Many people like to eat the whole smelt, head, bones, and all. Or you can gut and bone the fish by firmly pinching it along the backbone, twisting the head, and pulling out the skeleton and entrails.
The secret to successful smelt cookery is to not overcook it. Smelt is done when the flesh inside is opaque yet still moist.
This is the classic way of cooking smelt. Pound smelt to flatten them a little, and pat dry with paper towel. Dredge fish in flour. Fry the fish, a few at a time, in a small amount of hot butter or oil, turning once halfway through cooking time. Cook until golden brown and crisp one the outside, 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour oil into a wok or deep fryer; it should be at least 1 1/2 inches (4cm) deep, and the cooker should be less than half full of oil. Heat oil to 375°F (190°C), using a thermometer to monitor temperature. Dip smelt in batter, drain, then slip them into hot oil. Cook until brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
Place smelt in a greased baking dish and place on a baking sheet. Brush with melted butter or oil and season with salt and pepper, or wrap in oiled foil. Cook at 450°F (230°C) until the flesh is opaque yet still moist.
Place smelt on perforated foil over a greased grill, 4 to 6 inches (about 10 to 15cm) above prepared coals or fire. Cook until brown and crispy, 3 to 7 minutes.
Place seasoned and/or marinatedsmelt on a well-greased broiler pan. Broil under preheated broiler 4 to 5 inches (about 10 to 12.5cm) from heat. Cook until brown and crispy on the outside, 4 to 6 minutes.