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Preserving fish by smoking

Ideas and principles for smoking fish effectively

2005 Available in English, French and Portuguese

Pillars magazines on a desk

From: Pillars guides

Practical, discussion-based learning on community development for small groups

  • Smoking is a traditional way of preserving fish. It cooks and dries the fish at the same time. There are many different types of smokers but each needs a source of smoke and somewhere to hang or place trays of fish in the smoke.
  • Simple kilns can be made out of oil drums or built using brick or mud walls. Inside the smoker, fish can be hung on bars with hooks or laid on trays. The trays have wire or slatted wood bases so a number of trays can be placed on top of each other.
  • Before smoking, split the fish to remove the guts and wash in clean water. Move the trays around regularly so all fish are smoked evenly. Smoking takes between 14 and 24 hours. Other kinds of meat can also be smoked after first cutting into thin strips.


  • Are there any traditional types of smokers in your area? If not, what kind of materials could easily be found to build one. If possible, visit anyone operating one nearby and learn from their experience. Is there a good supply of wood available to use for smoking? Are new trees being planted to replace those being used for fuel? If possible, put the ideas into practice and build and use a smoker. 
  • Remember that the fire needs an entrance for air at the bottom and an exit for smoke at the top. This may simply be through gaps in the layers of trays or may be a chimney. There needs to be a good flow of air moving through the smoker. A chimney will help this. 
  • Different wood fuels have different properties and may give different flavours to the fish, so experiment to find the best mixture and flavour. 
  • What other things could be smoked besides fish? What kind of meat might taste good smoked?
drum cut into 3 sections with handles to lift each section

drum cut into 3 sections with handles to lift each section

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