There are 14 different kinds of trout in North America. Although some of them are not true trout, they are commonly known as trout to most people.
Although all of these trout are good for eating, only a handful of them are commonly eaten by people.
The cooking methods will vary according to the type of trout, but for most types, the best cooking method is pan-frying or baking.
4 Best Ways to Cook Trout
As I mentioned above, the best way to cook trout is to pan-fry or bake. However, this does vary according to species.
Pan-frying trout is my absolute favorite way to cook most trout. In my opinion, the fresher the fish, the better the taste, and nothing beats a cast and cook.
This is where you cook the fish you caught right by the river where you caught him.
One of the best things about pan-frying trout is the delicious crispy skin you get. You cannot achieve this in the oven.
However, pan-frying is not suitable for every type of trout. This method is best reserved for smaller trout and species that live in fast cool waters.
It’s great for brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, etc. But I do not recommend pan-frying lake trout or even larger-sized brown or rainbow trout.
Lake trout and large-sized trout don’t have the fantastic flakey texture required for a great pan-fried trout. They also don’t have that clean taste and almost have a muddy taste similar to carp.
It is not as pronounced as it is in carp, but you know it’s there.
Pan frying can be done with fillets or the whole fish; if you want extra crispy skin, it’s best to filet the fish.
To pan fry tout, you need a cast iron skillet, some butter, salt and pepper, and some fresh herbs if you like.
This method uses minimal ingredients and allows for the fish to create all the flavoring.
Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over high heat, but do not allow the butter to burn.
Lightly score the trout skin in one direction. I do not like to cross-score trout because it does not have a large amount of fat and can dry out.
However, I do lightly score trout skin when pan frying to prevent the fish from curling.
Season the skin side of the fish with salt and a little pepper and place it skin side down on a hot pan. Cook until the skin is crispy, all the while basting the fish in butter.
If the fillet is small, you may not need to cook it on the other side; the basting is enough. However, if it is a larger, meatier filet, turn it over and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the meat is nice and flakey.
If pan-fried trout is the best way to cook trout, then baking is the second best. Although, for some trout, such as lake trout, baking is the best method, in my opinion.
The great thing about baking trout is that it allows you to combine a host of other ingredients. This is why this method works well for larger trout that may have a slightly muddy taste.
If done right, baked trout is packed with flavor but, more importantly, is extremely juicy.
Another fantastic thing about baked trout is that it is almost as fast as pan-frying trout.
Typically the trout is cooked whole in the oven for 10-20 minutes, depending on the size.
If you want to do a catch and cook, it is still possible to bake the trout with a little improvisation.
While there are a plethora of ingredients you can combine with baked tout, it’s still best to keep it relatively simple.
Typical ingredients are garlic, lemon, herbs, and oil or butter.
To cook a trout using this method, preheat the oven to 400F. You can leave the head on or remove it; either way is fine.
Place the trout on some aluminum foil and rub some oil on the outside of the fish.
Whatever other ingredients you choose to pair with your trout can be stuffed into the cavity of the fish. This could be some lemon, herbs, garlic, etc.
Gently fold the foil around the trout to seal the whole fish. Place in the oven and cook until nice and tender.
If you leave the head on, you will get an idea of when the fish is done by the eyes turning white.
You can do the same cooking method outside. The difference is instead of using an oven, you can start an open fire and create some coals.
This method is a little more involved to ensure that you do not overcook or burn the fish.
You can also bake trout at home without using foil, but I find this method can quickly dry out trout if you are not careful.
This method works fine if you are using some kind of marinade; if not, place a pot of water in the oven when cooking the fish.
I don’t want to have to choose between grilled trout or baked trout; ideally, you should catch enough fish for both methods because they are as good as each other.
However, like pan-frying trout, grilling is best reserved for smaller trout and fast water species.
The great thing about grilling trout is not only can you get crispy skin like with pan-frying, but you can also get charred skin.
The bad thing about grilling trout is it’s not for the faint of heart. You can quickly burn the fish on the outside and be raw on the inside, it can quickly dry out, or it could fall apart while cooking.
Similar to pan-frying trout, this method is done with the bare minimum ingredients. A little salt and pepper and a drop of oil are all you need. You can add a squeeze of lemon if you are feeling adventurous.
There are a couple of ways to grill trout. You can use a grill or create a makeshift grill over an open fire.
Using a grill is best for beginners because you can regulate the temperature better and handle the fish better.
If cooking over an open fire, it’s best to use a grill basket for fish to hold the trout together.
You can also hold the fish together by threading it onto skewers if you are using filets.
To grill fish at home, heat your grill at a low temperature—season and lightly oil the trout.
Place the trout skin side down on the grill and cook until crispy. Turn the fish or fillet over and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the fish is flakey.
Deep frying battered, or bread fish works well for most types of fish and also works well for trout.
Although I wouldn’t use this method on a nice filet of cutthroat or brook trout, I would use it on larger brown trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, etc.
This is another method of cooking fish that requires minimal ingredients. A little seasoning and oil for frying some batter are all you need.
The batter for trout is best when it is light and crispy, so ideally, you should use some beer or soda to make the batter.
Fillet and skin the fish and cut them into nuggets. Heat the oil to about 325f, coat the trout in flour, and then in batter.
Drop the fish into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes until the batter is a nice golden brown color. Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel to drain.
Skin on or Skin off
For most recipes, I prefer to leave the skin on trout. The skin of a trout is edible, and when nice and crispy, it is a joy to eat.
When oven baking trout, it is also best to leave the skin on as it holds the fish together and keeps it from drying out.
I usually only remove the trout skin if deep frying trout.
Cooking Methods for Different Types Of Trout
As I mentioned above, some ways of cooking trout are better for some species than others.
This is because the more active the trout, the flakier and cleaner the meat will be.
Trout that live in fast cold waters like brook, apache, small rainbows, etc., are constantly working.
Trout that live in slow-moving water, such as lake trout or large brown trout, are not as active and thus have a mushier texture. They are also likely to take on the taste of the water due to its slow movement.
Smaller trout are best cooked with minimal ingredients and need very little preparation or cooking.
These fish hold a lot of flavor on their own, so we should not be too intrusive with our approach.
On the other hand, larger trout need a little help to elevate the flavor. Still, you don’t want to overdo it as it is still a trout after all(or char).
A little extra herbs, tomatoes, or seasoning is enough to help it. These fish are also best oven-baked or deep-fried due to their inferior texture.
They are not bad by any means but are not on par with smaller trout.
You may have gathered by now that I’m an advocate for minimal seasoning on trout.
I find that trout are plenty flavorful on their own, and I don’t want to overpower that taste.
For larger trout, I may get creative if oven baking or deep frying, seasons like garlic or paprika go well with trout.
You could also make a rub or a marinade, but try to keep it simple.
It’s hard to choose one method as the best way to cook trout, given that different species or sizes work better with different cooking methods.
However, if I had to pick one, I would choose pan-frying. I find this the best method as it gives me the best-tasting fish. Pan-fried, brook, brown, or rainbow trout is better than oven-baked lake trout, in my opinion.
Experiment a little with the methods above to find your favorite, but keep it simple.
Rusty enjoys connecting food and nature and has done so since a child. He was fortunate enough to explore cuisine worldwide and work at great European restaurants. He now enjoys thinking up new recipes that he can find around him in nature in North America.