Recipe: Spicy Maple Smoked Ahi Tuna

As we roll into February, this is generally considered the off-season where most of the warmer water pelagic fish are out of town and rockfish species are in the no-take period. There are certainly still fish to be had, caught and eaten, but with storms upon us, this is where we start digging into the vacuum sealed goods in the freezer. In this day and age, vacuum sealers are very affordable, and allow us to save our catches deep into the winter without sacrificing too much quality.  

Nobody likes fishy fish, so if you are going to vacuum seal and save for the off season, be sure to completely clean and dry the fish prior to sealing. When you defrost it, make sure it’s not sitting in its own juices; I typically do a partial thaw and then remove the fish from the vacuum bag, wrap in paper towels, and finish the defrosting in a clean bag/container. If the edges are mushy and/or off color, trim the pieces, as they aren’t too pleasant.  

When it comes to previously frozen fish, I personally prefer to brine and smoke it. It hides any imperfections that may have occurred through the freezing process and, let’s face it… smoked fish tastes amazing. It’s also a good time on a bad weather day, where you can have some friends over, get the assembly line going, pass some time around the smoker, and then share the wealth. The process is the same, whether it’s making one bag or ten, so if you’re going to make it, make a bunch! Once it’s done, you can easily vacuum seal a portion of your creation and freeze/save it for another day, a party, a birthday present, whatever. Bottom line is that it keeps very well.  

Next Recipe: Clams and Crunchy Baguette

The consensus among both anglers and chefs is that albacore is the best fish to smoke, due to its high fat content. Unfortunately, the albacore fishery in our region has run dry over the past decade (and then some), so we’re left to rely on other species to fill the gap. In this case, I used Ahi (yellowfin tuna over 100 pounds) that a friend caught on a long range boat in Mexican waters. From there it was just cut, clean, brine and smoke.  

There are many types of smokers, with some retail options as low as $30, so it’s certainly affordable. From coals and soaked wood chips, to pellet smokers, to barrel smokers, there’s no shortage of ways to make it happen. My buddy Rory over at Traeger helped me out a while back with one of the original smokers, and it’s still kicking out the good (and honestly the pellets make life really easy). If you’re on a budget, know that many people make their own custom smokers, using recycled parts of whatever is available. Trash cans, clay flowerpots, barrels/drums/tanks, wood pallets and even old file cabinets are smoker options. So if you’re on a tight budget, or just want to get creative, put your DIY ideas in motion.  

Hungry? View more recipes on the Recipes Forum

Recipe: Spicy Maple Smoked Ahi Tuna

Recipe: Recipe: Spicy Maple Smoked Ahi Tuna


  • Yellowfin tuna - cut into pieces roughly 1”x 3” - perfection is not required
  • Per each 1 gallon of water use ¼ cup salt and ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 3 TBSP whole black peppercorns
  • ½ cup maple agave syrup
  • ½ cup bowl of hot water
  • 1 TBSP chili flakes (optional)


  1. Start by cutting your fish into portions and set aside.
  2. In a dry saucepan, add the peppercorns for about 30 seconds over medium heat and then add ½ cup of hot water and stir (this brings out the flavor of the peppercorns). Be careful adding the water to the hot saucepan; it will sizzle a bit.
  3. Slowly add the salt a little at a time and swirl to dissolve. I use a fine salt (i.e., pickling salt), as it dissolves better than the thicker kosher sea salt. If you add too much salt at once, it will clump and not dissolve, so add slowly.
  4. Once all the salt is dissolved, slowly add the brown sugar in the same manner. When it’s a clear, brown liquid with the peppercorns on the surface, add to a clean bucket with ice.
  5. From there, add the cold water and apple juice.
  6. Once the brine is cold (if not be sure to add more ice), put the fish in the brine container and set in the refrigerator or cooler for 2 hours.
  7. Remove the fish, rinse with cold water, pat dry and bring it close to room temperature. You do not want the fish over-saturated with brine liquid, so do take the time to dry it with paper towels.
  8. Put the fish on the smoker (setting between “smoke” and 200F) and baste every 30 minutes until the fish is opaque and starts to flake. The basting liquid is a sweet-hot maple combination that’s unique compared to other recipes, and leaves a beautiful sheen glaze.
  9. A few tips. First, adding a small tray of water to the smoker can help prevent overly dry fish. Second, if you have the option, use apple, cherry, or pecan wood, but if you have another personal preference… run with it.

Leave a Comment