How I Hot-Smoked Trout

May 28, 2010 § 2 Comments

I am new to this. My only other experiment with smoking was venison pastrami.


This time I smoked trout. Not the trout we caught but farm-raised trout that ended up in my fridge. While farm-raised fish, in and of itself, is not the greatest thing to eat, I must say it was elevated considerably by smoking.

You can’t cold-smoke things on a grill, and this fish is, therefore, hot-smoked. Hot smoking, in this case, is nothing other than grilling over indirect heat (which simply means that you place your coals on one side of the grill and your meat on the other), with the lid closed and the holes in the top of the lid mostly closed as well, using a combination of commercial hardwood charcoal chunks (not briquettes) and green apple wood – also called “wet wood” – freshly cut wood that didn’t have any time to dry out and is therefore saturated with the moisture naturally present in a tree. Because of the high moisture content, it produces a lot of smoke when it burns, which is what we want in this case. I also like to add some dry storebotten charcoal to get everything hot and going.

Before you smoke anything, however, you need to brine it, which acts both as a seasoning and as a preservative during the long, slow cooking, and (if I remember correctly) helps the smoke to better adhere to the meat. I got the simple brine recipe from my beloved L.L.Bean Fish and Game Cookbook. Here it is:

Simple Brine for Smoked Fish

From the L.L.Bean Fish and Game Cookbook

Enough for two large trout

  • 2 qts water
  • 1 C salt (I used coarse Kosher)
  • 1 C sugar (I used plain white granulated sugar)

Mix everything together until salt and sugar are dissolved in the water. You can try adding other flavorings, but I like to keep things simple.

I brined my trout for several hours (three or so) at room temperature. Note that you need keep your meat (or fish, in this case) submerged in the brine, so I weighed the fish down with a plate and another bowl on top of that. After a few hours, remove the fish from the brine, rinse it thoroughly, and let dry completely (I air-dried it at room temperature). If it’s hot, or if you are worried about food safety, you can keep it in the fridge while it brines.


This is the brand of charcoal I use for everything. No briquettes.


No starter liquid either. I recently began using this to start my grill, which I think is the best thing since the Photoshop. If by some chance you don’t know what this is, it’s called “a chimney starter,” because its shape provides a chimney effect for super fast and efficient heating of the coals placed inside. Here’s how it works:


You start with some newspaper. The Wall Street Journal works particularly great for this. It also makes great mulch.


Now crumple the paper and stuff it in the bottom chamber of the chimney starter.


Now turn it over, and place directly on top of the grate of your grill (or on the lower-level rack).


Turn it over, and fill the top chamber with charcoal. I like to fill it all the way up. otherwise there’s not enough coals. In retrospect, I should have bought a larger starter, but this works.


Now start the newspaper in the bottom chamber on fire. See those convenient holes? They make it really easy.

While the coals are heating, let us turn our attention to the apple branches – our “wet” (smoke-producing) wood.


These are the branches I snipped off the apple trees in my orchard minutes before.


See how green they are inside? Fresh from a tree, they are full of water.


Cut them into chunks like so. These were small enough to be handled with a pair of garden clippers.


By now the coals are ready – they are ready when they are glowing-red. Remove the grate and slowly and carefully pour the coals from the chimney starter into the bowl of the grill, taking care to arrange them on one side only. Be careful as you do that – some sparks will fly! Be mindful of where the wind is blowing – it shouldn’t be in your face, otherwise that’s where the sparks will go. Now clean your grate of any ash with a wire brush, remove the grate away from heat, and oil it well (a pastry brush works well to this end). I always oil it whenever I grill. Now replace the grate, and wait for the coals to be covered with a layer of white ash.

When that happens, place the fish on top of the grate, on the side opposite from the one with the coals.


Now toss some green wood on top of the glowing coals (it would make more sense to put them in as soon as you pour in the coals, but I don’t necessarily do things logically all the time).


Now cover the kettle tightly with the lid. Leave the holes in the lid open for a while, to get the green wood going, and then close them partway. For the next few hours (I believe it took me 3 or 3.5 hours to grill this, though it may have been as long as 4), you’ll be adding more charcoal and green wood directly onto the coals already in the grill to keep the fire going, and playing with the holes in the lid to control the heat-to-smoke ratio.

You’ll also need to be flipping your fish from time to time, perhaps once per hour (exercise your judgment here). Just make sure it smokes evenly on both sides. I like using a combination of small tongs and a spatula for this.


Meanwhile, play with your cute babies. You have cute babies on hand, right? The ones who keep you up at night?


Your fish is done when it looks this golden-brown color I associate with smoked trout, and flakes nicely as cooked fish should.


It’s going to be pink and flaky on the inside.

I loved serving it with ember-roasted potatoes the day I smoked it. I wrap some large yellow potatoes in foil, poke them a few times with a fork to allow the steam to escape during roasting, and place the foil-potato packages directly on top and in the middle of hot coals (I did this after the fish was done, using only dry coals). I find that it takes about an hour for large potatoes. The fluffy, buttery texture and the smoky flavor is like nothing you will get in the oven.

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