Smoking Trout

Smoking Trout: The End Of The Rainbow…

Last week the OTW crew played hooky for an afternoon and headed down to the local trout pond. There were plenty of freshly stocked delicious rainbow trout caught. Much to my surprise, I was the only one that kept fish that day – everyone else was releasing those tasty little buggers. Oh well, more for me! I know a good free meal when I see one.

Massachusetts Rainbow Trout
This tasty 14-inch rainbow couldn’t resist a slowly-retrieved spoon.

Trout are stocked into our local waters in March and April. Catching them is easy. These fish have spent their entire lives in concrete pools and have never seen an artificial lure. They are, to be honest,  quite dumb, and will attack just about anything that’s small and shiny. My all-time favorite trout lure is the Thomas Buoyant spoon. Fish it slowly, and allow it to sink and flutter. It will drive trout crazy, year after year.

The Thomas Buoyant Spoon is a perennial trout killer.
The Thomas Buoyant Spoon is a perennial trout killer.

If you’ve never eaten a freshly stocked trout, you are missing out on some very good eats. Sauteed, fried, grilled or broiled, they make for a great feast. Their fillets have a rich, orange hue to them, very similar to salmon. They also have a high fat content, which is a desirable characteristic to have in any fish.
I prefer to eat the younger, dumber ones, fresh from the hatchery. These fish have been fattened up on a nutrient-rich diet that enhances the orange color in their flesh. The longer a trout sits in a pond, the paler and softer their meat gets. I also prefer the fresh ones because I can be sure that they have not loaded up with any of the toxins found in many local ponds. (There is a reason why you are not supposed to eat freshwater fish more than twice a month).
So at the end of the day, I had a nice pile of fresh rainbow trout, carefully packed on ice. I’ve had a craving for smoked fish lately, and these trout were perfect for the smoker.

Fresh stocked trout fillets
Freshly stocked trout should have nice bright orange flesh, very similar to salmon. They also have a high concentration of fat between the skin and the meat.

The first step is to fillet them. I actually find filleting a small fish harder than filleting a big fish. Take your time, and don’t worry too much about getting all the bones out; they can easily be picked out of the fillets after they are smoked. Leave the skin on. Thoroughly rinse them under cold water, and dry the fillets with paper towels.

Brining the fillets is a crucial step. There are hundreds of recipes out there, which can easily be found online. Here’s the one I use:

Smoked Trout Brine Recipe

1 gallon water
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 TBSP. pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 TBSP. minced onion
3 bay leaves
1 cup pineapple juice (orange juice will work as a substitute)

Place all of your fillets in a Tupperware container and fill it up with the brine solution. Let them soak in the refrigerator for around 8 hours. Trout fillets are thin, so they don’t need to soak as long as bigger fillets like those from bluefish or salmon.

Smoked Trout Brine Recipe
Heat the brine in a saucepan until salt and sugar dissolves, allow to cool before adding fish.

When the brine-time is complete, rinse the fillets under cold water and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. This is also a good time to trim up the fillets and remove any bones that remain from the rib cage. Make the extra effort to wipe off any scales that are stuck onto the meat-side of the fillets.

The next step seems insignificant, but will make a big difference in improving the final product. Lay all of those nice little fillets on a cutting board lined with paper towels, and throw it into the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. This will completely dry out the outer layer of flesh, and result in a nice shiny glaze on the outside of the fillets after smoking.

Process for Smoked Trout
Fillets allowed to dry slightly post-brining.

Make sure the fillets are completely dry before placing them in the smoker. They will develop a nice glossy sheen on their surface when they are ready.

If you don’t already have one, a decent electric smoker can be purchased for under $100. Many die-hard smokers prefer charcoal smokers over electric models, but for most purposes, an electric model will work just fine. I like to use hickory chips as the smoke source, but there are plenty of other options such as mesquite, oak or apple. It’s important that you soak the chips in water for an hour before starting smoking, otherwise they will burst into a pile a flames and burn out quickly.

Smoking Trout
Electric smoker starting to produce smoke.

A useful trick that I learned the hard way is to cover the grate in the smoker with a sheet of aluminum foil. (If you place the fillets right on the grates there is a good chance the fish will stick.) Poke a bunch of holes in the foil to allow the smoke to get through. Give it a quick spray of Pam, and you’re ready to smoke!

Foil Lined Smoker
The smoker, lined with foil to keep trout fillets from sticking.

Arrange the wood chips around the perimeter of the heating unit. Make sure none of the chips touch the heater, or they will quickly burst into flames. You will want to check on the chips about every 1/2 hour during the smoking process. Use a small stick to keep fresh chips near the heat source, and replenishing the chips as needed.

Water Smoker for Trout
Don’t forget to add water! Forgetting this crucial step will result in trout jerky. As much as I’m a fan of jerky products, fish and jerky don’t mix.

Smoke the fish until it’s done. There is no secret number on the time, there are a lot of variables like the outside air temperature, the amount of meat in the smoker, and the size of the fillets. Basically, your eyes will tell you when it is done. The fillets should have a nice glaze to them and look something like the photo below. This batch took around 5 hours to complete.

Smoked Rainbow Trout Recipe
If you follow these instructions, your finished product should look something like this.

I like to eat smoked fish caveman-style. Grab a fillet with your hands and dig right in. It’s good stuff and quite addictive. If you want to get fancy, you can pick it apart and make a nice dip for crackers. Simply mix it with cream cheese, lime juice and spices and it makes a great simple appetizer.

21 on “Smoking Trout

  1. Bob

    Good job, best directions and photos I have seen on a web site . I feel your love of outdoors and enthusiasm for the outdoors

  2. Casey

    As someone who was lucky enough to try this wonderful “snack”, I can attest to its extraordinary flavor. Fresh, tender smoky deliciousness… yumm! Don’t think smoked fish ever gets better than that. Thank you and keep the smoke going, Andy!

  3. Andrew

    where was this
    i go to a local trout pond in Rochester Ma. called Mary’s Pond but i never have any luck in catching trout but everybody else does and it is very annoying
    do you have any tips

    1. andy nabreski

      hmmm… sounds like you are doing something wrong. Let’s solve this.
      here’s a few tips:

      1) try to fish on the windy side of the pond. The wind will push all dead bugs and floating debris to the downwind side of the pond. The trout know this. Wind in your face is good.
      2) small spoons are my favorite for casting. Thomas Buoyant spoons and a good old Al’s Goldfish are perennial trout killers. Fish them slow and erratically. If that doesn’t work, fish them fast. If that doesn’t work, move to another spot.
      3) Trout have pretty good eyes. Don’t use any line heavier than 6-pound test. I am old school and still use monofilament line for most my freshwater stuff. Tie your line dirrectly to the lure.
      4) Berkley powerbait works great for rainbows. Use a small piece, not a big wad. Use a small hook, and make sure it floats off the bottom. Test it before you cast out. If it sinks, your hook is too big, or there isn’t enough bait. Also, once you cast it out, don’t move it! When you move it, it get’s covered in weeds, and sinks. Resist all urges to move it. Set it and forget it.
      5) You are allowed to fish 2 rods in Mass. Set one up with powerbait and spike it, and cast a small spoon with the other.

      If these tips don’t work after three trips, I suggest you take up gardening!

      -Andy N.

      1. jeff

        ground fish left-overs (guts,skin, bones) make the BEST fertilizer for your garden, Andrew

    2. Dan

      Thomas Buoyant spook. Probably the only lure you’ll need to take trout. Red/Gold is the key.

    3. Dan

      Thomas Buoyant spook. Probably the only lure you’ll need to take trout. Red/Gold is the key.

      Not sure why this reply posted on another post….

  4. VTBasser

    If you don’t or forget to use the aluminum foil trick and need to liberate fillets from the grill this is a trick I use.

    Pull the grill(s) off the smoker and allow to cool. Cut a 1/2″ strip out of a plastic soda bottle. Fold over and slip it on the grill rung. Grasp from below and pull down firmly as you slide it down the grill rung.

  5. Walter Izmir

    Great brine, just smoked some trout using this recipe. They came out great , smoked them for about three hours at 210-215 degrees. The trout were about 12-14 inches so I just scaled them headed and gutted them and smoked them whole.Thanks for making my first smoking adventure successful.Walter.

  6. Walter

    Great brine, just smoked some trout using this recipe. They came out great , smoked them for about three hours at 210-215 degrees. The trout were about 12-14 inches so I just scaled them headed and gutted them and smoked them whole.Thanks for making my first smoking adventure successful.Walter.

  7. Geoff

    Good recipe but wish our trout looked like that. Every stocked trout I’ve caught in CT has white flesh (from their feed I assume) and not their natural orange flesh.

  8. Rich

    youbleave skin on I assume? And eat the skin and meat once smoked? No need to worry about scales? Or do you you pick the meat off the skins?

    1. Andy N.

      Yes, leave the skin on. It helps prevent them from sticking to the grates. Not a bad idea to scale them, but not essential. You can eat the skin, but I find it a bit fishy tasting and oily. Some people love it.

  9. Kevin LaRose

    Great article! lots of good tips. I believe that you’re incorrect with regard to your explanation that the orange flesh indicates that they’ve been freshly stocked. From what I’ve seen and read, it’s the reverse which is true. The orange coloration is a result of the fish consuming crustaceans and other natural foods found in local lake and streams.

  10. Chris Nyser

    I agree with Kevin, the trout you catch in Ct have a pale white meat and the longer they are in the lakes and streams the more of a natural orange / pink coloration the meat has . Also the trout when freshly stocked have very little flavor compared to a trout that has been in a lake or stream for a season. I believe the trout in the Ct hatcheries are fed liver pellets of some sort which would be why they don’t taste too good when freshly stocked and caught.

    1. Rollie

      I agree with the 2 previous comments, regarding trout flesh coloration and firmness. In minnesota, the trout are fed pellets at our hatcheries and have a paler flesh color when 1st planted in to the lakes generally as fingerlings or yearlings. The longer they are in the lakes, the more deeper red or orange flesh coloration they take on. The meat also becomes firmer and much tastier i believe from consuming the natural forage. I have also fished the southern Manitoba(Canada) prairie lakes and found their rainbows to be much deeper red coloration even in the smaller fish. I was told these fish are fed freshwater shrimp in the Canadian hatcheries which totally firms up their flesh and gives them much better flavor than the pellet fed hatchery fish.

  11. Jessie

    What happens if you don’t let the fish dry before putting it on the smoker ???

    1. Leona

      What I have read about not letting the fish dry is that the smoke wont absorb into the flesh

  12. Doug

    I use frozen apple concentrate / little cayenne pepper and 1/2 cup of FAVORITE whiskey. The other parts of brine VERY similar. I do make the cream cheese dip as described as well. Brining and smoking fish will keep for a long time in fridge, over a month with no effect to taste. Tight lines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *