Smoked Steelhead Trout

I love surprises. But really, who doesn’t.

A friend of mine does fly fishing and every once in a while he calls to see if I am home and then comes to drop off one of the fish he caught. So, a few days ago, I received a call and then 30 minutes later I had a fish to clean.

I do not know much about fish, besides buying them at a fish market or supermarket and cooking them. I don’t fish and therefore I don’t clean them or filet them. This is the third fish he has dropped off and I am starting to get better at preparing them. I feel I need to get a lesson from someone though – I know I could do a far better job.

My friend told me the fish was a steelhead trout. After a bit of research online, I discovered that rainbow trout and steelhead are the same fish. Steelhead are just a larger and mature version of the rainbow trout. This fish is in the same fish family as salmon and does have a similar taste, especially when smoked.

Above is the fish I got to filet! This recipe for smoked fish is great with store bought trout of salmon as well.

I used a dry brine this time and it is so easy to do. Cover the fish with the brown sugar/salt brine and place in the fridge for 8-12 hours (I did it overnight).

Rinse the brine off and let the fish dry so a pellicle can form on the skin. The pellicle keeps some of the moisture in the fish and enhances the smokey flavour.

Smoke for 5 hours at a gradually increasing temperature, starting at 100F and increasing it 20F every hour. Look at the finished product!! Man did the fish taste incredible!!

Smoked Steelhead Trout

4.84 out of 5
6 reviews
Smoked Steelhead trout done in a Bradley electric smoker using a dry brown sugar and salt brine and apple or alder wood.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Total Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 4 fillets


  • 2 pounds of steelhead trout fillets
  • 6 cups of brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper


  • Mix the brown sugar, salt and seasonings together. Rub the dry brine all over the fish. Place the fish in a bowl making sure the fish is totally surrounded and covered in the dry brine. Place in the fridge overnight (8-12 hours).
  • Rinse the fish thoroughly and place in a cool dry place of 2-3 hours to allow a pellicle to form on the outside of the fish. A fan can be used to speed up the process.
  • Smoke for 5 hours at a gradually increasing temperature, starting at 100F and increasing it 20F every hour. The fish needs to have a minimum internal temperature of 145F.
  • Enjoy!


Did you try this recipe?

Leave a comment and let me know how it turned out. Or, take a picture to share on Instagram and tag me @theblackpeppercorn.

4.84 from 6 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating


  • 5 stars
    WOW…. As far as fish goes… I have smoked trout, salmon and steelhead before and this is one of the best if not the best recipes I have used!! I had 1.99 pounds of steelhead and thought I would try this recipe. When I looked at how many cups of brown sugar I was to use for 2 pounds, I thought to myself… no way! I cut the recipe in half and it worked perfectly for 2 pounds of fish. I had at least 1/2 inch to 3/8 inch of the rub on all the fish, even on the sides. I used 1 tsp of cayenne pepper (half of what the recipe calls for.. remember, I cut the recipe in half).. Next time I will probably use 1 1/2 to 2 times as much as I put in. I also cut down on the salt buy at least 2/3rds. I am not a big lover of salt and so many recipes call for way too much salt (honestly I have not tried this recipe with the full meal deal as far as the amount of salt). But the fish turned out awesome!!!! Thanks so much!!! Last note… I smoked the fish at level temp, 210 for about 2 1/2 hours with a Louisiana pellet grill. It has a great deep red crust on the outside and beautifully flakey on the inside. Rainbow Trout next time with this recipe!

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  • 5 stars
    The only way to smoke steelhead. I have done well smoking it for less time at a constant temp. Perfect recipe.

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  • 5 stars
    Tried this with Lake Erie steelhead several times. Use a simple electric smoker. The feedback is always the same-Don’t change a thing with this recipe! I am now the recipient of all the steelhead caught on a couple boats with the express purpose of smoking it with this recipe.

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  • 4 stars
    Looks good. Steelhead are actually rainbow trout that have been to the ocean and then return to the streams they came from to spawn. Store bought trout will have a whiter meat, but wild steelhead will have an orangish color to the meat because of their ocean diet.

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  • I can still smell that smokey flavour and so can the kids. Not only do we get to enjoy reading your blog, We have been lucky enough to get a sampling!!! Thanks so much!

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  • Oh my goodness this is incredible. My dad was a huge fisherman so I`ve actually had steelhead. So good. I love trout myself. This one and rainbow are my faves. And oddly I adore small mouth bass. So good. We grew up fishing like crazy. Brings back so many wonderful memories.

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  • Steve, this is spectacular! I love trout and I know I’d love your smoked version!

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  • Yum, Steve! Looks great. Fish is a great, refreshing menu item as it begins to warm up!

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  • Steve, that is one amazing looking smoked fish. I have just started to get into the groove using my smoker and want to try salmon in it, but now I want to get a hold of a tout and try it also though I doubt any I would do would be as gorgeous as this one.

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  • Steve … You have been nominated for my NEW Food Stories Award for Excellence in Storytelling. Check out my site for the details (foodstoriesblog dot com).

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  • The contrast between the smoked exterior and the juicy interior of this trout looks great!

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  • That fish has a perfect finish! Looks wonderful.

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    • My steelhead turned out beautiful, but a little to salty. I’m sure it was operator error.

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      • Glad you liked it even though it was too salty. Did you rinse it thoroughly? That does get lots of the salt off.

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  • That’s a beautiful fish and the smoked product looks just perfect. Great job!

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  • I have never done my own fish before … Yours looks great!

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  • Hey Steve, that looks and sounds awesome! Beautiful color on the outside.

    I used to saltwater fish all the time when I lived in Texas, but not much here in Wisconsin. Been thinking about it though!

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