3 Simple and Delicious Ways to Cook Trout in the Backcountry

Time spent in the backcountry is never wasted but home does offer some amenities that aren’t easily replaced. One of those is quality food. After a few days off the grid, I start craving anything that isn’t cooked by adding boiling water to it (sorry not sorry Mountain House). Luckily, many backcountry lakes and streams contain healthy populations of trout that aren’t difficult to catch. In many cases, trout populations in these water bodies could benefit by losing a few fish to decrease competition among the others.

While catching trout in the backcountry isn’t difficult, it can be challenging to do them justice when it’s not reasonable to pack in the grill or smoker. Luckily, there are a few sure-fire ways to cook trout without adding any (or very little) extra weight to your pack.

My three favorite ways to cook trout in the backcountry (in no particular order) are:

  1. Roasted over the fire
  2. Tin foil
  3. Fish soup or stew

All three of these preparations are simple, require very few ingredients, and are a great change of pace from dehydrated meals.

Roasted Trout on the Fire

Roasting trout over a fire will be easiest with smaller fish. Once fish get larger than about 12 inches they take longer to cook and it’s more difficult to cook them evenly. Larger fish can still be roasted over a fire but you’ll probably want to rotate them a few times to get them cooked evenly. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the method.

Follow these steps to roast trout over the fire (reference the photo above).

  1. Remove the trout’s entrails leaving the head and tail on and completely remove the gills.
  2. Cut some thin, green skewers that are sharp on one end. Willows work well, as do almost any other small limb you can find.
  3. Push the skewer through the mouth of the fish and lenghtwise out the near the tail
  4. Season the fish with salt, pepper, and some oil or squeeze butter (if you brought it). The fish will also taste great with no seasoning.
  5. Suspend the fish, back down, over a bed of coals.
  6. When the skin is crispy and the meat inside the cavity looks done the fish are ready to eat.

Make sure to watch your fish carefully. As they cook the weight of the fish can pull them away from the skewer and into the fire. If the fish are large enough you can cut some small, toothpick-like branches to insert crossways into the tail of the fish that will help hold it on the skewer.

Once the fish are cooked you can peel the skin off (if you wish, I like to eat the crispy skin) and pull the meat off the bones. With smaller fish, the pin bones often dissolve and you can eat the fish right off the skewer.

As delicious as this method is, it can present one problem because it requires an open fire. Fire restrictions are becoming more common to protect against wildfire. Be sure to know and follow the fire regulations for your area.

Tin Foil Trout

Cooking trout in aluminum foil is probably the most common backcountry preparation. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t take aluminum foil on a backpacking trip. It’s probably never happened. Cooking trout in tin foil is dead simple and it works well with any size of fish.

Follow these steps to cook fish in aluminum foil.

  1. Remove the entrails and clean the fish well. You can leave the head on or take it off. If the head is left on be sure to remove all the gills.
  2. Lay out a piece of tin foil that is large enough to complete wrap around the fish.
  3. Spread a little oil or squeeze butter over the foil, if you have it (not required).
  4. Place the fish on the foil.
  5. Add seasoning (not required).
  6. Wrap the foil securely on the fish and place on a bed of coals.
  7. After a few minutes (depending on the size of the fish) flip to the other side.
  8. Remove and eat!

This method is simple and effective. With smaller fish, most of the pin bones will dissolve making it easy to pull the meat off the ribs and eat. The skin won’t get as crispy as roasting and may stick to the foil, but that’s okay. If you’re careful not to tear the foil it can be used multiple times.

Cooking fish in foil works best on open coals, which requires an open fire. However, if a fire isn’t possible you can also cook them over a camp stove or in a pan or pot (still wrapped in foil).

Trout Soup or Stew

Making a fish soup (or stew) in the backcountry may sound complicated, and it could be. But this method is very easy. You’re not going to make the entire dish from scratch. Instead, pick up a dry soup mix that only required the addition of water. I like to use something with some combination with cheese, potatoes, and broccoli but you can choose any soup mix you think would work well.

To make the soup, cook your fish using one of the two methods described above. While the fish are cooking start making the soup. Once the fish are cooked allow them to cool enough that you can touch them, then pull the meat off the bones and add to the soup.

I first had this on a camping trip in Montana and I think it was the best meal of the trip. I couldn’t believe how good it was (and I’m not much of a soup guy). The great thing is that even if you don’t catch fish, or don’t want to eat fish, you still have the soup mix to give you a meal on your trip.


There are definitely a lot more ways to cook trout in the backcountry. Most of them will require a little more time and preparation than these basic methods. I really enjoy cooking up some high-country fish with these simple methods and getting the full experience of their flavor without much else to change it. If you’ve never tried backcountry fish, give one of these methods a try on your next trip!

Konrad Hafen

Konrad is a natural resource scientist who spends much of his free time hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking on America's public lands.

Recent Posts