Smoked Trout or Kokanee

4.90 from 66 votes
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smoked trout and a piece of salmon cooling on a rack
Photo by Hank Shaw

For most of the country, smoked trout means smoked whole trout, not the big slabs of fillets Salmon Nation is accustomed to. So if you catch trout generally smaller than 18 inches, this recipe is for you.

(Note, if you are looking for ways to smoke larger fish, use my smoked salmon or my smoked lake trout recipes.)

There are any number of ways to smoke trout, and this is my method: I’d be interested to hear if you do anything differently.

First, you need trout. Obviously. I prefer fish from about 10 to 20 inches, gutted and gilled. Any species will do, but in a perfect world it’d be brook trout, which are actually a char and have vivid orange meat. Another excellent choice is a kokanee, which is a landlocked sockeye salmon that rarely grows larger than 20 inches. They also have pretty orange meat.

But mostly I use rainbow trout from the Sierra Nevada. You can use store-bought rainbows if that’s all you can get.

To salt or brine? That’s a decision largely based on how many fish you are smoking, and what sort of containers you have. If I am only smoking a few fish, I will dry salt them. If I have a mess o’trout, I will make a salt-sugar brine and soak the fish in that.

How long? For dry salting, generally about 1 to 2 hours. Brine? You can go a lot longer, and it will create a more cured, salty and firm product the longer you leave it. I like a day-long brine, i.e., brine in the morning and remove around dinnertime.

You then need to dry the fish in a cool place. I set them in the fridge in a rack overnight. You need this step to create a tacky, sticky pellicle on the outside of the fish. This helps the smoke adhere to the trout. Skip this step and it won’t be as nice.

Hank Shaw hold a tray of soon to be smoked trout
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

How to set them up? You can hang your trout as I do in the picture, but you will need to leave the throats intact, like the fish on the left. That one stayed fine while smoking. The ones on the right fell, so I moved them to the rack.

You will want to put a little stick in the fish’s cavity to prop it open — this allows the smoke to permeate the fish better. I use rosemary twigs, but any twigs will work.

Propping up the insides of trout with a toothpick
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

What wood? Something mild. I prefer alder, but oak or fruit woods are good choices, as is maple. But honestly, if you are in love with mesquite or something heavier, go ahead and use it — you won’t be smoking your trout very long anyway.

I like to get a slow ramp up in temperature for my smoked trout. I put the fish in cold in a cold smoker (I am using a Traeger these days) set on a low heat. If you want things to move even slower, set a tray of ice in the smoker. You never want the temperature to get beyond 225°F because at that point you’re barbecuing fish, which is nice, but not what we’re after here. I like the temperature to be somewhere between 175°F and 200°F.

How long to smoke? At least an hour, and to me, 90 minutes to 2 hours is ideal. I would not go more than 4 hours with such little trout. You want decent smoke time, but you don’t want trout jerky.

You can eat your smoked trout warm right out of the smoker, or chilled. They will keep a little more than a week in the fridge, and freeze nicely. If you are freezing some, stuff paper towels in the fish’s cavity to keep out air, which can cause freezer burn over time.

Finished smoked trout recipe
4.90 from 66 votes

Smoked Trout or Kokanee

This is a recipe for whole smoked trout or kokanee. If you want to smoke fillets, I'd go to my smoked lake trout recipe, which is meant for bigger fish. I prefer alder, oak or maple wood to smoke over, but it's your call. 
Course: Appetizer, Cured Meat, Main Course, Snack
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 trout
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Brine Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes


  • 4 whole trout, gutted and gilled
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar


  • Mix the salt and sugar with a gallon of water and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Submerge the trout in this brine and put in the fridge, covered, for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. 
  • Remove the trout from the brine (discard the brine), pat dry with paper towels and set on a rack over a baking sheet in the fridge for at least a few hours, and up to overnight. You can also set the fish to dry in a cool, breezy place for a few hours.
  • Put the fish in the smoker, hanging or on the grates, and get a nice cool smoke going. Slowly let the temperature rise to 200F and hold it between 175F and 200F for at least an hour, and up to 4 hours; I prefer 2 hours. Do not let the temperature get above 225F. If it does, set a tray of ice in the smoker. 
  • When your trout are smoked, you can eat them warm or chilled. 


Serving: 100g | Calories: 128kcal | Protein: 19.5g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1.4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1.6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1.6g | Cholesterol: 58mg | Sodium: 48mg | Potassium: 381mg | Vitamin A: 50IU | Vitamin C: 2.5mg | Calcium: 70mg | Iron: 0.4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

4.90 from 66 votes (16 ratings without comment)

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  1. What a great simple recipe this is! I’m kind of new to smoking. One quick question I have is should the brine be rinsed off before you pat the fish dry and put in the fridge?

  2. is it only 1 gallon if water per 4 fish? if you multiple the ingredients by 3 for 12 fish, do you still use 1 gallon of water?? thanks.

  3. Hank,

    I just wanted to drop in and thank you for this fantastic recipe. Today, after brining overnight, I smoked 4 fresh butterflied Kokanee using your method and they turned out absolutely perfect. My wife and I kept talking about how fantastic they tasted and agreed that I need to get out and fish more Kokes before the season is over here. One variation I added on 2 fish: I drizzled a little bourbon maple syrup over them when I ramped the temp to 200 for the last hour. Both variations were a hit with us. Easy to prepare/cook and delicious.

  4. Hi Hank, thanks for this basic recipe. This was my introduction to smoking fish today and it worked out great. Might be better to put the volume of water in the ingredients so it scales properly with the rest and avoids ambiguity. And you mention a picture of hanging fish in the smoker but unless I’m mistaken I think that picture is gone. Was I supposed to scale the fish? I didn’t and it worked out fine but I got to pondering…

    Thanks again!

  5. I’m 80 yrs old been salt free for ages (hi blood pressure) & now watching sugar consumption due to a1c being borderline diabetic.That’s the same brine I’ve used for several years with a bit of onion powder included and it seems to fit diet restrictions well. Gonna smoke a buncha fresh TN ‘bows in a couple days using your temp suggestions. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for sharing this recipe. I use it every time I smoke trout or salmon. I add soy sauce to the brine and baste with maple syrup during the last hour. Perfection!!!

  7. great recipe hey was wondering if it possible to sprinkle a tiny bit of seasoning on the trout whilst smoking as I do love my Spices or would u recommend doing it like this. have u tried any Spices like how I wrote

  8. My brother just dropped me off a 5.2# brown, Cleaned head off and scaled. I’m going to brine it and smoke it. Better to do whole of break it down a bit?

  9. Another great recipe, simple and delicious. That’s all you need some times. I used lake trout and then used them in dip and on sammies. Yum!!
    Also, my box-type smoker was running high temps, even with the ice, so I propped the door open a tad. The 100+ Summer temps probably didn’t help much. I used chunks of hickory with some smoker-blend pellets sprinkled on top.

  10. When I first started looking for smoking recipes it took me a sec to find this one.
    Now I’m going on my third time using it.
    I really like using rosemary twigs as you suggested.


    1. I take out the main rib bones before brining. The easiest way to do this is with a pair of fine needle-nose pliers. Starting at the head end, slide one of the points of the pliers under 4 or 5 ribs beside the backbone, as close to the ribs as possible to avoid wasting meat. Grip the bones and break them away from the backbone. Pull the ribs out from the side of the fish. If done properly, the bones should come out virtually clean. The pin bones will still remain but if the trout are small, they will be almost unnoticeable.

  11. I wish I could post a picture of the Colorado rainbows I just smoked using this recipe/process, because they came out as pretty as they are delicious! Thanks for sharing this, Hank. Much appreciated!

    1. Hey Doug, are you part of the Hunt, Gather, Cook group on FB? You can post your pics there 🙂
      As for me, I’m brining today and smoking tomorrow. Looking forward to the tasty results!

  12. Thank you for sharing this recipe! I am not a huge fish eater but went to a local lake in Northern NM last week and caught my limit of Rainbows. I have a propane smoker that I am still trying to get dialed in, so I sat with the fish the whole time, they came out great! Made some smoked trout cream cheese spread with the leftovers. Next time, I may add a little more salt to the brine because I’d like them a bit saltier but they were awesome. Have a safe Memorial Day! Chris