Smoking protein is probably one of the oldest ways of food preparation known to man, great for getting proteins to keep longer and go farther. The smoke flavor that is imparted into the meat can cover any off flavors and make even off-cuts taste good. So it makes sense why smoked king mackerel is such a popular dish down along the gulf coast. Especially in larger kings over 10-15lbs, their flavor can be a bit stronger and fishier than a lot of people like. So to cover up that taste, you can cure and smoke the king which then can be either eaten alone, on crackers, or made into a smoked fish dip.
To start off this dish, you need a king mackerel. I like to use any fish over 10lbs, the smaller ones are great grilled fresh or fried. But the bigger ones produce thicker chunks that don’t dry out as much when smoked.
Get your whole king and give the skin a scrub and rinse under cold water. We’re keeping the skin on the fillets so you want it clean before you fillet the fish. Once the fish is clean, take the head and collars off and reserve the collars. Then just fillet the king out like any other fish.
Once you fillet the king and trim to remove the ribcage and pin bones, chunk it out. I recommend making sure the chunks are pretty even in dimensions for even smoking. Try to stay under 5″ in any one dimension for the chunks. Once the fish is prepped it’s time to brine the king chunks.
For the brine, I use 6 tablespoons of non-iodized salt to 1.5 cups of dark brown sugar. Dissolve the salt and sugar with 1.5 cups of water, use filtered or bottled water for this. This is enough brine for almost 1 gallon of king mackerel pieces, use a ziploc bag for brining this makes sure every piece has good contact to the brine. Add all the pieces to the gallon ziploc bag then pour in the brine. Work all the air out the bag and close it, leave the ziploc in the fridge for a minimum for an hour maximum 2 hours.
While that’s brining get your grill prepped, soak some chunks of fruit wood like apple or cherry. If using a grill set it up so the charcoal is at one side of the grill, you are using indirect heat for this. If its a smoker just use it like any other time, you want to keep the temp around 170f to 190f. Get the grill grate you will be using and oil it, then set your brined chunks of king mackerel on it. You want the pieces to be skin side down and you want to keep them from touching. Once you have all the pieces on the grate, you have to let them sit for about an hour. This hour is needed for the pellicle to set, this is a coating of protein that forms a sort of skin on whatever you are smoking. It allows for the smoke to adhere better to the meat.
Once the pellicle is set, start the smoker add the hot coals, and then put the fruit wood on top, I usually use chunks of apple wood, usually about 3 fist-sized chunks of apple wood to start. Try to keep the temp right around 180f, it’ll take about 3 to 4 hours depending on the temp of the smoker before it’s done. You can check on the smoked king pieces occasionally but, don’t be looking in the smoker constantly. That’ll slow down the process because you’re letting out the heat every time you open the lid.
I’ll add more applewood as I go, whenever the previous wood is gone I will add another piece or two. Do this for another two hours, as you get to hour three you can then decide if you want to pull them off the smoker. If you still see fat rendering out of the chunks of the smoked king, let them smoke for a bit longer. Or you can crank up the heat a little bit to quickly finish off the fish.
Once the smoked king chunks are finished pull them off and let them sit out on the counter on a wire tray to cool off. You can eat them warm,cold, or turned into a smoked fish dip. The warm pieces of the smoked king are delicious, sliced and on crackers served with a cold beer. Once they’re cool you can bag them up and store them in the fridge or freeze them for a later date. Because the moisture content of the smoked king mackerel is still high these have to be stored cold. They can last a couple of weeks in the fridge or months in the freezer. Though in my house they usually only last a couple of days before they’re all gone.