperature and apply smoke and heat until the scallops are cooked.
They will be delicious, however you may find they absorb TOO much smoke for your taste with this method and also don’t get that nice crusty exterior works so well on diver scallops cooked at higher temperatures.
If cooking indirectly though, and looking to impose maximum smokey flavor with a long(er) cook time, then they will take approximately 30-40 minutes at 200-220°F to reach a target internal temperature of 125°F.
Hot and Fast
Alternatively you can choose to add a little smoke flavor to your scallops while you cook them hot and fast.
Here is a simple demonstration of how to smoked scallops like this on a Traeger pellet grill.
This can be done either on a charcoal, gas, or pellet grill over direct heat, or indirectly in a smoker but at a higher temperature.
If cooking directly, or grilling, your scallops will only take 1-2 minutes per side.
You can obviously throw some wood chips in a smoker box or a chunk on the coals as you are grilling, but don’t expect them to also absorb a lot of smokey flavor in 2-4 minutes!
If cooking indirectly at 350°F in a smoker, they will take roughly 10-15 minutes and will absorb a little more smoke than grilling alone.
Since we are focusing on smoking our scallops in this article, we will discuss how to set up your smoker or grill for the low and slow method from this point forward.
Watch the Internal Temperature Closely
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where the internal temperature is of your scallops, especially because they cook relatively FAST!
We are particular fans of this one from ThermoPro because of its durability and affordable price.
Should you Reverse Sear Smoked Scallops?
“Reverse Searing” is just a fancy term for searing your meat at the very end, once it is pretty much all the way cooked through, in order to get a nice crispy exterior crust that you just can’t get from low and slow smoking alone.
This works great for thick cuts of meat like filet mignon and ribeye steaks that need time to fully cook and absorb smokey flavor but then benefit from a nice outside sear.
You might be thinking, “Why not smoke them low and slow and then sear them at the end like a steak?” to get the best of all worlds?
The Verdict – No Reverse Sear
Unfortunately, scallops, even large diver sea scallops are such a delicate protein that cook incredibly fast, even in a smoker.
For that reason, we DO NOT recommend pre-searing or reverse searing your scallops if you are also smoking them.
Pick one or the other, otherwise they are likely to severely overcook.
The only caveat to this would be if you were able to cold smoke your raw scallops to add your smoky flavor, and THEN sear them in a hot pan.
If you are interested in trying this approach, check out some of our FAVORITE Cold Smokers here that you can set up on a simple grill, or even indoors in some cases.
Setting up your Smoker for Scallops
Use a Grill Basket
Because scallops are smaller and more delicate than other cuts of meat, you will be more successful if you place them 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 a lid to easily flip shrimp and vegetables on the grill and its own handle, making it much easier to manage and move around.
Another option is to use a grill mat, which are becoming increasingly popular vs. grill baskets for cooking delicate seafood and vegetables on grills and mokers.
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 also use a simple aluminum foil pan, and even poke some holes in the bottom if you want excess to juices to drain out and to allow more smoke to penetrate the scallops from the bottom.
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 smoking very small pieces of meat that will only take about 30 minutes to cook through.
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 180°F. Then slowly close them down until they are just barely open and you are maintaining a temperature of 200-225° 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 scallops on.
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 220° F.
For Electric: Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to 220° F.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
Place your oiled and seasoned scallops on the rack and close the door.
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Plug in the pellet grill and turn the temperature to 220° F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your scallops on the grill grates in a grill basket or on a Phat Mat.
If you DO want to get a good sear on the scallops after applying some smoke flavor, try using Grill Grates on your pellet grill. These work great for creating a hotter searing station on part of your pellet grill without having to crank the temperature.
Simply move the scallops over to the flat griddle like side of the Grill Grates after smoking when they are about half way done cooking for a golden seared crust.
Never used a pellet grill 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 sea scallops, we would opt for just using the smoker box filled with wood chips since you won’t need all the burn time that comes with lighting a tube full of pellets.
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 scallops to be on the other side.
Again, you won’t need much charcoal since we will only be smoking the scallops for 30-40 minutes at the most.
Once the temperature of your grill is around 220°F, place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the coals lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your scallops on the opposite side of the heat.
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 220°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 though, you can’t rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge.
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 or 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 Scallops
Your scallops should be served immediately after removing them from the smoker.
Large, quality diver seas scallops should be served without any kind of heavy sauce so that you and your guests can taste how good they are.
If you really want to dress them up, try using a simple garic, butter, and white wine sauce like we have in our recipe below.
Simply drizzle the sauce lightly over the scallops after removing them from the smoker and serve on a platter maybe with an herb salad, a fresh baguette, brussel sprouts, or asparagus.
Alternatively you can serve them over a pasta like linguine and then drizzle the sauce over that.
For drinks, a crisp white wine like chardonnay or riesling pairs nicely with the delicate scallops.
For beer drinkers, stay away from heavy dark beers and instead go for 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 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 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
- 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!
Smoked Scallops with Lemon Garlic Drizzle
- Grill with Smoker Box
- Electric, Propane, or Charcoal Smoker
- Grilling Basket
- Smoking Wood Chips or Chunks
- 2 lbs Fresh Raw Diver Scallops 10-20 count
- 4 Cloves Minced Garlic
- 6 Tbsp Salted Butter
- 1 Cup Dry White Wine
- 1/2 Lemon, squeezed
- Olive Oil
- Salt and pepper
- Wash and Rinse your scallops and then pay dry with a paper towel.
- Cover with a thin coating of olive oil and season with your salt and pepper.
- Start up your smoker or set up you grill for 2 zone indirect cooking. Start to bring temperature up to about 200°F.
- Add your smoking wood to the smoker (or smoking box if using a grill and continue to bring temperature up to 220°F.
- Place the scallops in a lightly oiled grill basket and place in the smoker or on the grill away from the direct heat. Close the lid.
- Maintain the smoker or grill at 220°F for about 30-40 minutes and remove the scallops when they are firm and the center is no longer translucent or the internal temperature reads 125° F with an instant thermometer.
Cook the White Wine Garlic Drizzle
- While the scallops are smoking, put 2 Tbsp olive oil and the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- When the butter has melted add the mince garlic and stir continuously in the butter so that it does not burn, for 2 minutes.
- Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer gently until the scallops are finished smoking.
- When the scallops are finished, remove them from the smoker, remove the sauce from the heat, add the lemon juice to the sauce, and stir to incorporate.
- Plate the scallops and then drizzle the white wine lemon garlic sauce over them and serve immediately.
- Optional: Serve over al dente pasta like linguine.