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Smoking fish on the trail?
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Rob E

Locale: Canada
Smoking fish on the trail? on 02/02/2012 11:17:25 MST Print View

I've been compiling fish recipes and came across this youtube video:

In which the author hot smokes quite a bit of fish over a fire in a pot. Has anyone ever tried this? How was it?

For the smokers out there, I have a few questions:

* How essential is it to bring the wood chips? Can you use wood and twigs you find on the trail? Are some woods poisonous or to be avoided?

* Does it need to be shavings, or would "chunks" work? I have some apple wood pieces, about the size of a quarter. Is there an easy way to turn it into much finer pieces? I am thinking about something like a cheese grater... but for wood. I guess a file would work.

* Is it important to try to have a fairly tight sealing lid to keep the smoke in?

* I have 900ml Ti pot, will this permanently scorch the bottom black? Should I put some foil down to protect the bottom of the pot?

* How long does it keep?

Any other pieces of advice? All the lakes and streams are frozen here for the next few months, but I am thinking of getting some trout from the supermarket to try it out.


Edited by eatSleepFish on 02/02/2012 13:21:32 MST.

L Miller
(LMiller) - F

Locale: Maryland
Re: Smoking fish on the trail? on 02/02/2012 12:11:49 MST Print View

I never smoked on-trail, but I do have a stovetop smoker that I occasionally use in my apartment since I can't have a real smoker. It's pretty much the same principle.

The wood chips are really fine, closer to sawdust than real chips.

Using a small pot, 1 ounce of the "chips" would probably get you at least 10 smokings. For fish you really want to be sure you have a mellower flavor like alder or applewood, so I would recommend bringing your own chips rather than relying on whatever is lying around.

For example:

Definitely make sure the seal is tight. Foil on top ought to work.

You should probably have a dedicated pot for this. Even if you put foil down, I don't think you would be able to get rid of the smoke flavor in the pot -- at least while you're on-trail.

Another idea is to try it with some kind of pouch made out of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Smoking fish on the trail? on 02/02/2012 12:22:24 MST Print View

Rod, here are some of my thoughts;

In the video- The fish looked like it would taste great, but he cooked the fish, not "smoked" it. The fire was way to hot to properly smoke fish and it takes at least 6 to 8 hours to smoke salmon that thick.

The "dry" shavings he used helped add the smoke flavor to the cooked fish. The wood chunks would not produce the necessary smokey flavor in the 10 minutes he said to cook it. You could use a saw (power is easier) to make saw dust (what he used) and then dry it. Or if you have a blender or coffee grinder you don't care about you could put the chunks in there and grind them up. Wood chips from the trail might have too much dirt and moisture to be effective.

Yes the Ti pot would get scorched (black on the bottom). You could get a cheap aluminum pot like his for pretty cheap that would do the trick. Wider than your 900ml though.

No you don't need a super tight seal on the lid- he used a piece of foil (foyle, his spelling), it works just fine.

Not a bad idea to cook this way- he did start out with a lot of salmon for one guy. As I said above you need very little heat and more then 6 hours to smoke the fish if you plan on storing it for later.

Edited by bestbuilder on 02/02/2012 12:24:38 MST.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Hot smoke on 02/02/2012 12:41:58 MST Print View

Yes, I realize it is hot smoking. On the trail I am more interested in hot smoking anyway, I won't have the time to do a "real" smoke. I am planning a packraft trip coming up where I will be trying to eat trout everyday and am basically just looking for recipes and cooking methods to experiment with.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Smoking fish on the trail? on 02/02/2012 13:02:42 MST Print View

That's pretty cool. I don't think you need actual sawdust or to carry wood chips. If you can gather a piece of wood on side, try and baton it down to make a thin slab of wood, then baton cross grain to section it into chips. That's how I made chips for my dads smoker.
I don't know if you could break a bunch of twigs or not. Would be interesting to try that out. DO NOT USE PINE. Or any conifer. It will ruin the meat. Only hardwoods.
It needs to be fully sealed off from any outside air or the wood will combust and burn your fish.
Then again, you could always do it the old fashion way by suspending the fish over a smoky fire on a rack.

Yes, a wood fire will mess up the bottom of your bot, but some scrubbing with a brillo pad can fix it easily. Or you can just leave it ugly. I really don't know about inside though. But maybe it would be a little sooty.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
pot soot on 02/02/2012 13:18:17 MST Print View

oh, I should have clarified: I'm not worried about the outside of the pot. I use it over open fires all the time, often with twigs and wood that has a lot of sap and the pot gets covered in a sticky tar/creosote like soot that is hard to get off.

I am more worried about the inside of the pot. For instance I only have the one 900ml pot, and it would be nice if the inside remained soot-free, and as an added bonus it would be nice if every meal afterwards didn't taste like smoke as well.

Why do pine and softwoods ruin the meat? Is it a taste thing?

I am pretty horrible at identifying trees. Despite growing up in a remote logging community and basically living outdoors, my tree/wood identification skills stop at tree vs. bush, especially when I am gathering wood off the ground for a fire.. I never have any idea what it is.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Smoking fish on the trail? on 02/02/2012 13:28:15 MST Print View

Yeah, I'd go with hot smoking on the trail and I'm not afraid of backwoods plumbing - I've brought hot tubs on backpacking trips. But cold smoking like to make lox is so involved and you are really counting on the smoke and brine to preserve the fish unlike in hot smoking where you have belt, suspenders and second belt of smoke, brine, and heat to preserve the fish. Also, hot smoking results in a lighter product that you won't have to keep as refrigerated to pack it out.

For wood chips in a hot pan on an electric element, you can use any chunks of hardwood or fruit wood. Apple is good, Alder or Hickory are common. You can buy shredded one-pound bags that are between chips and sawdust for the electric smokers. You want a lot of surface area for your "chips" because only the outer surface chars and makes smoke.

Since you have apple wood at home, clean up around a chop saw or table saw and then make cuts every 1/8" to turn the whole thing into sawdust. Sawdust gives more smoke per minute but needs to be replaced more often than larger chips and sawdust should be used in thinner layers.

A bunch of things are going on in hot smoking. Salt, sugar and smoke are themselves preservatives, but they also osmotically draw out more water from the fish. That helps preserve the fish and reduces its weight.

I'd ignore any recipes that call for a liquid brine because that's very wasteful of salt and sugar and generates a lot of waste brine. I'd go for dry rub of salt and sugar and maybe use a pack towel to dry off the "sweat" that comes out of the fish into the dry rub. Then take off the rub and go on to hot smoking.

Test any procedure at home on small quantities of store-bought fish. Bracket your recipes (best guess, more salt, less salt) and see how you like the results. KEEP NOTES. In a few runs, you'll be dialed in and know how many supplies and how much time to take when in the woods.

Alaskan Natives set up their "fish camps" each year for weeks at a time and process on site. I get my sockeyes only 4 miles from home, so I work in my kitchen. But I like the idea of processing your catch as soon as possible. One year, 500 miles from home, I vac-packed on the beach and then froze the fish on the drive home using ice chests of ice plus salt - like you'd use to make ice cream at home.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Re: Re: Smoking fish on the trail? on 02/02/2012 13:45:12 MST Print View

Hi Dave,

Lots of great info there, thanks. I have spent a lot of time up near Alaska: either in the Yukon around the Kluane park area, or near the Skeena River, which is near Ketchikan. Aside from being to Ketchikan and Skagway a few times, I haven't really ventured much into Alaska though, exploring Alaska is on my bucket list though.

What are your thoughts on using hot smoking as a way of preserving fish for a few days on the trail? (disregarding it's potential to be bear bait)


Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: pot soot on 02/02/2012 13:45:42 MST Print View

The piney, resiny flavor from pines will put a nasty flavor into the meat. Most other woods will work just fine, unless they have a specific smell. Oaks, hickory, birch and most everything else will work fine. Alder is considered by many to be the best wood for smoking fish.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Re: Smoking fish on the trail? on 02/02/2012 13:50:11 MST Print View

If you wanted to preserve the fish, you would probably want to dry the fish, or have it somewhat dry. In that case, an very low fire and lots of smoke would help it dry out into a sort of jerky. Inside the pot it would retain all it's juicy moisture.
Here is a good video of a guy making venison jerkey for the trail, the principles should work well for fish. If it's sunny out, you could also tie some of the fish fillets to the back of your pack and have the sun dry them as you hike.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Birch and Alder on 02/02/2012 13:51:26 MST Print View

Hi Justin, ok, thanks for the heads up on the pine. There are usually an abundance of Alder and Birch where I am heading... it is good that both of those are good for smoking, as I have a heck of a time telling them apart,


Edited by eatSleepFish on 02/02/2012 14:05:55 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
If you must smoke, smoke fish. on 02/02/2012 14:03:16 MST Print View

Rob: to keep fish on the trail, I see:

1) pack on ice if you're traversing snowy passes. Mini styrofoam ice chests (like doctor offices get vaccines in) aren't super compact, but there are super light and could keep snow from a pass for 2 days afterwards. Longer with tricks.

2) cook the fish normally and keep it cool - you could do that with river water and through the night leave it in a nalgene or ziplock under a rock in the river. Western mountain rivers are close to fridge temps.

3) hot smoke the fish (and it keep as cool as is easy afterwards). With a bit of sugar and brine and bunch of smoke and heat, I'd expect you could get a week of "shelf-life" if you avoid it ever getting really warm. I base that on our home-smoked salmon that we've had open on the counter for a few hours, back in the fridge for a few days, repeat.

Hot smoking would be the most work after you catch the fish, but if it's a fun pursuit, great. Hot smoking would give the longest, easiest shelf-life afterwards.

Also, depending on state law, processed fish usually isn't part of the your bag limit. Yesterday's and the previous day's gutted, on-ice fish count as part of your bag limit. Fish that has been processed usually wouldn't be part of that limit. e.g. I can drive around with 200 pounds of vac-packed-frozen or smoked sockeye fillets and a bag limit doesn't apply. But if I have 35 beheaded sockeyes in a cooler, I'd better have my in-state, personal-use permit with me and be somewhere between the fishing area and my house. Otherwise, I'd be held to a Sport-fishing daily catch limit of 3 and (I think) a bag limit of 6 in possession.

Then take some smoked fish, some cream cheese (are there ultra-pasteurized no-refrigeration versions?) and some herbs and whisk it with a fork into salmon spread to put on crackers. Pass that around the campfire and you might be more popular than the guy who packed in the six-packs. (I've done both on top of Half Dome).

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Birch and Alder on 02/02/2012 14:07:27 MST Print View

Alders are bushes trying to be trees and annoying positioned between the true forest below and the alpine country above. They are the main reason I always have long pants with me if I'm going off trail.

I read a travel guide notation that "Beavers enjoy a varied diet of Popular, Aspen, and Birch," and I thought, "How the heck is that varied?" Whitish bark, single trunk, round leaves.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Birch and Alder on 02/02/2012 14:22:22 MST Print View

Yeah, Alders are a pain. I had to bushwack through some in Denali to get down a mountain.
Here in Calfornia though, they become regular trees. We have red alder which has beatiful wood, when split it looks a lot like redwood.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Birch and Alder on 02/02/2012 16:54:49 MST Print View

"Alders are bushes trying to be trees and annoying positioned between the true forest below and the alpine country above."

We've got that variety in Washington, which we refer to as "slide alder", but here alder also refers to a nitrogen fixing tree that occurs early in the succession from bare ground to coniferous forests. It makes for a pretty good fire wood and smoking wood, but has an annoying, and sometimes terrifying, habit of uprooting and falling across trails when it is windy.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
First try on 02/02/2012 19:20:44 MST Print View

I went and got some rainbow trout from the grocery store to try this out. I thought I would be conservative on my first attempt, so I added a little bit of water to the bottom to poach the fish. The result was spectacularly good: delicate fish with a very rich smokey aroma with a very sweet acidy highlights from the apple wood. However, it was definitely "poached fish with a smokey flavour", not smoked fish. In the future I will experiment with not adding water and try to dry it out with smoking. I wanted this to be a "trail simulation" as well as a recipe simulation so I used my Ti Caldera Cone and 900ml pot that I bought from TiGoat.

Here are some pictures

A nice filet of fresh rainbow trout from the grocery store. This probably came from a fish farm on Lake Huron.

rainbow trout

Then added a layer of apple wood chips and water to the bottom of the pot.

Apple wood and water

Then a twig to give the chips some room to smoke:


Then a layer of fish on the twig rack:

fish layer 1

Then another layer of twig racks. I re-positioned it a bit better after taking the picture to give the fish more room.

more twigs

Then cover it up with another layer of fish which filled the pot:

more fishf fish.

Then onto the fire:

caldera cone

I cooked it for 25 minutes, which was probably longer than it needed to be, but since the pot was full of fish and some of the pieces were covering one-another, I wanted to wait until it was fully done. The beauty of poaching fish is that it is so forgiving.

Done. The fish was done beautifully. No pieces were burnt at all and it was absolutely delicious!


Here are some pieces of apple wood from the bottom. It definitely would have helped to have smaller bits of wood, or sawdust, but this is what I had.

burnt wood chips

The final meal:

Dinner time

Edited by eatSleepFish on 02/02/2012 19:22:20 MST.

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
Re: First try on 03/12/2012 20:44:41 MDT Print View

Very cool. How long B4 the water was gone and how was the bottom of the pan inside after you finished

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Re: Re: First try on 03/13/2012 19:20:17 MDT Print View

Hi Mark,

I cooked the fish for about 15-25 minutes. Tough to estimate how long it was because the first few minutes the fire wasn't that hot. It could have probably been cooked quite a bit less, 10-15 minutes would probably have been fine with the all the steam in the pot.

The bottom of the pan was in good shape, no burn marks. There was still some water left in the bottom, but the wood chips were really burnt. I had the top sealed fairly well with aluminum foil so I don't think that there was much chance for the steam to escape. In the future I think I will add a little bit less water, even though, I didn't have very much there to begin with... maybe a bit less than 1/4 inch in the bottom.

Edited by eatSleepFish on 03/13/2012 19:21:24 MDT.

Cody Croslow
(Graelb) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
so... on 03/13/2012 22:51:17 MDT Print View

Just for fun... what exactly are the steps here if you're going to use a rub to add a little extra flavor from the salt and the sugar?

Also... is this something you'd use when cooking for dinner? Or for the next few days? I've also heard of "baking" fish wrapped in tin foil, put in a pot with a little water on the bottom.

I'm trying to figure on a good method of cooking my caught fish, which doesn't require a ton of pre-preparing, and still tastes pretty good. My friend likes to fry in oil with flour and some other spices... but... Eh. Don't particularly want to bring an extra pan to fry in.

I've also thought about using tinfoil to just wrap, and put into the coals, but that's messy to clean up, and tin foil doesn't really burn up in the fire once you're done.

Rob E

Locale: Canada
Re: so... on 03/14/2012 10:00:37 MDT Print View

My primary goal with this meal/technique is to cook the fish for dinner, not preserve it for longer time periods. As I did it above, it is primarily cooked by poaching, and the wood smoke ads flavour.

If I were trying to preserve it longer, I think I would rub salt on it, leave it to cure for a few hours, then attempt to smoke it.

If I were to try to add sugar or a rub of some sort, I think I would go with honey: it is something I would be packing anyway and it should stick fairly well to the outside of the fish. My concern would be burning the honey to the bottom of the inside of the pot and never getting it off.

I like cooking fish on the trail, but don't like carrying a frying pan, tin foil, oil, seasoning just for the trout, and I'd prefer not to have to make a campfire to cook the fish either. I also find boiled fish unexciting. I was hoping to find a quick, easy, hassle-free way of preparing trout without having to carry any additional equipment or seasoning, and this method seems to fit the bill.

I want to experiment with much less water, or even none at all, and lower temperatures to see if I can get more of a hot-smoke out of it.

The primarily limitation is the small size of my pot (900ml) won't allow for very good smoking/drying if I wanted to do more of a dry smoke.

Keep in mind that I still have never tried this poach/hot smoke method on the trail, only at home a few times.

Edited by eatSleepFish on 03/14/2012 10:02:40 MDT.