Wilderness Food: Lake Trout Over Cedar Coals

BWCA Gillis Lake

It’s a bit niche, I’ll admit. This method of cooking doesn’t lend itself well to universal use. There aren’t many times and places a person will readily be able to throw it together. Still, it’s too good not to share.

Last year, when I haphazardly threw a trout over the campfire for breakfast one day, I had no idea it would turn out so good. This year, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do when I went back to the BWCA. In fact, I didn’t even leave myself any other options. It was this or nothing.

Now, the flavor of lake trout makes it a good stand-in for salmon in many applications; they’re not terribly different in the wide world of fish. It makes sense, then, that the perfumed essence of cedar would go well with lake trout, as it does with salmon (cedar plank salmon, anyone?).

The Execution BWCA lake trout

The method is simple: place a gutted trout over a carefully prepared bed of white cedar coals and cook it slowly and carefully. There are a few tips I can offer along the way, however, which should help it go well.

-Gut your trout and rinse the cavity out well. Hang it in the shade to drip dry. You’ll want the fish to be dry to the touch when the fire is ready, so you may want to wipe most of the moisture off before the hang time begins.

-Prepare a fire with many sizes of wood on hand. Once it’s going, prepare the base of the cooking fire by laying down chunks of cedar that are roughly the diameter of one’s wrist. When they are blackened, arrange them so they are parallel to each other. Lay smaller pieces on top, perpendicularly. They will flare up initially, but die down as they char. When their yellow flames are almost gone, go get your trout.

-Prepare the now-dry trout by spreading cooking oil on both sides of the fish. This will help keep it from sticking to the thick, crude Forest Service fire grate. Some sticking is inevitable, but this step will help you keep more- if not all- of the meat intact.

-Lay the fish on the grate so the thickest part of the fish is over the hottest part of the fire. The rib and belly meat will soon be fully cooked, so make sure they are getting the heat a bit more indirectly.

-The actual cooking should take 15 or 20 minutes, perhaps longer. If the fire is too hot, the skin will char and the rib meat will become rubbery. Meanwhile, the meat nearest the spine will remain uncooked. Adjust the heat exposure by moving the trout carefully and sparingly. Avoid fiddling with the fire; you don’t want flames licking the fish. 

BWCA lake trout-As the meat cooks, it will firm up. Once on its second side, you’ll be able to gauge doneness by simply poking the fish with a finger. Reach into the cavity with a fork and check progress by flaking gently between the ribs.

-A dry canoe paddle works like a pizza peel for removing your fish from the grate and doubles as a platter. After a few minutes, peel the skin back and tease it from the bones with a fork. Be sure to dispose of the skin and bones according to regulations.





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