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Enjoying Steelhead Cuisine: Preparing Steelhead Like a Pro

Steelhead trout are unique fish because the individuals develop differently depending on their environment. Although all mature fish lay their eggs and hatch on the gravel bottoms of rivers, some fish live all their lives in the freshwater, while others migrate to the ocean where they grow larger.

For an angler who likes to enjoy the fish they’ve caught, you’re probably asking yourself this question: are steelhead good to eat? If so, then what is the best way to prepare and cook steelhead?

The short answer is yes. As a matter of fact, steelhead trout can be a great alternative if you can’t find good salmon. In addition, steelhead can be prepared in versatile ways to appeal to every seafood enthusiast.

Keep on reading to learn more about eating steelhead and the best recipes to add this fish to your dinner platter.

Are Steelhead Good to Eat?

grilled steelhead

If you’ve ever been invited to a dinner party or ordered a seafood platter at the restaurant, ending up with a fish that looks and tastes a lot like salmon but isn’t, then it’s probably a steelhead trout. Steelhead can be prepared and served in multiple ways, from being cured in spices to being cut into a fish taco salad. It can even be used for sushi.

Steelhead trout is usually the more home-friendly, more sustainable, and more affordable alternative to salmon. However, the fish has a unique taste of its own.

This silvery fish has orange flesh like salmon but a milder taste. The flesh has medium flakes and a mild texture, so it works for gentle and more intense cooking methods. A steelhead can handle grilling, baking, broiling, poaching, pan-searing, and smoking.

Author Note: Steelhead cooks a little bit faster than a salmon and doesn’t break apart. Also, since it has lower fat content than salmon, this fish can be sliced easier and cooks faster when soaked with spices.

A steelhead is a healthy type of seafood because the flesh is rich in lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, there’s a difference between farm-raised and wild steelhead trout.

Farm-raised steelhead has a controlled diet based on the fishery. As a result, these fish taste more like trout and less like salmon. Wild steelhead that can be caught from the ocean has a more intense salmon-like taste and flavor. Nevertheless, based on their location, steelhead trout can be an endangered species, and you’re not allowed to catch them.

Are Steelhead Trout and Rainbow Trout the Same?

Steelhead and rainbow trout refer to the same fish species, but they live in different ways. Rainbow trout spend all their lives in freshwater, like rivers and lakes. Steelhead trout spend the first few years of their lives in freshwater then migrate to the ocean.

Steelhead trout grow to be bigger than rainbow trout, and their flesh has a more intense taste. They eventually return back to freshwater to lay their eggs. However, there are a few features that can help you set the two types of fish apart.

  • Size is the most significant indicator. If you catch a trout that is longer than 26 inches, then it’s probably a steelhead. An average rainbow trout can be 16 inches. Some steelhead trout grow to reach the length of 45 inches.
  • Rainbow trout can also get bigger as they grow older. So, you should look at the fish’s body. If it has a lot of scars, then it’s probably an older rainbow trout and not a young yet big steelhead.
  • Steelheads are more shiny silver than rainbow trout. They also have brighter colors and heavier spotting.

Are All Saltwater Steelhead Equal?

several steelhead swimming

Not exactly. Although saltwater steelhead go through the same lifecycle, avid anglers can differentiate between the fish based on the number of years they spent in the ocean.

  • One-salt steelhead is a fish that spent only one year in saltwater. This fish weighs between 2 and 6 pounds and usually spends its time along the coast. Some of these fish never get into the deep waters and eventually return to freshwater, where they live just like rainbow trout.
  • Two-salt steelhead fish spend at least two years in the ocean. During this period, the fish will go deeper into the water and will weigh around 10 pounds.
  • Three, Four, and Five-salt steelhead spend more time in saltwater. Fish can weigh more than 20 or even 30 pounds. Most fish spend four to five years in the ocean before they return to freshwater. The oldest caught steelhead trout was recorded to be 11 years old.

Can You Eat Steelhead Raw?

If you’re catching steelhead from the ocean, then you definitely can eat the fish raw. Of course, the taste isn’t for everyone, but lots of anglers and seafood lovers enjoy eating tuna and Spanish mackerel right out of the water.

However, since most steelhead trout are caught in freshwater, it’s not recommended to eat this fish raw. This is because freshwater fish, including steelhead trout, carry more parasites than saltwater fish. These parasites enter the humans’ bloodstream and can lead to serious health issues.

Author Note: Saltwater fish contain some parasites too, but they’re by far less harmful and don’t survive in the human body. Nevertheless, health experts recommend that fish should be frozen at – 4 degrees Fahrenheit for at least a week to kill any parasites that might be living in the fish’s body.

However, if there’s no access to ice or freezing equipment, it’s best to eat your raw steelhead as soon as possible. The more you wait, the more bacteria will grow in the fish’s body, so it will be more dangerous to consume.

How Healthy is a Steelhead Trout?

Steelhead trout is actually one of the healthiest seafood types that you can eat. It’s even safe for pregnant women.

Steelhead is rich in several healthy nutrients, as only 3 ounces of steelhead will provide your body with more than the daily recommended amount of vitamin D. The fish is also rich in vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and selenium. At the same time, it contains lower levels of toxins and contaminants like mercury and dioxin.

What is the Equipment Needed to Catch Steelhead?

Bobber or jig fishing is suitable for catching steelhead. Steelhead live close to the bottom but will be attracted to the color of the jig.

Author Note: A good spinning reel and rod will help you catch the sneaky steelhead because your equipment will be able to handle the fish’s weight. In addition, the line should float on the surface, so you can set the hook without the line sinking into the water.

Most anglers go for a monofilament 4-pound line that is either clear or green, depending on the conditions. Noodle and ultralight rods that are 9 or 10 feet long work well for catching steelhead because they absorb the power of the steelhead without snapping.

Several types of bait can be used to catch steelhead like wax worms, nightcrawlers, minnows, egg sacs, and maggots. Choosing the bait depends on the water conditions, so pick minnows if the water is clear, and stick to egg sacks if the water is muddy.

Maggots, wax worms, and nightcrawlers work in every fishing condition. The hook size should range from 14 to 22.

How to Clean Steelhead?

After catching the fish, you can easily clean and prepare it for the most suitable cooking technique. For this process, you need a sharp fillet knife and kitchen shears.

  1. Start by cutting the gills to bleed out your fish.
  2. Use your fillet knife to cut the fish’s belly from the bottom up to remove the innards. You might use the shears if they’re stuck and then wash the fish. You can use this fish as it’s if you want to cook a whole fish.
  3. For cutting fillets, start with your fillet knife and cut under the head at a 45-degree angle until you feel the spine. Then tilt your knife and run it flush along the spine. You should hear the grinding noise when the bones on the back touch the knife’s blade.
  4. Run your blade all the way down until you get one fillet.
  5. Flip the fish over and do the same thing on the other side.
  6. Make a small incision to remove the eggs if there are any.
  7. Cut the belly piece.
  8. Use your fillet knife to remove the rib bones by making small incisions and moving slowly so you don’t ruin your fillet.
  9. Trace the pin bones with your finger to cut away from them. You can remove the skin or keep it.

How to Cook Steelhead?

cleaned steelhead
Two fresh raw rainbow trout fillets displayed flesh side up and skin side up on a piece of crumpled white paper in a kitchen ready to prepare a tasty seafood meal

There are lots of delicious ways to prepare and cook steelhead. Here’s a fast, tasty, and easy recipe.


  • 1 steelhead fillet
  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1 minced shallot
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of dill or parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon zest
  • Salt and black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium pan and add the shallot until it softens.
  3. Add the garlic and half of the lemon zest, then cook for a minute.
  4. Place the fish on the baking sheet. Put it diagonally if the fish is too big.
  5. Pour the butter over the fish and add the dill or parsley.
  6. Roast the fish for about 15 minutes and check the doneness with a fork.
  7. Add the rest of the lemon zest and serve.

Wrap Up

Steelhead trout is one of the most popular seafood types. It can be caught from freshwater and saltwater and prepared in multiple ways.

The fish looks and tastes a lot like salmon, but it’s more affordable and easier to catch. It’s also a healthy fish that contains a lot of essential nutrients.


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