Chow Town

Smoked fish is real barbecue

We’ll never know what our ancestors ate at the first barbecue: fish, fowl or four-legged animal?

If the ubiquitous engraving of Indians smoking fish on a green sapling grate over flaming smoky logs is our best documentation, smoked fish was devoured at the first barbecue.

Then again, we may someday discover old cave wall drawings of skewered beasts roasting over hot coals. For now, I’ll wager it was fish, but the jury is still out.

Although smoked fish shacks aren’t as plentiful today as in the past, many can still be found across America. Paul Kirk and I were introduced recently to the James Beard Award winning

Calumet Fisheries

smoke shack in Chicago, thanks to our barbecue buddy and Chicago barbecue host, Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn.

While some of our friends in the barbecue community think smoked fish isn’t real barbecue, we beg to differ. Smoked fish is one of the earliest barbecue delicacies known to humankind.

On the day of our visit, Calumet was sold out of eel. Not a problem. The smoked sable (black cod), white fish, peppered salmon and shrimp we ate were tender, kissed with oak smoke, and delicious — even after we had pigged out on fantastic barbecue at Smoque, Honey One and Lillie’s Q.

Calumet doesn’t ship its product and they don’t offer dine-in space. On cold days you can dine in your car. On warmer days, people dine outside like tailgaters. Locals and Chow Towners also take it home for more comfortable dining. Calumet has been in the fish smoking business since 1948. Stop by for a snack or a meal on your next visit to Chicago.

Meanwhile, here in Chow Town, you can satisfy your hunger for smoked fish with some take-home smoked salmon filet, tomato-basil filet, or peppered salmon filet at


, “Kansas City’s Oldest Smokehouse,” established in 1927.

Several Chow Town barbecue joints offer smoked or grilled fish. Enjoy dine-in Smoked Salmon Dip, Grilled Salmon Spinach Salad, Grilled Salmon, Ahi Tuna and Trout at Jack Stack. Or go to Jon Russell’s for “Jammin’ Salmon” — smoked salmon with chipotle aioli and Cajun coleslaw.

We landlocked Chow Towners can get excellent fresh fish and seafood at local supermarkets and meat markets. Get some and treat friends and family to homestyle smoked or grilled fish. For low cost/high value easy-to-follow creative recipes I highly recommend two books by Chow Town’s barbecue queens Karen Adler and Judith Fertig: “25 Essentials: Techniques for Grilling Fish” and “25 Essentials: Techniques for Planking.”

Thanks and a tip of the hat to Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn, for a splendid barbecue tour of Chicago. Meathead’s website,

, is the world’s go-to virtual place for a barbecue treasure house of reliable information and recipes.

Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”