Oven types. Two types of ovens are typical in smoking: forced-air ovens, in which air and smoke are mechanically pumped around the product (normally a horizontal flow is used for seafood, which is typically placed on racks), or natural convection ovens, in which air and smoke flow freely around the product.
Smoke options. Various kinds of hardwoods are used during smoking, depending on the product being smoked, the flavor desired, available wood and regional traditions. In the Pacific Northwest, smokers use a lot of alder. In New England, they use more oak and maple. Hickory-smoked seafood is common in the South.
Curing. Before being placed in the smoker, fish is cured by being soaked in brine or coated or injected with salt. Curing firms up the flesh, adds flavor and gloss and removes moisture that allows bacterial growth. Seasonings like brown sugar, garlic or pepper are often added during the curing phase.
Brining tends to leave fish more tender than coating, or “dry salting.” Coating helps dry the outside of the product, allowing it to acquire a denser, firmer texture. Injection distributes salt and spices throughout the fish flesh but can sometimes leave “pockets” of flavor.
After curing, fish are normally surface-dried before smoking to prevent the accumulation of moisture and assist in the even deposition of smoke.