Published by Harvard Common Press
Most Americans fry their catfish. This will quickly disabuse you of that approach.
To Mop or Not
The equipment you use for barbecuing determines whether and how often you baste food while it cooks. We list mops as “optional” in most of our barbecue recipes, but you should use them if they are appropriate to your style of smoker. In a few cases, we suggest basting food before or after cooking, rather than during the process, and in those unusual situations, the mop works well with any kind of equipment.
Wood-burning pits: Mops were made for pits. If you burn logs or wood chunks in a manufactured or homemade pit of traditional design, basting your food will improve its quality. Mop as often as the recipes indicate.
Outdoor ovens: Never apply a mop during cooking in an oven that operates on electrical power. It’s not only dangerous, but in some cases, at least, also unnecessary. In ovens that seal as tightly as the Cookshack, for example, food retains its internal moisture and doesn’t require any basting. Follow the manufacturer’s directions with other brands or smoker ovens.
Charcoal and gas grills: You should baste food in a grill, but not as often as you do in a wood-burning pit because grills generally lose more of their heat when you lift the lid. In a conventional charcoal grill, we mop only when we have the top off to add charcoal or pieces of wood. In an oven-style grill, such as the Hasty-Bake, we mop with about half the frequency we would in a wood-burning pit.
Vertical water smokers: Basting isn’t really necessary in a water smoker because the cooking process itself adds moisture to food. We like to mop occasionally for the flavor value, but we limit the frequency for the same reason we do in a charcoal grill—heat loss. We baste every 1 to 2 hours, or when we have the lid off for another purpose.
Total Timeunder 4 hours
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationdiabetic, egg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, low carb, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free
Taste and Texturesavory, smoky, spiced, tangy
- 3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt, either kosher or sea salt
- 1½ tablespoons coarsely ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- Six 8-ounce catfish fillets
- 2 cups seafood or chicken stock
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- Juice of 3 limes
- 1 to 2 tablespoons remaining Three-Pepper Catfish Rub
- Golden Mustard Barbecue Sauce (optional)
At least 2½ hours before you plan to barbecue, or preferably the night before, mix the rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover the catfish lightly and evenly with the rub, reserving at least 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mixture if you plan to baste the fish. Place the fillets in a plastic bag and refrigerate them for 2 hours or overnight.
Prepare the smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 180°F to 200°F.
Remove the fillets from the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
If you are going to use the mop (see Notes, “To Mop or Not”), mix the ingredients together in a small saucepan and warm over low heat.
5. Place the catfish in the smoker on a small grill rack as far from the fire as possible. Cook the fish for approximately 1½ hours, dabbing the catfish with the mop every 20 minutes in a wood-burning pit, or as appropriate for your style of smoker. When cooked, the catfish will be opaque and firm, yet flaky. Serve warm. If desired, accompany the catfish with Golden Mustard Barbecue Sauce.
2003 Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison