Key West Recipe: Smoked Fish Dip

Smoked fish dip is a favorite appetizer in the Florida Keys.

Found at almost every local restaurant and grocery store, and each one tastes completely different. I like to make my own smoked fish dip as well from time to time when my husband, Capt. Steven Lamp of Dream Catcher Charters, goes kingfishing offshore in the winter months and brings me home a king mackerel.

As you probably already caught on from reading the above, I like using fresh kingfish for my smoked fish dip, but you can use another fish that you have access to. And, if in a pinch, you can probably even find smoked fish such as trout at your local grocery store; that would cut out your need to actually brine and smoke the fish prior to making the dip. But nothing beats fresh fish in my opinion!

Here is my recipe, with tips about how to smoke your fish too!

Fish Dip Crackers
Home made smoked fish dip a Key West delicacy.


  • 2 pounds of kingfish fillets (skin on)

For the Brine:

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup  salt
  • 1 cup sugar

For the Dip:

  • ½ cup mayonnaise (I like Helmann’s or Dukes)
  • ½ cup cream cheese, softened (I love Philadelphia or Breakstones)
  • 1-2 fresh jalapeño, finely chopped (Don’t forget to remove the seeds!)
  • ¼ cup fresh onion, finely chopped (Vidalia or red onions would both do well!)
  • ¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (alternatively, you can use fresh cilantro)
  • 1-2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of hot sauce (optional)


First, you will want to soak your fish in a brine so make it really flavorful. In a large bowl or baking dish, mix the water, 1 cup salt and 1 cup sugar, stirring until dissolved. Submerge the fish in the brine mixture and place into the refrigerator for at the very minimum 30 – 40 minutes. I typically let soak overnight though to really let the fish soak up some flavor. Remove the fish from the brine and lightly rinse it under cold water. Place the fish on a rack, skin side down, and allow it to air dry until the flesh is dry. The fish is now ready to smoke or grill.


If you have a smoker and are used to smoking meats, I am guessing  that you know what to do once you get your fresh fish. But if you are like me and don’t have a smoker, that is no problem. All you need is a grill, a smoker box, and some wood chips. I like a more mild smoke flavor, so I usually use apple wood or cherry wood, which are both great for smoking fish as they won’t overpower the delicate fish taste.

So, once you have assembled all of your smoking equipment, soak your wood chips for about 20 – 30 minutes in a bowl with water. Then, go ahead and load them into the smoker box. Place the smoker box on one side of the grill and only turn on the burner directly underneath the smoker box.  Let the grill warm up for about 15 minutes. Next, you can set the fish, skin side down, on the opposite side of the grill. This is called indirect heating, and it will cook the fish without drying it out. Depending on the size of the fillets, smoke for about 1-2 hours. At this point the fish should have a nice, golden color to it. When the fish is done, remove from the grill and let cool.


Next, peel off the skin and place the fish in a food processor and pulse about 3 – 5 times to break it up a bit. Now, you can add the remaining ingredients into the food processor and pulse until smooth. You can eat it right away (I am usually guilty of doing this because I am horrible at waiting!). But, if you refrigerate it and eat it the next day, I promise you that it will taste even better as all of the flavors will have time to marry.

How to Serve

When ready to eat, garnish the fish dip with diced red onions, sliced pickled jalapeños, and chopped tomatoes. Serve with crackers or corn chips. Traditionally, you would be given saltines at a restaurant, but I love using seeded flat bread crackers or pita chips. To die for!

More About Key West:

See what is happening on the island of Key West during your visit by checking out our Key West Events Calendar, and for other things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before making your reservations for dinner, check out our restaurant reviews!

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!
Check Out These Tools For Smoking Fish
Island Genn
Key West Concierge
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About the author: Island Genn

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