Secrets from the CIA: Turn your Gas Grill into a Backyard Smoker

Credit: CIA/Ben Fink

CIA’s Smoked Trout with Apple-Horseradish Cream

By The Culinary Institute of America

Want to turn your ordinary outdoor gas grill into a backyard smoker? Culinary Institute of America Chef Howie Velie has the grilling tips to teach you how.

“You can easily turn your gas grill into a smoker with a few inexpensive items,” says Chef Velie. “For instance, all you need to smoke trout fillets are about five charcoal briquettes, an aluminum roasting pan, and some hardwood chips. Place the charcoal briquettes onto your gas grill, let them start to turn gray, and turn them so they gray on all sides. Meanwhile, soak hardwood chips in cold water. Once the charcoals are gray, place them into an aluminum roasting pan. Drain the water out of the wood chips and place them directly over the coals. Put the pan onto the grill and in about three minutes you will see the chips start to char and create black smoke. Place the fillets onto the upper rack of the grill and close the lid.”

Smoked trout is delicious and a good recipe for a first-time smoker to quickly master. Since the fillet is so thin, you will want to place it on the top rack of the grill where it is not as hot and will not burn. Position the aluminum pan with the smoke directly under the fish so it will absorb the smoke.

Prepare the trout by scaling, de-boning, and then salting to “dry” it. When you apply the salt mixture, make it slightly heavier over the thickest portion of the fish and thinner where the fish begins to taper at the tail. This drying stage, during which the fish is left uncovered in the refrigerator, develops a skin that picks up a lot of the smoky flavor.

“In the old days, smoking was a way to preserve fish if you caught more than you could eat. Today we smoke fish and meat simply because we love the flavor,” adds Chef Velie.

A variety of hard wood chips are available in kitchen specialty stores and also online. In addition to woods like hickory, pecan, mesquite, alder, oak, maple, cherry, apple, peach, or pear, you can also use grape vines, wine barrel chips, corncobs, seaweed, and even used tea bags as the smoking agent.

The following recipes, along with more than 175 others, are explained and illustrated in The Culinary Institute of America Grilling cookbook (Lebhar-Friedman 2006, $35), available for purchase at bookstores nationwide or at

Smoked Trout with Apple-Horseradish Cream
Makes 6 servings

6 pan-dressed trout, 10 ounces each
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Zest of 2 lemons
2 cups mixed baby greens
2/3 cup Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced
1 cup Apple-Horseradish Cream (recipe follows)

Lay the trout out on a baking sheet skin-side up. Scrape the skin lightly with the back side of a knife to remove the scales.

Combine the salt, sugar, garlic and onion powders, pepper, and lemon zest.

Cover the belly and tail sections of the trout with a 1/16-inch layer of the salt mixture and cover the thicker sections with a ¼-inch layer. Let the trout sit for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Rinse the trout in cold water and place on a wire rack. Let dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 6 and up to 12 hours.

Prepare a smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions or set up a disposable smoker.

Place the trout skin-side down in the smoker and let it smoke for 10 to 15 minutes at between 225 degrees and 250 degrees F. If you are using a disposable smoker, the cooking time is about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Toss the greens with the Lemon Vinaigrette. Serve the trout with the dressed greens, sliced apples, and Apple-Horseradish Cream.

Chef’s note:
Pan-dressed: Portion-size whole fish with the guts, gills, and scales removed. The fins and tail may or may not be rimmed or removed.

Nutrition analysis per ounce (trout only)*: 45 calories, 7g protein, 0g carbohydrate, 2g fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 450mg sodium, 20mg cholesterol, 0g fiber
* Analysis may vary depending on how long the salted trout remains in refrigerator.

For a brief step-by-step video of showing how to turn your outdoor gas grill into a backyard smoker, visit

Apple-Horseradish Cream
Makes 1 cup

¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup grated Granny Smith Apple (peeled before grating)
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
¼ teaspoon salt

Whisk the heavy cream until medium-stiff peaks form. Fold in the sour cream, apple, horseradish, and salt.

The sauce is ready to serve now or store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Nutrition analysis per ounce: 60 calories, 1g protein, 2g carbohydrate, 5g fat, 3g saturated fat, 115mg sodium, 15mg cholesterol, 0g fiber

Lemon Vinaigrette
Makes 2 cups

1/3 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons minced parsley or chives (optional)
1 teaspoon honey
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1½ cups extra-virgin olive oil

Blend the lemon juice, vinegar, parsley or chives (if using), honey, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add the olive oil gradually while whisking until all of the oil is added and the vinaigrette is smooth.

The vinaigrette is ready to use now or it may be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Nutrition analysis per ounce: 180 calories, 0g protein, 1g carbohydrate, 19g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 200mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, 0g fiber


About Author

The Culinary Institute of America is the World's Premier Culinary College. The CIA's main campus in Hyde Park, NY is home to four restaurants. The college offers associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts and bachelor's degrees in culinary arts management, baking and pastry arts management, and culinary science. Programs for food enthusiasts ranging from one to five days are offered throughout the year.

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