Whole, smokegrilled trout

There’s nothing that spells summer to me like grilling a whole salmon or trout. Grilling it whole also makes it juicier and more forgiving in terms of temperature. One small note on this, I see a lot of people “grilling” whole fish completely wrapped in aluminium foil. Now I don’t mean to be a BBQ snob, but I am, so here goes. When you do that, you’re basically steaming the fish, not grilling it. There’s also no way for smoke and other flavours of the grill to get into the fish. So, you might as well go inside and steam it in your kitchen, much easier. There.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at a good way of getting that delicious smokegrilled flavour on a big piece of whole fish. Trout or salmon can be used here, that’s up to you.

Total time: 2-3 hours
Skill level: Easy/intermediate
Grilling method: Indirect, two-zoned (some coals on each side, none in the middle)
Grill temperature: About 175 degrees centigrade (350F)

You’re going to need:
A medium-large whole trout (or salmon)
2 lemons
Some butter
Fresh dill
A clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
Oak wood chips (alternatively alder or fruit wood)
(Optional) A long fish basket for large fish
If no fish basket, some cardboard and heavy-duty aluminium foil

Serving suggestions:
Mustard-dill sauce
New potatoes (boiled or baked on the grill)
Butter-steamed spring cabbage
Grilled spring onions

How you do it:

  • Get the grill started as instructed above
  • Clean the fish if it hasn’t been done for you. Remove the head, tail, use kitchen shears to cut off any fins. Rinse it off in ice-cold water and dry with paper towels
  • Cut some diagonal slashes on both side of the fish, quite deep. We do this to allow the smoke and flavours to penetrate the meat properly when grilling.
  • Put thinly sliced lemon and some dill sprigs in each slash
  • Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper, put some more lemon slices and dill sprigs in there too
  • Make a herb butter by melting a cup of butter, then chucking in a minced garlic clove and a handful or two of chopped dill. I also put some pepper in there, but that’s optional
  • If you  have a fish basket, good. If not,cut out two pieces of cardboard slightly larger than your fish. Wrap them in two layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil
  • Brush one of your new cardboard “planks” with butter
  • Brush the fish on both sides with herb butter and put it in your fish basket or on your cardboard plank
  • Put some water-soaked smoke wood chips on the coals. I like to get a good smoke level started before I put on meat or fish, because raw meat seems to take up smoke flavour more readily. This goes for all meats. Always get the smoke going good first, then put the food in.
  • Once the smoke gets going, put the fish in the middle of the grill, on its plank/basket
  • Baste the fish with herb butter every ten minutes
  • When the fish has been on the grill for 30-40 minutes, depending on size and temperature, it’s time to flip it. If you have a fish basket, that’s easy. If you have cardboard planks, butter up the second plank, and use your grilling gloves to flip the fish over on plank #2. It can be a bit tricky, so be careful
  • Grill the fish another 30-40 minutes until ready. If you have a Thermapen or other instant-read thermometer, look for the fish to be 55 degrees centigrade (about 130F). If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, make a small incision on the widest section of the fish near the backbone. The meat should be pale pink and opaque, not translucent and pink/orange.
  • Serve!
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Equipment – Basic setup

I live in Norway, where the selection of grills and accessories is pretty scarce, so I have some good ideas and experiences when it comes to how to make do with a pretty simple setup. Here’s my opinion on what you need to get started doing real low & slow BBQ.

In Norway, gas grills are increasingly popular. I have one myself, but it’s been standing unused on the patio since I got my Weber kettle last year. I don’t recommend anyone to get a gas grill if they plan to do some slow-cooking at low temperatures. If you must have a gas grill for this, get an expensive one that has a separate burner for a smoke chamber. On the regular gas grills, making smoke usually means keeping at least one burner on half or full, which means it will get too hot in the grill for doing things like pork butt.

There’s actually a lot of stuff you can do with this very basic type of grill. As long as you have a lid, some valves for temperature adjustment and some creativity and DIY skills, you can do all sorts of fun stuff with a basic Weber kettle or similar. And they’re fairly cheap, last long, and have spare parts readily available. All in all the best place to start. It can do direct grilling, indirect grilling. I even make 12-16 hour pork butts and beef ribs on my Weber kettle with nothing but briquettes and smoke wood, and a steel pan from Ikea full of water to help me keep a steady temperature. Using this setup I’ve managed to keep a steady temp of 100-110 degrees centigrade (210-230F) for many, many hours. It takes some effort, practice and skill, but that’s also what makes the food taste extra good when it’s done, isn’t it?

Based on my experience, here are my recommendations for a good, cheap and versatile setup that will bring you years of BBQ joy:

  • Standard Weber kettle, 22-inch (best size for availability of various accessories)
  • Chimney starter (never use chemical firestarters again, I use newspaper soaked in some food oil, and it will light charcoal and briquettes easily)
  • Water source or fire extinguisher (safety is always important)
  • Some good grilling gloves, I use leather builder’s gloves from the local hardware store, they’re cheap so I just replace them when they get too dirty
  • A good pair of long tongs and a nice flat spatula with some surface area
  • A cheap, basic digital, probe thermometer for larger cuts of meat like pork butt or roasts
  • A hinged fish basket, preferrably one with a detachable handle so you can leave it on the kettle and still get the lid on properly. If you don’t find one with a detachable handle, get out your dremel or some other metal-cutting power tool, and make one without a handle. You can use your tongs and/or gloves to flip it.