Smoking for Dollars: Profit
Shared From MOTHER EARTH NEWS Written By: Buck Taylor
All right. You’ve chatted with fish dealers, checked out locations, given it some careful thought, and decided you just may want to try your hand at selling smoked fish. Great! Now you’re probably wondering – and rightly so—what kind of money a person can really, truly make in this business.
Well, one man knows the answer to that as well as anyone, and that one man is Buck Taylor of Miami, Florida. Buck, who began his operation with no special knowledge or experience, has been “smoking” for a living, full time, since April of 1975 . . . and he now regularly earns $600 per week (and more). “It’s a super nice do-it-yourself enterprise,” says Buck, “if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty a couple of days a week.”
With regard to the business of running a smokehouse, Buck Taylor has this advice to offer MOTHER’s readers:
“First of all, in establishing your price structure, consider the audience you’re selling to. Will they buy at $3.00 a pound? If so, fine . . . but in any case, you should charge a minimum of $2.00 a pound for your product (more, if you decide to add a few spices and label it gourmet food). An ovenload of fish – approximately 500 pounds – at that price should bring in over $1,000.
“When you calculate your expenses, don’t forget that at least 30% of the weight of an uncleaned fish eventually ends up as waste. The average is more like 40% and you’ll lose over 50% when you clean some species, such as amberjack. In addition, still more weight loss occurs in the oven. It does help to leave the skins on fillets . . . but even so, a good 20% of an ovenload will drip onto the fire-shield or simply ‘go up in smoke’.
“Let’s consider a typical situation. Suppose you bought 1,000 pounds of kingfish at 50¢ per. This half ton of uncleaned fish will actually ‘fillet out’ at around 600 oven-ready pounds. Another 180 pounds (30%) will disappear in cooking, leaving you with 420 pounds of cured fish for which, in its raw form, you paid $500. Taking into account wood, spices, gas for the truck, etc., your expenses thus far total, say, $510.
“Now, if you sell those 420 pounds of cured fish for $2.00 per pound, then your gross income will be $840 . . . and the net profit comes to $840 minus $510, or a nifty $330. Not bad for a day and a half of work! This is assuming that you sell all of what you cook. Note, however, that if you had paid 75¢ a pound for the raw fish, you would only have come out ahead $80 for the whole ovenload. In this instance, the thing to do would be to raise the selling price to $2.25 or $2.50.”
Are big game fish where the big money is in the fish smoking biz?
“Interestingly enough, my best-selling items are little two-ounce packages of hard-cooked strips. Bars, and corner groceries that sell beer, buy these by the hundreds and resell for a modest profit, knowing full well that the salt in them makes customers crave beer! Naturally, there’s a good bit more labor in cutting out the small strips than in preparing large fillets for the oven. However, the little packs bring me 35¢ each, or $2.80 a pound, and man, do they sell!
“Another lucrative area is custom smoking for fishermen. Once you’re established, outdoorsmen will occasionally bring all or part of their catch to you for curing. The advantages to this are that you get paid in advance and bear no real added costs if you were going to smoke an ovenload anyway.
“I charge a fee of 45¢ per pound for whole fish, while headless fish go into the oven for 55¢ a pound, and fillets 65¢. It’s a good idea to set some sort of size limit for raw fish: say, nothing under ten pounds. This way you save yourself a lot of unnecessary labor . . . and a fisherman isn’t likely to be disappointed when he sees how tiny his catch is as it emerges from the oven. Those smaller fish really shrink during cooking!
“At holiday time, you can pick up a sizable sales bonus by smoking turkeys. The big birds must stay in the oven longer than most fish do, but they take a delicious cure and sell easily.”
Taylor is quick to point out that there’s more to making it with your own fish-smoking enterprise than merely having the requisite desire, a place to work, and a boundless supply of fish and hickory.
“Don’t get caught without the proper pieces of paper. If you’re located outside city limits as I am, chances are all you’ll need is a $5.00 vendor’s license. However, city governments differ widely in their requirements, so about all I can say is be sure you satisfy all local ordinances.
“Saltwater fish are usually the easiest to come by in quantity, so make certain you know which species, if any, are illegal to sell in your area. Also, a Fish & Game permit is often needed before you can handle freshwater fish products. This costs five bucks but is generally well worth the money since some freshwater species-channel catfish in particular just can’t be beat after they’ve been smoked for hours over a slow-burning fire!
“About location: I can’t emphasize too strongly that a boulevard location with plenty of road and foot traffic is a real plus. Of course, you can always go out and hustle bars and restaurants for a steady income . . . but, with walk-in business, that won’t even be necessary. A good location on the highway will set you back more for rent than a rural operation, and may present more problems with zoning laws, but is, nonetheless, something that you should consider carefully.”
To continue reading about Smoking Fish as a Homestead Business, check out Start Business Smoking Fish on MOTHER EARTH NEWS.