Humans have been smoking food for thousands of years, and what once began as a means of preserving food is now a way to add flavor to food, especially fish.
However, getting the right wood for smoking fish is essential. Choose one that is too strong, and you will overpower the mild flavor of the trout. Or even worse, choosing the wrong wood could leave your trout bitter and inedible.
Best Wood For Smoking Trout
Trout is a mild flavor fish that pairs well with mild-flavored woods for smoking.
For the purpose of this article, I will label all fish considered “trout” as trout; even though some of these fish are technically char, they are still treated the same as any trout when cooking.
Whether trout or char, you should choose wood to compliment the fish and not overpower it.
Some slightly stronger woods, such as oak and maple, can be used because they pair well with trout, but typically fruit trees are used due to their mild flavor.
Alder wood is one of the most delicate woods for smoking and makes the perfect companion for smoking trout.
The flavor emitted from using alder for smoking is slightly sweet, with subtle notes of earthy flavor.
The sweetness pairs well with trout, while the earthy flavor reminds you that you are eating smoked fish.
I like to smoke trout similarly to how I cook trout; using the approach of less is better.
I do not like to overseason trout, nor do I like to overpower them when smoking.
Alder is perfect in that regard; it adds merely a hint of flavor to the fish allowing for the full flavor of the trout to reign supreme on your palate.
This is what makes it the go-to wood for smoking almost all kinds of fish.
Alder trees are widespread and can be found almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere.
If you happen to be fishing in South America, you may struggle to find alder wood.
As I mentioned earlier, fruit tree wood is ideal for most fish, including trout. I particularly like it for trout because of its mild yet sweet flavor profile.
Though cherry wood is slightly stronger than alder, it is still relatively mild compared to woods like hickory.
Cherry is sweeter than alder, so if you are looking for that little extra sweetness in your trout, then cherry is a better option.
Cherry wood also adds a nice color to the trout; few other kinds of wood on the list add such a beautiful color.
The greatest thing about cherry wood is that it pairs well with other smoking woods.
For example, cherry with a bit of oak creates a sweet smokey flavor that works well for larger trout like lake trout.
Lake trout have a higher fat content than rainbow or brook trout; they also don’t have that clean flavor profile smaller fast water trout have.
This is why using cherry paired with oak creates an excellent combination for these trout; it’s mild enough to still work with the trout but slightly stronger on the smokey flavor to work with the extra fat and stronger taste.
Another reason for mixing cherry wood is that they are not great at fueling the smoker alone. This is why oak is such a great partner to cheery wood; it burns steadily for a long time.
The downside is it’s not so easy to go out and find yourself some cherry wood if you are looking to smoke a fish shoreside. There is plenty for sale in stores, or you may have some at home already.
Apple wood is very similar to cherry wood for smoking. It has a mild flavor and is slightly sweet.
This profile pairs very well with trout. As we mentioned above, cherry is great for pairing with other woods, and apple is one of the most common woods mixed with cherry.
Although cheery and apple wood flavors are similar, you can notice the difference with delicate foods such as trout.
Outside of the color difference, another noticeable difference is the intensity. Both are mild woods, but the apple is a little stronger than the cherry.
Maple is another great wood for smoking trout that blends well with some of the woods already on this list.
Like most woods on this list, Maple wood has a delicate flavor. However, although the flavor is subtle, it adds a slightly stronger smokey taste to food.
It’s also another wood with a sweet flavor, again a little stronger than cherry or even apple.
Although maple is more commonly used for ham or poultry, it lends itself well to fattier types of trout, such as lake trout.
It can also be used on smaller trout, like brook trout or rainbow trout, but I find its flavor ever so slightly too intense for these fish.
One great thing about maple is the temperature it can burn at. When smoking trout, you don’t want the temperature to get too high.
Maple wood can smoke at very low temperatures, which makes it ideal for smoking trout.
Beechwood is another mild-flavored wood that is suitable for trout, but unlike most of the other woods here, beech wood has a more nutty flavor than sweet.
The nuttiness of the beech wood works well with all types of trout. And because it has a mild intensity like fruit woods, beech wood can be used on the most delicate of trout like brook trout, cutthroat trout, or rainbow trout.
However, beech wood is a little more like maple with its smokiness flavor, which is slightly more intense than cherry or apple, but not so much that it overwhelms the fish.
Oak is one of the most popular smoking woods for various foods.
Everything is smoked in oak, from meats to cheese and even salts and seasonings.
The reason for this is that oak has an excellent flavor profile.
While I wouldn’t recommend oak for everybody, it’s great for those looking for something a little more substantial but not as strong as something like mesquite.
How to Choose Wood For Smoking Trout
When choosing wood for smoking your fish, there are a few things to remember.
Intensity is how strong of a smokey flavor the wood imparts on the food. For a delicate food with a subtle flavor like trout, you want a low-intensity wood for smoking.
Choosing a wood with a strong intensity will overpower the trout’s natural flavor and may leave a bitter taste.
The flavor is different than the intensity. Although we are looking for a smokey flavor, it’s not all we are looking for; we also want the woods flavors.
These flavors are usually sweet like cherry or apple or nutty like beech.
Sweet flavors work particularly well with trout, as do nutty flavors.
Although color plays no part in the taste, as the saying goes, we eat first with our eyes.
A pleasantly colored piece of smoke trout is more appealing than a grey-looking piece of trout. Cherry imparts the best color to trout, making the skin and the flesh a deep color.
When smoking trout, we want to keep the temperature fairly low to prevent the fish from burning or drying out.
Any wood that burns too hot will not be suitable for smoking fish for this reason.
Although there are methods to reduce the heat and prolong smoking, like soaking the wood first, I prefer to choose a more suitable piece of wood to begin with.
Wood To Avoid For Smoking Trout
As I mentioned above, trout is a delicate fish with subtle yet great flavors.
It’s very easy to overwhelm trout with other ingredients and flavors, particularly smoking.
For this reason, avoiding intensely flavored woods such as hickory or mesquite wood is best.
There is no denying that a properly smoked piece of trout is as good as any other method of preparing trout.
Although smoking trout is relatively simple, it’s also very easy to get wrong.
If in doubt, start with a very mild wood, like alder. If you are looking for something a little more, you can mix woods together to create a more complex flavor.
Rusty enjoys connecting food and nature and has done so since a child. He was fortunate enough to explore cuisine worldwide and work at great European restaurants. He now enjoys thinking up new recipes that he can find around him in nature in North America.