Smoked whole Trout (first run) Q-View

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chef k-dude

Smoke Blower
Original poster
Mar 11, 2015
Central Virginia
In thanks to the three people from here that tried to help me with my questions before staring this, and the other people who may be looking for more info that goes beyond pulling the fish out of the smoker when done, I offer this Q-View to the community.

My cousin working in the streams of Appalachia West Virginia harvests a bunch of trout every year, and through my dad who lives up in “them thar mountains” during the spring through fall, this year I got probably 20 or so. I decided to start with a bag of 5 for my first whole fish smoke. These are modest sized fish as you can see, but there was plenty of meat to harvest.

I decided to go with the wet brine. It just seems be more effective and fast at getting flavor in to the core of the meat. But that is an opinion, your mileage may vary.

Brining ingredients
For up to 2 lbs. of fish or fillets
½ gallon water (preferably bottled),
room temperature
1 C. salt (preferably Kosher)
½ C. brown sugar
¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup soy sauce
1 t. onion powder
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. ground pepper

1/2t cayenne

Sliced lemon and herbs in the cavity

Brined 2 hours

Smoked at 180° 1.25 hours-ish to 145° or more

-Heat the water so that the sugar will dissolve and mixed marinade ingredients

-The fish had been cleaned and heads removed for me…lucky me! Reading other blogs across the web, I decided to cut slits in the flesh through the skin.

-Back in to the gallon bag I got them in with the marinade, the bag in to a crappy pan I keep just for leakage in situations like this, and in to the fridge. Allowed to brine for about 2 hours in the fridge.

-Removed from the marinade. I did not rinse, it makes no sense to me to do that with a wet brine. I placed sliced lemon, a sprig of thyme, a little fresh parsley and a single sage leaf in each fish cavity. The toothpick was just for the picture, the way I have my phone set up its hard to take one handed pics. I just happened to still have these herbs in pots on my back deck, they survive early freeze; I did not go out and pay a bunch of money for them.

You could tell in just a couple hours the marinade went to work on the fish as it was already softening up and getting a bit more “floppy”? That’s a technical term…for amateur smokers!

Also, I did not concern myself with air drying or pellicle formation. It makes no sense to me with whole fish. I did do that with salmon fillet though…because when the flesh is exposed…pellicle formation, then, makes sense. I used a clean, old towel to dry each fish of excess marinade though. My wife rejects kitchen towels for new ones periodically…I keep them and store them in my garage cooking and prep area for heavy cooking use. They get washed and reused, even when used for shelling oysters.

-In to the smoker. I do NOT preheat the Masterbuilt 30 for short smokes, it doesn’t make sense because the element turns off at temp and in a short smoke, you want a good amount of smoke fast.The smoke you see there is because I had just dropped some peach chips in and had turned the smoker on just minutes before putting the fish in. On any given day the steps could be reversed but the key is starting with a cold electric smoker.

I use water. The water pan is there for a reason. (Opinion…your mileage may vary)

-Allowed the smoker to reach 180 then timed 30 minutes. Fish was already at about 130…flipped and set the timer for another 30 minutes. Fish had just reached 145. I let the smoker roll for about another 15 minutes while I was clearing out some other food prep I had going in the kitchen, then turned it off, opened the door and let the fish rest and cool for about another 15 while continuing to stay busy in the kitchen clearing the way for breaking them down…and keeping an eye out the window lest a coon or a neighbor’s dog or cat happened to be nearby…

-So here’s where almost all other blogs and posts I found on smoking whole fish leave off…what to do now?

-I’m not confident I have determined the best method for this in just my first whole fish smoke but I was able to lift off nearly whole filets either cutting a slice down the back of the fish or even taking a chef’s knife from the cavity side and cutting the whole fish in half through the back.

-What’s for sure is the skin peels off easier from the back with that starting cut...peeling toward the belly. The belly had a little bit of almost a crispy line right at the edge that wants to grab a little tighter to the skin. If a bit of that came prob, I ate some of it and it’s not ideal…but it is edible of course.

-With the skin off I tried both the cutting though the entire spine/back of the fish and just leaving both sides connected. I don’t know that one was better than the other, but with a little intuitiveness and patience you can get the core bone line out. This DOES leave plenty of bone in/on the meat so with the combination of finger tips and even a knife edge or other flat blade a bit of careful cleaning and removing the bones was necessary…kind of like finding pin bones of a salmon fillet but they’re right on the surface and easier to remove just by lifting.

*If anyone has a technique for a “clean lift” of the bone off the meat, please share. I tried asking about this part of the harvesting and so far no one offered any specifics. The bones did come off pretty easy, but not the entire skeleton at once. I have more fish to smoke, so I’ll have a chance to try again.

So there you go. Smoked whole trout all the way from brine to harvesting the meat from the skin and bones.

-So, in summary, this was delicious. A little strong on the fish taste like trout can be but I’m actually not a big fish fan so it may not be strong to a fish lover at all. I like my fish raw with wasabi and soy (sushi/sashimi) (can’t do that with non-ocean fish, parasites are too small to see so freshwater fish MUST be cooked), or smoked like this and served in a variety of ways, or deep fried…who doesn’t like deep fried…anything?

I hope this helps someone who was looking for a little more detail, and I appreciate any comments and suggestions from more experienced fish smokers out there to improve on what I now know.
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Guess I am going to have to go get some trout.

  It looks like you have 2 different kinds there, rainbow and brook?
Thanks Crazy.


Definitely 2 types, The spotted ones may be brown trout.

Sadly, I am not a fisherman. Like hunting, I have a hard time with endeavors that may produce nothing, so as a kid I would go fishing with my dad who had a boat for years, but all I wanted to do was drive the boat as fast as possible! Same with hunting...hated sitting the freezing cold for hours and usually coming back to camp with nothing...but I loved shooting the guns!

In the case of this trout, one of my cousins who is 100% mountain man, harvests massive amounts of trout every year...along with deer, bear, turkey...if it walks or swims, it better avoid this cousin of mine! So he gives a lot of the fish he catches to my dad (his uncle of course) because dad likes Trout. So thankfully I got my hands on some of it this year. I'm not a big fish lover, but as I wrote above, when I do eat fish it's usually raw, smoked or deep fried.

I made a righteous smoked trout spread/dip with some of this fish.

Getting ready to butcher some deer meat today. Rather than hunt, I provide the crossbow or rifle to a buddy and he makes the kills, guts, skins and quarters...and my deal is the final cut-up and recipes like sausage and jerky!

So, I'm more the chef than the farmer/hunter.
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Looks tasty!

I actually remove the backbone by just lifting it out. Usually comes out in one whole piece and clean.
I use a dry brine so the texture may be firmer than your wet brine.

For whole trout I actually prop open the fish like you did with the toothpick, and smoke that way.
I usually do salmon, the only time I did trout was in an old brinkman charcoal smoker and it cooked rather than smoked( i was real newb then). 

Sailor, if you leave the head on, then after it is done the bones really come out easy. I usually try to fillet them before hand, as I watched a relative in California fillet 18 headless thawed  trout with a dull pocket knife in less than 30 minutes, I learned alot from him but still no where near his level. Of those 18 trout there was not 1 bone found.

I'll have to try that dry brine next time. I have more to work with. I used the toothpick in the pics just to show the inside. Really didn't need any more smoke as they were very a good way, and I'm not a "fishy" fish tasting guy.


I've done salmon too with good results. If you ever do a Q-view on that dull knife fillet or a video let me know. I just watched a couple YouTubes on it. Made it look easy. I'd like to try that.

I may have slightly overcooked them. Do the bones get harder to remove as the fish cooks more?

Anyone bread and deep fry trout? I was thinking after filleting, but now that I think about it, I had an excellent meal at an authentic Chinese place once that was a deep fried whole fish. It wasn't heavily breaded, maybe just some corn starch. It was very good, but the sauce they used was half the battle...but nuclear spicy hot!
I don't plan on using a dull knife any time soon, he was a one time pro so he really knew what he was doing. If I ever get him up here to go fishing I will get video of him filleting though. For most of the trout I have had if you get most of the ribs out with the spine, then the pin bones are not a big bother once cooked, they just add a little crunch. But the best way to get the pin bones out is with tweezers or needlenose. They generally do come out easy once cooked if you dont do it before hand.
I don't plan on using a dull knife any time soon, he was a one time pro so he really knew what he was doing. If I ever get him up here to go fishing I will get video of him filleting though. For most of the trout I have had if you get most of the ribs out with the spine, then the pin bones are not a big bother once cooked, they just add a little crunch. But the best way to get the pin bones out is with tweezers or needlenose. They generally do come out easy once cooked if you dont do it before hand.
Kind of like Salmon. I've done my share of tweezing!

I think I will try it. I have done the smoked route and that was good. I have three bags left, I think I might try to fillet one for deep fry but save the carcass/bones in the freezer; then fillet another bag, take those carcasses, combine with the other bones and make a broth, then use the fillets to make a fish soup.

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