Tinapa or smoked fish served with ensalada is just my perfect kind of meal. Mackerel fish brined for a couple of days for full on flavor! The best part is you don’t need a smoker to make this Filipino native delicacy.

I don’t have a stove-top smoker and I don’t want my kitchen filling up with smoke. This has been my dilemma for some time now when I want to make this smoked fish recipe. I tried the commercially bought “poisson fumé” sold in groceries here in Paris but its just not the same. Luckily I discovered “liquid smoke”. I bought the 118ml “>Colgin liquid smoke for 6€ and I only used 2 tbsp for 1 kg of mackerel so its very much worth it. (“As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”)

liquid smoke in a bottle

Different ways of cooking

The term “tinapa” translates to the process of cooking or preserving fish by smoking. There are many ways on how to go about it and here are some examples:

Traditional method of preparation and making tinapa is by washing the fish and removing the innards. The fishes are then air dried for a few hours before boiling in water and salt. When cooked, they are then arranged in large wooden racks and smoked using wood shavings or “kusot”.

mackerel in brine in a container

Stove-top smoker is another way to go about making this delicacy. Once the fish is cleaned and washed. Brine the fish for several hours then place them in the smoker using charcoal as the source of smoke.

Using the oven is probably the easiest one among the three. Though you have to use liquid smoke but hey it works! I let the fish brine for three days in soy sauce, lemon juice and 2 tbsp of hickory liquid smoke for the flavors to really seep in. I then baked them in a pre-heated oven and voila! Homemade tinapa anytime I want it!

smoked mackerel in a plate

Choosing the right fish

Choosing the right fish to be smoked is not really hard. It is virtually possible to smoke any fish that you fancy. The list below is what I personally think is best for making Filipino tinapa.

Fresh pike mackerel is my favorite because it’s fleshy and less pin bones. Ask the fish mongers to clean it for you so you don’t have to do it on your own. You have to brine it the same day to avoid the fish going bad.

smoked fish with ensalada in a plate

Milk fish or bangus has mild tasting meat which is good for a variety of cooking preparation including smoking. One thing think I don’t like though is it’s too bony.

Tamban which is a variety of sardines is the most common kind of tinapa in the Philippines. One can find these in markets or being sold by hawkers.

cooked mackerel  in a serving dish

Tips for preparing and making

Fresh fish is the only way to go especially with mackerel.

Plan ahead of time because the fish needs to be brined/preserved on the same day when buying the fish.

3 days is the maximum when brining the fish in the refrigerator. That is my personal experience though since I haven’t gone beyond that.

Turn the fish 2 to 3 times a day while in brine to keep the color equal on both sides.

‘Tinapa” can last for 6 months if properly sealed in a container and placed in a freezer.

smoked fish in a plate with rice

The secret ingredient is always LOVE

You might also like:

Ginataang Mackerel – An easy coconut milk and fish recipe tahtcomes together in under thirty minutes.

Homemade Spanish Sardines – A wholesome meal packed with omega-3 making it really healthy for everyone!

Steamed Stuffed Fish – This dish goes extremely well with sides of steamed rice and vegetables.

smoked fish on a plate
Print Recipe
5 from 2 votes


Tinapa or smoked fish served with ensalada is just my perfect kind of meal. Mackerel fish brined for a couple of days for full on flavor! The best part is you don't need a smoker to make this Filipino native delicacy.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Brine3 d
Total Time1 hr
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Filipino, International
Keyword: smoked fish, tinapa, tinapa recipe
Servings: 4 tinapa
Author: Mia


  • 1 kilo or 4 pcs. fresh pike mackerel innards removed and washed
  • ¾ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup lemon juice or kalamansi
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp achuete powder
  • 2 tbsp hickory liquid smoke
  • salt to rub on the fish


  • Rub fish with salt and place in a large container. Set aside.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine oil and achuete powder. Mix and heat in microwave for 5 seconds to incorporate. Set aside.
  • In a different bowl. Combine soy sauce, lemon juice, achuete oil, and liquid smoke. Pour the mixture into the the container with the fish and cover with lid. Make sure the the fishes are coated. Brine overnight or up to 3 days.
  • Pre heat oven 176°C / 350°F. Bake the fishes for 25 minutes on each side or until most of the brine dries up and cooked through. Remove in the oven and let it rest until it cools down.
  • Place tinapa in an airtight container for later use or you can readily cook in a pan. Bon appetit!


  1. Hello! Thank you for this recipe! Tried it and my family loves the tinapa. I used butterfish and pike mackerel (I think it’s also called Japanese mackerel).

    I’ll make it again!

    1. Author

      Hi Marilou,
      I’m happy you and your family liked it! Thank you for trying my recipe. Cheers!

  2. 5 stars
    Wow! This is really good! Thank you for sharing. I only used 1/4 cup lemon juice as that was all I had. My husband loved it. Tastes like the authentic tinapa.

    1. Author

      Hi Nanette,
      I’m glad you like my Tinapa recipe. It’s ok you can adjust the recipe as you like.
      Thank you and keep safe!

  3. 5 stars
    First time making it!
    So easy & taste is perfect! Will make it again.
    Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    1. Author

      Hi Fe,
      I’m glad you liked it. Thank you and all the best.

  4. Iused this recipe on salmon fillet ( about to bake)
    When baking, do i bake with brining liquid?

    1. Author

      Hi Ruby,
      Drain the liquid and you can use it for another batch and just add a bit more liquid smoke.
      Bake the salmon on a baking grill with a baking sheet to catch any excess liquid from cooking.
      Enjoy and let us know how it went using salmon.

  5. Can i use barbecue sauce intead of hickory smoke?

    1. Author

      Hi Gem,
      Sorry but no, Hickory smoke is the one that gives the tinapa its smoked taste and aroma.

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