How to Smoke Tilapia (No Smoker Required)

Smokers aren’t just for beef brisket or ribs. If you’re tired of pan-frying, steaming, or grilling your fish, you should give it a try on a smoker.

One of our favorite types of fish to smoke is tilapia. This type of fish doesn’t have a strong flavor, so it’s great for absorbing the smoke.

It will also do a great job of taking on the flavor of any marinade you decide to use.

But what if you want to try smoked fish but don’t have a smoker? Don’t worry I have you covered!

smoked tilapia recipe

But What If You Don’t Have a Smoker?

You don’t need to use a fancy smoker to smoke fish or meat. You can even use a gas or charcoal grill as a DIY smoker.

All you need to do is just organize the charcoal to be on one side of the grill. Then you can place the fish on the opposite side; on top of the grill grates. (You don’t need special smoker racks!). See our tips on turning a gas grill into a smoker.

Cooking a piece of tilapia this way is different from when you grill tilapia. This is because the your using an indirect heat source when you use a smoker. 

What is Tilapia?

Tilapia is a white, flaky fish that doesn’t have any distinctive fish flavor.

It’s quite a popular choice of fish because it’s known to offer a lot of health benefits. As it’s low in calories, fat, and it’s also a high-protein fish.

While it’s tilapia is not a fatty fish, its fish meat does contain a lot of fish oils — which keeps the fish moist and flavorful during the smoke.

Tips to Smoking Tilapia Fillets

traeger smoked fish tilipia

Some of our tips for smoking tilapia fillets include;

  1. Marinating:
    There are many different ways to marinate your fresh fillets. However, the basics marinade I use is lemon juice, honey, kosher salt, and black pepper.

    However marinades are made for experimenting, throw together some of your favorites flavors. Just remember to try and get a balance of sweet, salty and acidity.

    We suggest that you try out a teriyaki marinade, a cayenne pepper spice rub, or even replace the lemon juice with ponzu juice.

  2. Using Frozen Fish:
    I understand that not everyone has access to fresh fish. So don’t worry, you can also smoke frozen tilapia. As long as it’s still properly thawed, it’s good to go.

  3. Pick a Complimentary Wood.
    Smoked tilapia tastes the best when it is smoked using your favorite type of wood chips (our’s is Alder wood!).

Tips to Smoking a Whole Tilapia

When you’re smoking a tilapia, the best way is to smoke it as a whole. Since this type of fish has such a flaky texture, you don’t want it falling apart in your grill or smoker.

It’s also easier to smoke a whole tilapia than it is to smoke tilapia fillets. If you’re smoking it as fillets, you’ll have to place everything on top of aluminum foil or use grill mats.

On the other hand, if you’re smoking it as a whole, you can just plop it straight onto your grill or in your smoker.

Some of our tips for smoking tilapia whole include;

1. If your in a rush you can wrap it. If you wrap it in al foil the fish would cook faster however you may not get the same level of smoke peneration.

Note: ensure you will still monitor the internal temperature of the tilapia fish with a meat thermometer.

Picking The Right Wood

Alder wood is my favorite wood chip to use for smoking tilapia. This is because it will not produce a flavor that overpowers your marinade or the fish.

You don’t want to use wood chips that produce too much of a bold smoke flavor because tilapia doesn’t have a strong taste, to begin with.

Since it’s that absorbs a lot of flavors, you don’t want it to have too much of a smoky, bitter taste. 

Apart from alder wood, you can use all different kinds of fruitwood because they are rather mild. 

How to Prepare Your Tilapia

If have a whole tilapia but you’re prefer fillets, you may need to gut, de bone, and filet before smoking it.

For the full guide on how to properly fillet a fish, please watch this video.

After you’ve cleaned the fish and removed the bones, you’ll want to leave your fish to marinade in brine or a marinade. This won’t just add extra flavor, it will provide the tilapia with extra moisture so that it won’t dry out too much when you’re smoking the fish.

Times and Temperatures for Smoked Tilapia

Let the fish smoke for about 1- 3 hours at 170°F to 205°F. It really depends on whether you smoking a whole tilapia or fillets.

You have to smoke your fish until it has reached a safe internal temperature. Tilapia will be cooked once the internal temperature reaches 160°F

Much like any other fish, it’s important to keep an eye on the temperature when you’re cooking tilapia. You don’t want to overcook it, and you don’t want to undercook it. 

Since tilapia is already known to be flaky, overcooking it could ruin its texture.

What is the Best Temperature to Smoke Tilapia?

The best temperature for smoking tilapia is at approximately 170℉ to 205℉. You can preheat your smoker or grill at that temperature while you marinate the fish.

Target Internal Temperature for Smoked Tilapia

After placing the fish in your smoker or pellet grill, you’ll need to keep an eye on the internal temperature. It’s best to stick a meat thermometer into it now and then.

Check to see if the internal temperature has risen to 160℉. Once it has, removes it from the heat and let it rest for up to 15 mins. 

smoking tilapia on the grill
smoking tilapia on the grill

Smoked Tilapia Recipe

There are many different ways to cook and prepare smoked tilapia. One of our favorites includes Citrus Smoked Tilapia.

Citrus Smoked Tilapia

How to smoke tilapia white fish fillet with a your chocie of a marinade
Prep Time8 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 8 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: seafood
Servings: 4
Calories: 250kcal
Author: Charlie
Cost: 15


  • Grill
  • Smoker


  • 1 kg Tilapia
  • .5 cup orange juice
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp lime juice


  • Mix the ingredients for the marinade
  • Add the fish to a bowl with the marinade, make sure the fillets are covered. Place in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
  • Set your smoker to 260, and add the wood chips of your choice. If your using a grill to smoke, see the notes below
  • Take the tilapia fillets from the marinade and put on on the racks the smoker. Smoke the fish until they reach an internal temperature of 165F, about 2 hours.

We love seafood at our house! When we have time to smoke it, I am extra excited.

I hope you’ll have fun trying out new tilapia recipes! Let me know if you have good marinades for tilapia, I am always looking for new ones.

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking and getting out in nature with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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