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.
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.
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.
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.
Smoked Trout or Kokanee
- 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.