Best wood for smoking lake trout | 6 top options & 2 to really avoid

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  April 9, 2020

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Lake trout is a popular catch in the northern lakes of North America, especially in Canada.

If you like cooking and smoking fish, you’ll enjoy all the flavors of freshly smoked lake trout.

You can serve smoked trout as a main dish with a side of veggies, an appetizer, and even use it in soups, or baked into a delicious quiche.

In this post, I want to talk about which wood to use when smoking lake trout.

Trout lying on a wooden bench ready to be smoked

When smoking lake trout, you’ll want to choose mild-flavored woods and fruit woods that are not going to overpower the flavor of the fish.

Best wood for smoking lake trout

Using wood chips is the easiest way to smoke lake trout because logs burn at high heat, and we want a low heat and slow burn.

You can control the burn of wood chips or small chunks easily. The best woods to use are ones that have a mild flavor.

Mild woods

  • Alder – The universally agreed upon wood of choice for smoking fish. Alder chunks and chips are the most recommended wood for smoking lake trout. Alder is known for the specific smoky and earthy flavor, and slightly sweet aroma it gives to meat. It has been used by Indigenous peoples for centuries to smoke fish.
  • Mesquite – This wood has a light, delicate flavor with a hint of sweetness. It is a prevalent smoking wood, and many people really enjoy the flavor it gives, even on fish. When used for shorter smokes, mesquite will not give off a bitter taste.
  • Fruit woods – These woods include cherry, apple, and plum. They are ideal for smoking fish because their flavors do not overpower the meat. Cherry is the most popular fruit wood used to smoke seafood and fish because it gives a mild, sweet, fruity smoke flavor.
  • Willow – specifically red willow – this type of wood is an excellent choice for curing and smoking fish. It makes excellent charcoal, and the flavor is light and sweet but does not take away from the taste of the trout.

Here are my favorite woods to use with lake trout:


Check out the BBQ smoker products I use in all of my cooking here in my recommended products list.

Strong Flavors

Oak and cedar are exceptions to the rules. They have an intense flavor, but they complement trout well.

  • Oak – This hardwood has a strong flavor, but it doesn’t overpower trout. Red oak and white oak are the top woods for smoking meats.
  • Cedar – This is a wood with a powerful flavor, and it works very well when smoking fatty fish like lake trout or curing salmon.

Which wood to avoid when smoking trout

There are some types of wood that are not suited for smoking, especially trout and other types of fish. You want to avoid most softwoods and conifers which contain sap.

Cedar is the exception because it can be used to smoke and cure fish.

  • Hickory – this wood has a very intense flavor, which is similar to the taste of smoked bacon, and it is not suited for flavoring fish.
  • Cypress – this is not a good wood for smoking any kind of meat because it has a high resin content which will give off a bitter taste. It also creates a dense smoke and has a low heat content. Spruce – this wood is not recommended for smoking any type of meat because it has low heat content and makes too much smoke for proper cooking.

Here’s what you need to know about lake trout:

What is the best lake trout for smoking?

Trout is a fish in the Salmonidae family, and it can grow huge, weighing up to 40 pounds. This fish is considered a fatty fish like salmon and may contain 5 to 20 percent fat.

But, even if you’re not a fan of greasy and fat fish, choose fish that are about 6 to 15 pounds in weight, as these will contain less fat.

The larger the fish, the fattier it is. Trout fat is full of Omega 3 and one of the healthiest things to smoke for the human body, like salmon.

There is one type of lake trout you should avoid: siscowet.

This fish is exceptionally fatty, with up to 75 percent body fat, and it is not ideal for smoking.

How to prepare lake trout for smoking

First, make sure you pick a well-sized fish – ideally, it should be approximately 15 pounds. There are two ways to cut your fish for smoking:

  • filleting
  • and kiting.

If you choose to fillet, make sure to remove bones but leave the skin on, as it gives extra flavor when smoked.

Kiting refers to an old Scottish way of preparing fish: leave the fish whole and split the fish down the backbone, allowing the belly to stay intact.

You should either marinate the trout in brine or salt heavily and add some spruce or pine tree tips or rosemary springs to add an earthy and citrusy flavor and eliminate some of the fatty taste.

Combining condiments and smoke flavors is the best way to get delicious trout!

Lake trout needs to be cured in a fridge for several hours, approximately one hour for each pound of the fish’s weight. Pat the fish dry with some paper towel.

Curing the trout is essential because it forms a membrane. This membrane helps the smoke stick to the fish skin well and gives you that smoky flavor.

You want the smoke to penetrate the fish with flavor.

How long you need to smoke lake trout

The smoking process for lake trout is low and slow. The heat must be low, ideally around 180 degrees Fahrenheit and should never exceed 225 F at any point or the fish will burn.

A small trout will be ready in 1 hour, but the usual smoking process is between 90 minutes to 4 hours, of course, depending on the size of your trout.

The low and slow cooking process is very essential for trout as it will cause the bones to separate from the meat, which is extremely important if you don’t fillet your fish before smoking.

Now that you’re ready to smoke lake trout, it’s time to pick your wood and turn up the heat.

Did you know that smoked trout can be stored in the fridge for several days or frozen in the freezer for months? It’s a great smoking option for all fish and seafood lovers.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.