Smoked Tilapia [Recipe & Guide]


Lightly spiced smoked tilapia slowly cooked over alder wood. These beautiful skinless fillets are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and all the flavor comes only from the meat of the fish. Prepared in just 2 hours, tilapia will soon become your new favorite barbecue recipe.

Recipe for smoked tilapia

Tilapia is the fourth most consumed fish in the US as of 2002 and one of the later fish to enter the market. Packed with protein, low in fat and even low in mineral fatty acids, with up to 16 times less mineral fatty acids than steak. It’s usually baked or fried, but smoking takes its flavor to the next level. If you want to know how to smoke tilapia, check this out.

how to smoke tilapia

What is tilapia?

Tilapia is a common name that refers to a family of fish, of which 3 species are the most sold in the market. It is high in phosphorus, potassium, selenium and B vitamins while also having a low calorie profile(130 per 100 grams).

Because of their faster growth rate and(mostly) vegetarian diet, they accumulate very little mercury compared to other valuable fish higher up the food chain, such as salmon or freshwater trout. For the same reasons, they are very cheap and easy to make.

When cooked, its flesh remains tender and offers a mild, light flavor. It’s a very versatile meat, as its mild flavor goes well with almost anything. It can be served with salads, dips, etc.

Tilapia on smoking racks

Selection of the wood

Like I said, tilapia has a bland flavor, so we don’t want to overpower it. Choosing the right wood is important.

When smoking heavier meats like steak, you typically choose hardwoods like mesquite or oak. We don’t want that now. Lighter woods such as maple, cherry, mulberry or alder(these go well with most fish) are recommended.

Other fruitwoods like apple also work well, but don’t use mesquite or hickory.

Let’s review the best options when choosing the best wood:

  • Alder: Due to its very subtle, slightly sweet taste, it is one of the most famous woods for smoking fish. It is a perfect companion for our tilapia.
  • Apple: light, sweet and fruity taste.
  • Peach: An alternative to apple, with a very similar button.
  • Blackberry: its button is similar to that of apple, but slightly lighter. Another popular wood for smoking fish.
  • Cherry – Cherry has a slightly stronger flavor, but not overpowering. Like the apple is sweet and fruity.
  • Maple – Maple is on the stronger side of these woods, but its flavor is still smooth and sweet.

Never use softwood. They cannot be used for grilling, as they are rich in resin and will spoil food with a greasy, strange taste. As a general rule, most trees that produce the desired fruit or nut will produce a pleasant smoke.

Tilapia served on a white plate

Preparation of the tilapia

You must prepare your tilapia before hand. Clean it up and make sure you get all the bones out. You can make a simple brine using a cup of salt in relation to a gallon of water.

Place the tilapia in a ziplock bag or container, making sure it’s completely covered with the brine, then let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes(about an hour if it’s frozen). If you use a container make sure it’s plastic or glass, metal containers can mess with the brine and we don’t want that to happen.

The brine tenderizes the meat and locks in moisture inside, making it very juicy and flavorful. Tilapia, in particular, dries out very easily, so soaking it in brine sure helps. The brine can also help add some flavor to the meat. If you want to go fancy, you can try this:

Add some sugar to the brine to balance out the saltiness and some citrus to tart it(which will also tenderize the meat even more). Then SHE can add herbs or spices to taste.

The tilapia absorbs the brine very quickly, so you get all those great flavors. But be careful not to add too much or your tilapia will taste more like a spice mix than tilapia.

Before you light the smoker, you should let the wood chips soak in water for a while. Most charcoal smokers take around 30 minutes to finish, gas usually only takes 10 minutes but that depends entirely on your smoker. You must wait for the charcoal to glow with sweat before inserting the fish.

In the meantime, you can prepare a spice dressing for your tilapia. Well, if you used a pickle, don’t go crazy with it. Your tilapia has already absorbed most of the flavors from the brine. Six gentle.

You can be creative here, it depends on your taste. Here’s a spicy dressing that goes well with tilapia if you don’t feel like making things up today:

  • Pepper
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Pepper
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Salesperson
  • Salt

Go with roughly equal parts in everything, although you can try to fix it if you have to. You don’t have to rub too hard, you want to lightly sprinkle the fillets, not coat them with spices.

A rub not only adds flavor to the fish but also helps develop a nice smoky crust on the outside. You can thin the dressing with a little oil to help it stick to the fish.

Smoke is

We smoke so slowly and slowly is the way to go. Set your smoker to around 185F. If you use a grill, you may find it difficult to set even low temperatures. Don’t worry, go as deep as you can.

When it’s done, add the fillets and let them smoke for 2 hours. If you have set a higher temperature it may take about an hour and a half so keep checking back.

By cooking tilapia at such a low temperature for a long time, we keep it moist and tender while giving it that great smoky flavor. After the time, remove from the stove and serve.

You can serve it with a few drops of lemon or with white rice or pasta. Due to its light taste, white and light wines are recommended. Drizzle with a little oil or dressing if you like, but it also tastes great on its own.

Whether alone, with your family or friends, you are sure to enjoy the wonderful taste of your smoked tilapia.

Smoked tilapia

Light and flavorful smoked tilapia, slow cooked in just 2 hours.
Course appetizer, main course
American cuisine , BBQ
Preparation time 10 minutes
Cooking time 2 hours
Total time 2 hours 10 minutes
Serving 4


  • Alder wood for grilling


  • 4 tilapia fillets, cleaned and boned
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves , chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Halve 1 lemon


  • Heat the smoker for indirect grilling or the charcoal grill for 2-zone grilling. Aim for a temperature of 76°C. Add wood shavings.
  • While the smoker or grill is heating up, cook the fish. Combine basil, black pepper, salt, garlic and olive oil in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, apply the mixture to both sides of each tilapia fillet.
  • Place tilapia on smoker or grill grates. Close the lid and adjust the vents to open. Keep a close eye on the temperature with a grill or smoker thermometer. If the temperature starts to drift, adjust the vents accordingly.
  • Smoke 1 ½ – 2 hours
  • Remove tilapia from smoker. Each fillet is served with a squeezed lemon slice.

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