Sitting by the water, staring at the end of a fishing rod was never a thing in my family even though my childhood home is close to several recreational fishing ponds. I didn’t grow up with much exposure to seafood either, as my home village is about an hour and a half from the North Sea, which by Dutch standards is about the equivalent of Colorado’s proximity to the nearest ocean. One exception that forms a staple “fish at home” memory is smoked trout. The fishing pond purveyors would smoke whole trout once or twice a week and my dad would frequently pick up a few for dinner.
Years later, in search of new hobbies, dad decided he’d like to try his hand at smoking fish and some time in 2018, when I happened to be visiting, we went and picked up a smoker. After some trial and error we got the process down. These days, dad still visits the fishing pond but now picks up fresh fish–killed and gutted–and does the smoking at home.
On a later trip to the Netherlands, I spent a week running that smoker almost every day; cooking ribs, chicken, more ribs and of course, some trout. That experience got me excited about smoking meat and I started experimenting with smoker boxes and slow cooked pork ribs on my Weber gas grill.
Naturally, I quickly “needed” better equipment and bought a Pit Barrel Junior. I love that smoker. It’s a rib cooking machine. The Junior is a good size and I have thrown it in the back of the car to cook at my in-laws, but sometimes I wonder if I should have gotten the bigger one instead.
In any case, after a few cooks on the Pit Barrel, I figured I should give trout a try. My wife took me to a Japanese market in Berkeley and we picked up 2 big specimen. The Pit Barrel comes with hooks that let you hang meat off of rebar at the top of the barrel. I tried doubling up the hooks in each fish to spread the load but disaster struck and one fish fell into the fire 😢.
Despite that setback, the lone “survivor” was delicious!
Fish smoking is quite common in Europe and I remembered that dad’s smoker came with special hooks for hanging trout and eel. These hangers are made of thinner gauge steel and have two hooks that hold the fish. I tried finding similar hangers on Amazon and other places and even considered ordering them from a BBQ store in the Netherlands, but I guess the pandemic caused a BBQ equipment purchasing spree and the hooks were all sold out.
My obvious next step was to make them myself. I bought two cheap extendable grill forks from my local Ace Hardware to provide material and went to work with a Mapp torch, a vise and some pliers. An hour of heating, bending, twisting and cutting later, this was the result:
We had my in-laws over that day and my wife had picked up some whole trout from Costco. (We’ve since also seen them at Whole Foods)
The custom hooks worked a treat, gravity did not ruin our dinner and we’ve used them several times since. On top of all that, my in-laws loved the trout, so I’ve got that going for me!
I guess this is where we get to the point in this story where I actually tell you how to Smoke Trout on a Pit Barrel Cooker : )
Start by rinsing off your fish, remove any guts that may still be sitting around and submerge the fish in an appropriately size container. Add about a half cup of salt and let the fish brine in the fridge for at least two hours but ideally overnight.
Remove the fish from the brine, rinse and place the hangers. For smaller fish, double hooking with the Pit Barrel hooks should be OK but if you have fancier hooks use those! I’ve had good luck placing a hanger through the mouth and hooking between ribs on either side of the spine.
Light your Pit Barrel according to instructions, but don’t overfill your fire basket. Smoking only takes about an hour and trout don’t weigh that much, so you don’t need that much heat. I usually try to keep the pit temp between 200 and 250 (F). I sometimes add some wood chips for extra flavor.
Once the internal temp reaches about 145 (F) and the skin has a nice golden sheen, your trout is done.
The skin should come right off and the filet should lift off the ribs with ease. Don’t forget the head either. Just below the eye socket, the jaw muscles are wonderful chunks of goodness. A bit finicky to get at, but very tasty!
I hope this sidestep from the usual technical drivel is useful to someone. If you have suggestions or if you want some fish hangers, get in touch!