Having grown up in Northern Ontario, each spring brought forth the melt of winter’s last few snow storms, sunnier days, green buds everywhere, and smelt fishing. Smelts spawn every year at the same time of year, and only for a very short period of time. Fortunately, my parents knew all of these details, and would round up the kids and the camping gear to head to Manitoulin Island for a weekend of smelt fishing.
We’d gather our buckets, fish nets, rubber boots and flashlights (you catch these at the midnight hour, when the river is bursting with them), and we’d head out and wait. Then the fishing (or should I say catching) began. Buckets would fill up in minutes, and before long, we’d be back in the rented cottage or in later years, mom and dad’s motor home to feast on a midnight snack.
Smelts would be gutted, heads cut off but tails intact. Then the breading station was set up, next to a large pot of hot oil. Once dredged, the little smelts would dance around in the hot oil for a few minutes, and then drain on paper towels, ready to be salted and consumed with a hefty serving of Heinz ketchup.
Smelts trigger powerful food memories for me, so when I see them at the market, I always pick up a package. They freeze well, and make for a quick easy snack any time of day.
I nearly always serve them the way my mom fried them up decades ago, but most recently, in an effort to be kinder to my waistline, I sought out other, non deep-frying ways to serve these little beauties. My online search landed me on the Minnesota Sea Grant‘s site, where lo and behold, I found all kinds of ways to cook smelts. Inspired by the many different recipes on that site, I decided to barbecue my smelts, and they turned out great.
This recipe is really simple, and works very well. The smelts are dredged in a mixture of barbecue sauce and butter, then wrapped in foil and cooked for about 15 minutes on the grill. If you’re not in the mood to power up the deep fryer, or face a greasy stove and countertop cleanup after cooking, this is the easy, tasty, low effort, no cleanup way to go.
This is a quick, easy way to prepare smelts, and requires nearly no cleanup effort on your part. Depending on how your smelts have been cleaned and gutted, you may have to remove the spine and bones before eating them.
You can definitely make your own barbecue sauce for this. I used a good bottled sauce for ease of preparation.
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
- 3 scallions (green onions), chopped
- 1 pound sea smelts, cleaned, gutted, and heads removed
- Preheat your barbecue to medium direct heat.
- In a small saucepan over medium low heat, melt the butter.
- Add the chopped garlic, and cook for a few minutes, until the garlic becomes fragrant.
- Add the barbecue sauce, and cook a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the scallions, stir to combine and turn off the heat.
- Cut a large piece of foil. Spray it with non-stick cooking spray.
- Line the smelts in the centre of the foil, and brush the barbecue glaze evenly over all of the smelts.
- Fold up the foil into a square package, then place the package on the grill.
- Cook for 15 minutes, flipping it once during cooking.
- Remove from the grill, and let sit for a few minutes.
- Open the package very carefully, as steam will be coming out once you begin to open it up.
- Serve immediately. A few cold beers would be right at home with this dish.