Smoked trout is a delicious treat that can be enjoyed on its own or used in recipes. You can use this method to smoke other small to medium fish (salmon, whitefish, grayling) as well.
This is a combination of first cold and then hot smoking that preserves the trout, rather than simply cooking and flavoring it. You will need a smoker with an accurate temperature gauge that allows you to adjust the temperature with some precision.
Keep in mind that although this method will extend the keeping time of your fish by weeks or months, it is not a method that preserves the fish indefinitely.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Brine Time: 24 to 48 hours
Drying Time: 30 minutes
Cold Smoke Time: 3 to 4 hours
Hot Smoke Time: 4 to 12 hours
1/2 to 1-inch thick trout fillets or halves OR 1 whole fish, cleaned
2 quarts water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pink curing salt #1 (optional)
2 crumbled or torn bay leaves
1 whole clove
4 whole allspice
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1. Stir the brine ingredients until the salt and sugar dissolve. Add the trout and use a plate with a jar full of water or other weight on top of it to keep the fish submerged in the brine. Leave the fish in the brine in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
2. Rinse the trout under cold water and then pat it dry with either a clean dishtowel or paper towels.
Lay it out on a rack set over a dish or tray and let it dry at room temperature for approximately 30 minutes. As the fish dries, a shiny, tacky layer called a pellicle will form. The pellicle seals in juices that keep the fish tender and also gives the smoke something to adhere to, giving the final product a richer smoke flavor than it would have otherwise.
3. While the fish is brining and drying, get your smoker and smoking components ready. If you are using commercial charcoal plus soaked wood chips, start the wood chips soaking in water. Only use hardwoods such as pear, apple, and birch for the wood chips.
4. Cold smoke the trout for 2 to 3 hours at between 90F and 100F. On the hottest days of summer in some places the ambient air temperature may be higher than this: smoking trout is a cool weather project. Add the soaked hardwood chips to the coals as needed to keep a consistent amount of smoke wafting over the fish. Open the vents, or add water to the bowl in some smoker models, as needed to maintain the temperature.
5. Separately from the smoker, start another wood fire or get some charcoal burning. A charcoal chimney is useful for this. Add additional hot coals to the smoker and bring the temperature up to 225F. Insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the fish. Maintain the 225F temperature as closely as you can until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 180F.
This will usually take about 3 to 4 hours, but if you've got an especially big fish and are smoking it whole, it could take as long as 10 hours. During this time, continue to add soaked hardwood chips to the coals to keep that smoke surrounding the fish.
6. Once the internal temperature of the fish reaches 180F, maintain it there for an additional 30 minutes before removing the trout from the smoker.
7. Once the trout has completely cooled to at least room temperature (or colder if you're undertaking this project outdoors on a chilly day), wrap it tightly in foil, butcher's paper, or you can vacuum seal it. Trout smoked by this method will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 month and in the freezer for at least 3 months.