The beginning product (although this specfic fish was released)
This fall has been my first attempt at smoking trout. Since MM gave me the Big Green Egg for my birthday this summer, it has received a ton of use, and I was hoping it would excel at smoking some trout at low temperatures.
My smoking method is essentially a 3 day process. The daily creel limit in Massachusetts is 3 fish, so I typically fish for 2 days and keep 6 trout. On day 1, I'll simply gut and clean the trout, leaving them whole. After fishing on day 2, I will fillet all 6 fish, remove the rib bones, and wash them again. I leave the pin bones in, because removing them is more of a hassle than it is worth on trout of that size. Plus, they peel right out when eating the finished product.
Chrome...with red highlights
After I have the 12 fillets ready, I brine them. My basic brine recipe is as follows.
1/3 cup salt
1 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp black pepper
6 garlic cloves (or 2-3 tbsp garlic powder)
I mix all of these ingredients in a bowl, then use the mixture to coat the trout. I often add 1-2 tbsp of Old Bay as well for a little more kick. I'll also modify this recipe by cutting the salt down to 1/4 cup and adding 1/4 cup of lite soy sauce. And I should note that I think this recipe has some definite wiggle room, but my one firm recommendation - don't skimp on the brown sugar. It provides delicious sweet undertones to the final product. I pack the fillets in a glass baking dish, coat and cover them in the brine, cover them with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for about 5-7 hours. I prefer a long brine time, but you can likely achieve a solid brine in 2-3 hours.
The freshly mixed brine coating. Over time, it turns into more of a liquid.
After the brine period, I thoroughly rinse the fillets, pat them dry with paper towels, and place them on a baking sheet. The fillets should feel slightly stiffer than normal at this point. I then place the baking sheet, uncovered, into the fridge for about 10-12 hours, but a bit more or less time won't hurt. I typically let them sit overnight to get plenty dry. What you are looking for is for the trout to get a nice shiny surface, which is called pellicle. Pellicle is a type of coating that forms on proteins and is what the smoke adheres to.
The grill is loaded and ready to drop. Note the shiny pellicle surfaces.
I fire up my Big Green Egg using a little bit of "old" lump charcoal, meaning that it has been pre-used/pre-burnt. I also include a bit of kindling and give it about 5-10 minutes to catch. I then start adding a variety of wood chips and larger wood pieces. I pre-soak the larger pieces in water for a few hours before adding them. I typically use cherry wood, which we harvest from our land. Alder is another favorite, but you can use whatever you like. I would suggest staying away from very strong smoke flavors, such as hickory or mesquite.
A little prep, then the BGE is smoking
I prefer to smoke meats on crappy days - those with lots of moisture in the air and plenty of wind. I feel like the BGE really excels in those conditions, particularly in terms of providing a lot of smoke and a maintaining constant temperature. The moisture keeps the wood wet and smoky and the wind keeps the fire consistently stoked in the perfect smoking range. Plus, it is something to look forward to after a day of staring out the window at work at those bleak conditions.
I smoke the fillets at 170-190 degrees for 2-3 hours. If you like your smoked trout a little drier, like I do, go for 3 hours. If you like it a little moister, shoot for around 2 hours. Some folks will smoke at 180-220 degrees for a shorter period of time (closer to 2 hours), but I prefer a slightly lower temperature and longer smoke. The key is that you want the trout to be fully cooked throughout, reaching 150-170 degrees in the middle.
A plate of smoked trout - about to be turned into a delicious appetizer.
The finished product...delicious!
I usually eat a piece or two right away and vacuum seal the rest in packs of 3 or 4. There are a bunch of ways to use the finished product, and it is also a big hit as a gift or at parties. Our favorite way to chow on the trout is either on a bagel or crackers with cream cheese, red onion, capers, dill, and tomato.
Get out there and take advantage of this beautiful fall weather and trout action - you won't regret it! Not only are they a blast to catch, but man are these trout delicious. Until next time, tight lines.