After going on a charter fishing trip(we used the Kitchen Pass as our charter boat) in Port Washington, WI I thought I’d try to smoke the Steelhead I got. I basically combined two Smoked Steelhead recipes I found online solely based on how much time it took to smoke and ingredients I had available.
Dry Brine Recipe
I had no idea you needed to brine steelhead before you smoked it so this was all new to me. After seeing a bunch of different brine recipes I decided I’d go with a dry brine off the Bradley Smoker site. It was pretty straight forward and tasted delicious…
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
Their site calls for white pepper, but I didn’t have that so I just went with black pepper. Once you mix all your ingredients together rub, this brine generously on both sides of your fillets(I cut my fillets in thirds). Put the fillets in a dish, wrap, and refrigerate overnight(4 – 8 hours, I went the full 8). I wrapped mine once by kind of just laying the saran wrap over top the fillets to lock out any air, then took a second wrap around the entire dish.
The next morning you should see the dish filled with liquid because the brine literally pulls out all the liquid and bacteria from the fish and also absorbs all the brown sugar and ground cloves.
Wash off the fillets with cold water, pat them dry, and lay them on a drying rack for 2 hours. All the salt that is now in the fish will keep them from going bad while they sit out. Leaving the fish sit for a couple hours I learned is critical in the smoking process because the fillets need to form what is called pellicle on the skins surface. Pellicle forms on the skin of the cured fish as it dries and is sticky to the touch which helps the smoke stick to the fish. I also read that it helps retain moisture in your fish and to prevent albumin from forming on your fish which is a protein that gets pushed out of the muscle fibers if it is cooked too fast.
For the actual smoking part I used a different recipe that seemed easier and took less time. I was using my charcoal grill and didn’t want to get too crazy the first time. This recipe called for 2 hours at 150 degrees followed by another 2 hours at 200 degrees.
Everywhere I looked called for alder wood to use for smoking which I had never heard of. All I had was a blend of oak, hickory, and apple wood made by Stubb’s which worked fine for me. Before I started the grill I soaked a couple handfuls of the chips in water for 30 minutes which allowed the wood to smolder instead of burn(which still happened occasionally).
Before I put the fish on the grill I lathered the grill grates with olive oil so the fish wouldn’t stick. Next, I put a handful on chips right on top of the charcoal once the grill stayed at 150 degrees, then added the fish.
The hardest part during all this was keeping the grill at the right temperature(150 in a charcoal grill is more difficult than it seems!). Messing with the chimney and dampers only help so much if you don’t have the right amount of charcoal in your grill. During the 4 hours I would add more wood chips whenever I saw little smoke coming out of the chimney which was about every 15 minutes or so. When I cranked the heat up to 200 I moved the fillets from the far left side of the grill a little closer to the charcoal on the far right to help them reach and internal temperature of 165 degrees.
After 4 hours take them out and let them sit for 20 minutes, you can eat them right away or can wrap and refrigerate.
I was pretty impressed on how they turned out. Amazing smokey and saltiness to them which kind of tasted like smoked ham. Next, I’m going to try this recipe with a lake trout another guy caught on the trip!