Food & Drink

A Tailgate Dip with a Smoky Twist

Wings and seven-layer dip are expected fan favorites, but this smoked fish dip made with Southern staples like Duke’s mayo and Old Bay is a Texas pitmaster’s game-day MVP

Photo: courtesy of Truth BBQ

When number 6-ranked Texas A&M faces Sam Houston State University at home on Saturday, A&M alum Leonard Botello IV won’t be there to tailgate the way he would when he was an Aggie. Instead, the owner and pitmaster at TRUTH BBQ in Houston, Texas, will be at work, smoking melt-in-your-mouth brisket and spicy pepper jack sausage to serve alongside mountains of sides. “Our Brenham location is only forty minutes from Texas A&M, so these days I’m a lot more focused on helping other people get what they need for their tailgate set ups,” he says. One of his favorite, unexpected off-menu offerings is a smoked fish dip served with potato chips and saltines. “Fish can be polarizing, and you don’t see a lot of fish dips in my neck of the woods, but I love the idea of putting a barbecue spin on it by curing and smoking it,” he says. “Even those who are hesitant at first love it.” As for how he’s feeling about A&M’s chances this season: “If we beat Bama, I’m good. Fingers crossed.”


  • Game-day Smoked Fish Dip (Yield: 1 quart, about 8 to 10 servings)

  • For the fish:

    • 12 cups salt

    • 3 cups sugar

    • 6 lemons, zested and juiced

    • 4 oranges, zested and juiced

    • 2 bundles of thyme

    • 8 bay leaves

    • 1 lb. mahi (or other sturdy white fish) or salmon

  • For the dip:

    • 1½ cups Duke’s mayonnaise

    • 1 cup whipped cream cheese

    • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

    • 1 lemon, zested

    • ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • 2 tbsp. stone ground mustard

    • 4 tsp. fresh horseradish

    • 1½ tsp. hot sauce (Botello favors Crystal)

    • ½ tsp. Old Bay Seasoning

    • ½ tsp. Cajun seasoning (Botello uses Slap Ya Momma)

    • 3 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped (plus 1 tsp. for garnish)


  1. To cure the fish, mix salt, sugar, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, thyme, and bay leaves together in a bowl. Add in the fish and completely cover it with the cure mixture. Place in the refrigerator to chill for 3 hours. Once chilled, rinse the fish and pat dry.

  2. Heat a charcoal grill or smoker to 110 degrees. Place cured fish directly on oiled grates and cook for 1 hour. Bump up the temperature to 225 and cook until the fish’s internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Take off grill and let cool.*

  3. Once cool, roughly chop fish. In a bowl, mix together all the remaining dip ingredients. Fold in fish and garnish with 1 tsp. of dill. Serve with thick-cut potato chips and saltines for dipping.

  4. Can be made up to 24 hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

  5. *Short cut: To skip the smoking step, buy pre-smoked fish, cure as described, then fold directly into the dip ingredients.