Smoked Catfish with Homemade Tartar Sauce

You’ve seen ’em fish for it. You’ve seen ’em drag them up into the boats. You’ve even seen ’em go under the water and noodle them up, or even catch ’em from the bank. But folks, this is the best way to catch ’em, and then put those filets on the smoker. No more frying fish, we are smoking this catfish in a marinade that is so good!  And guess what – we have you a bonus for you ’cause we’re throwing in homemade tartar sauce.

The Catfish

Today we are smoking some fresh pond caught catfish. But don’t worry if you can’t get to the pond because you can do this with a good store bought catfish too. Any fresh water fish will do:  fish will work: bass, walleye, crappie or perch.

Just remember, the thinner the filet the less time it takes on the smoke.

The Marinade

For this marinade (which has got a lot of goodness like honey, chili powder, dill, etc in it), I like to dredge the catfish in it and then put them in the plastic bag. Then I like to add all that leftover sauce in with those filet and mix it around until you know they are all coated well. Let them sit in the ice box for at least 4 hours, but it ain’t going to hurt if you leave them in longer.

The All Important Smoke

Part of the great flavor is not only the fish and marinade but the smoke you use for cooking. Today I’m starting off the coals using an oak hardwood lump charcoal.

Next, I’m soaking some alder wood chips in water for about 10 minutes then adding them to the coals to create some great smoke. After the fish is cooking for about 20 minutes, I like to go ahead and add a couple more handfuls of alder wood or fruit wood to keep that good smoke going.

Now, if you cannot get ahold of Alder, any fruit flavored wood will be good. Be sure and checkout our Smoking Woods Video for all the information you will need on choosing the right cooking woods.

Smoking the Fish

Before adding the fish to the grill (which has been cleaned and seasoned), be sure you rake all the coals to one side of the smoker/grill. That’s because we want to place the fish on the opposite side or indirect side of the heat. This will allow the fish to get a slow smoked flavor.

Optimally we would like to keep the temp on the smoker/grill at about 225-250 for about45-60 min for these filets.

The Bonus Tartar

Tartar sauce needs to start with a good base, and for this there is none other than Duke’s mayonnaise. I also like mine to have a little “bite,” so in addition to the dill pickles and capers, I will add horseradish to mine.  Mix this all together with a little “DUBYA” sauce (that’s Worcestershire) and lemon juice and let it chill in the icebox while the fish is smoking.

Now, folks, I’ve fried a lot of catfish in my time, but this is my preferred method for having catfish now days. I don’t want to stand over that hot grease frying fish when I can just sit back and let that smoker do all of the work.


Smoked Catfish - Cowboy Kent Rollins

Prep Time 4 hours
Total Time 5 hours
Servings 4


  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dill seed
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 3 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons crushed dried rosemary
  • 4 catfish fillets rinsed and patted dry
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons diced dill pickle
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons capers diced
  • 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons horseradish


  • Add about 2 heaping handfuls of alder wood chunks to water to soak for about 10 minutes. Fruit wood is also a good substitute.
  • Meanwhile, mix the olive oil, honey, vinegar, dill seed, chili powder, parsley and rosemary together in a medium bowl. Dredge the filets through the mixture to coat well on both sides and place in a plastic sack. Pour the remaining marinade in the bag and shake to coat the filets again. Seal and place in the icebox for at least 4 hours.
  • Clean and oil the smoker or grill well. Light about 3 heaping handfuls of wood or hardwood lump charcoal, until white and ashy. Make sure the coals are all on one side of the grill. Drain the water off of the alder wood and add on top of the coals.
  • Place the catfish on the indirect side of the heat. Shut the lid and let cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the fish is white and flaky. About 20 minutes into cooking, add more alder wood or fruit wood chips to create more smoke. You want to run the temperature of your grill/smoker around 225-250 degrees F.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, dill pickle, lemon juice capers, Worcestershire and horseradish. Cover and place in the icebox 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until chilled. Serve with catfish.
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