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Mr.T’s Smoked Salmon

Salmon has always been one of my favorite items to smoke. All types of salmon have been in my smokers at one time or another. From the Kings and hard to find Sable Fish or Black Cod to the small Blue Backs always in search of that one recipe and technique that people would crave for. After over 20 years of experiments expressly working with salmon, they now say “Don’t screw with the recipe anymore” and yes I am going to share the very sought after recipe for the first time.

My favorite salmon to smoke is the Sockeye. Its deep red color and texture seem to do well canned or kept in fridge. Although the Kings and Sable have a wonderful flavor the Sockeye is well accepted and more economical.

Please read:
You will find that I do not get deeply into the specifics, science or safety issues of curing. It is your responsibility to make your food safe.

In order to adjust the salinity while insuring my brines are within the safe zone for extended storage and consistent results, I use a salimeter like the following.

Question: Should I use fresh or frozen salmon?

Answer: Frozen, the ice crystals formed in the fish while frozen seem to aid in the brine absorption after thawing.

Question: Should I get salmon with or without the skin?

Answer: The salmon with the skin on works best. The fish has a tendency to fall apart more readily without the skin.

How long do you brine?

Answer: Some will tell you that 30 minutes to 2 hours will be sufficient. The shorter time is fine if you are going to cold smoke for sushi but that would be another thread. I brine from 16 to 24 hours depending on the size of fish mostly for convenience, but I find the texture is more firm with the longer brine.

Question: Does it go into the smoker after coming out of the brine?

Answer: No. Give it a quick rinse and pat dry. Place on a wire rack and allow to air dry until a pellicle has formed on the entire surface. This will take two or more hours depending on the humidity in your area. A fan blowing across the fish will aid in the time needed to form the pellicle. The pellicle will cause your fish or meat to have a shiny surface which will assist in smoke retention and also will help retain the fat in the fish.

Question: What are the cream colored blotches I see on some smoked salmon?

Answer: That would be fat that has seeped through the pellicle. No harm in eating it but for cosmetic purposes you may want to scrape it off after the fish has cooled.

Question: Should I hot or cold smoke?

Answer: Hot smoke for the ready to eat. Cold smoke for sushi or if it is to be canned, again that would be another thread.

Question: How long do you smoke?

Answer: It’s not the length of time but the desired temperature we are looking for. Smoke at 200° to an minimum internal temp of 145° in the thickest piece for a period of 30 minutes minimum (FDA,2001). Cooking temp may be lowered once fish has reached 145°. Store at a temperature of 38° or less ( FDA,2001).

Question: What kind of wood should I use?

Answer: Any of the light woods work well. The preferred wood I use is Alder.

Question: How much wood should I use for one fillet?

Answer: It’s always been my opinion that the smoker doesn’t know how much it’s holding. I use Approx. 3 oz. full or not.

Question: What will the end result be and how can I use it?

Answer: The salmon will be moist, neither dry nor juicy. It is not intended to be served as a main course. It's intended to be used as a finger food eaten alone or as a snack on crackers and creamed cheese or as a mouse. It also has endless uses as a appetizer. Will definitely be a hit at any pot luck. Try different appetizer recipes and enjoy. It can easily be packed in a saddle bag or back pack and taken into the mountains. WARNING: Grizzly bears like both fresh and smoked salmon.

Question: Would you share your brine recipe?

Answer: Yes and I would be proud if you used it, and then let me know the results.

Mr. T’s Smoked fish Brine

½ cup canning salt, Kosher salt or Tender Quick (preferred) 3.0 oz. by weight.
½ tsp. Paprika
1 ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp. cayenne
1 quart water
1 Tbs. garlic powder
2 cups brown sugar
4 bay leaves

PH 4.1
Sal. 84%

Combine all ingredients and stir until sugar has dissolved.
Place fish in non reactive container with brine and completely cover. A zip bag works well at this point. If using a bag I overhaul or move the fish around two or three times during the brining period.

That’s it. Any questions just ask. Have fun and enjoy.


Salmon Thawed

Salmon Filets Halved

Cut Into Sections

In Brine

Pellicle Formed

In Smoker

Ready for Packaging

Last edited {1}
Original Post

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Mr. T - Thanks for the tutorial and brine recipe. Very well written. This is next on my list as my brother in Seattle just sent me 10 lbs. of Copper River fillets (The product of a little sports bet that came out in my favor).

One question - What's the appropriate quantity of salmon, by weight, for the brine recipe posted?

Thanks for the guidance.
dls - Thank you. I usually will fill a 1 Gallon zip freezer bag half full of loosely packed fish. This will be around 2 Lbs. Cover with brine,push the air out and place in pot large enough to hold the entire bag (just in case of a leak) and place in fridge. Hope this answers your question. Let me know how it turns out. Suggest you smoke some cream cheese while the fish is in the brine. Will go great with your salmon.
By the way did you do that smoked cheese?
Mr. T. - Thanks. I'll go with 2 lbs. I've smoked Yukon River King before (another bet with my brother Smiler ), but never Copper River. Have you, and if so, how was it.

Regarding the cheese, I couldn't do the Camembert as my local cheese shop was out of it. I did do a marinaded mozzarella. I'll post the results on your cheese thread later.

Thanks again.
Last edited by dls
dls, Yes. You will find the Copper river Sockeye Salmon extra fatty and very high in Omega 3. You will be very pleased with it. You can bet your brother that your salmon will beet the salmon he finds in the Pikes Place Market in a blind taste test. Wink May get you some more salmon. Razzer

ps: I see in my notes that some of the salmon sells for over $5.00 an ounce at the Market.
Just came home from a fishing trip/vacation in Corpus Christi with about 15 pounds of Specled trout filets. What do you think about using your brine for white fish like trout? I think I'll try it this weekend. Do you have any trouble with the fish sticking if the skin is removed? I have frogmats or I could use spray on the grills.
RangerDF, The brine will work well on any fish even shellfish. Frogmats should work but, I would oil or spray nonstick for added help. Be careful removing the fish as it will flake easier without the skin. It would help to refrigerate before removing them. Just test with a spatula to determine when to remove. I would advise to fillet with skin on next time. Let us know how it turned out.
This past weekend, I was fortunate to find that the Fresh Market here locally had fresh Copper River Sockeye salmon. Based on Mr. T's posts on brining and smoking salmon, I decided to give it a try.

It came out perfect! I smoked them at 180 on my pre-IQ4 FE100 for about an hour and a half using some peach pellets. Everybody loved it. It got served with a mushroom risotto and a broccoli gratin. Very nice meal! Thanks for all your help, Tom! I could not have done it without your instuctions.
Mr. T

Getting a Cooper River and a King this next weekend. Already ordered it from the local fish market I use, they actually told me what they were getting in!

Going to try your method. I have smoked Salmon and trout many times, love it!

Will use Alder, which I normally use on fish.

Thanks for sharing.
Tigerfan, You can get ready for some good fish. I might be singing to the choir. Just a few things to consider. The fish that will be smoked will be better if frozen first. If you are going to grill or bake some, do not freeze. The Copper River salmon, Sockeye or Kings are extra fatty. It is important that you have a good pellicle. You can speed this procedure by using a fan blowing air across the fish. It could take 2 to 4 hours. Don’t rush it. The pellicle should be dry to the touch. If you are going to smoke a lot, try smoking the same sized sections of fish together. It may take two separate smokes. Smoke at 200° to internal temp of 145° in the thickest piece. Alder is a wonderful choice. Let us know how it turned out. ENJOY
I bought 3 lbs of Sockeye Wild Salmon and used T's brine to the "T". Sorry about that.

After the pellicle formed, I sprinkled with salt, pepper, garlic, dill and lemon juice all over. Then sprinkled half of it with a dusting of brown sugar. Chunk of Alder in the smoker. 235* for 1.5 hrs. Pulled when internal hit 145* (Yep, I did it. 145*).

It was delicious. My Aunt and Uncle loved it. Oh, I brined it for 6 hrs.

Interesting. I tried a piece with and without the brown sugar and feel the brown sugar actually brought out more of the salmon flavor. The sugar actually made it taste richer. Does this fit with the experience of others?
Last edited by pags
As I mentioned in another thread, I dry brine with brown sugar and kosher salt. After brining in the fridge overnight, the filets are rinsed, patted dry, then put back in the fridge until pellicle #1 forms. The filets are then painted with maple syrup, and put back in the fridge until pellicle #2 forms. That's when they go in the smoker. I think the maple syrup really brings out the salmon flavor, and gives a nice rich taste. So perhaps it's the sweet, whether you use brown sugar or maple syrup, that does the trick.
Originally posted by HAC111:
Bododio, I tried the dry brine method for ten hours and it was way too salty. I had salmon that had the skin removed, Do you think thiat could have been the reason?

The salmon I use is the wild caught rather than the Atlantic farmed, so I get skin on one side, which goes down in the dish, and I only put the dry brine on the top. I don't use a lot of the dry brine, either. Just enough to make an even coating without caking it on. And when I rinse, I rinse very thoroughly to remove all traces of the brine. There's a definite salt flavor in the finished product, but it's not overpowering at all. My guess is the Atlantic salmon is too porous, you used too much dry brine, you didn't rinse thoroughly enough, or a combination of the three. Keep notes and keep trying until you get the results that you like best. That's how I arrived at my method.
HAC111, It will be fine thus the reason for the freezing which kills bacteria, brining which preserves and bringing to the proper safe temp when smoking. Suggest using a fan to speed the pellicle process.

Give it another try and control the temps a little closer then let us know how it turns out. Should be just a little moist, not dry or juicy.

Somehow, after reading this article I understand that no nitrites/nitrates are need to be added to the brine as long as it is made at the strength that Mr T has made his brines. IF this article is correct, salt can kill(inhibit growth) of bacteria.

Anyway, I'm not near as knowledgeable as you guys, but enjoy reading and stretching my mind on occasions...LOL!
Brining fish
Clarification: There seems to be some confusion as to the end result of the recipe. Therefore I added the following to the original thread. Hope this will help.


Question: What will the end result be and how can I use it?

Answer: The salmon will be moist, neither dry nor juicy. It is not intended to be served as a main course. It's intended to be used as a finger food eaten alone or as a snack on crackers and creamed cheese or as a mouse. It also has endless uses as a appetizer. Will defiantly be a hit at any pot luck. Try different appetizer recipes and enjoy. It can easily be packed in a saddle bag or back pack and taken into the mountains. WARNING: Grizzly bears like both fresh and smoked salmon. Eeker
Hey Mr T:

I'm new to the forum but have been reading it as a lurker since I got my Smokette Elite 25 about 3 months ago. Wanted to let you know I made your salmon recipe for about a dozen people last night and they are still raving about it!

I started with two large filets about 2# each, about 3/4" thick in thickest portion. Got them fresh last week, then froze them for 3 days. Thawed them, then mixed up your brine solution and brined them in a 2 gal ziplock bag for 24 hours, turning several times during the process. Rinsed with 5 exchanges of rinse water. Then placed uncovered on the Smokette racks in the refrigerator overnight for pellicle to form. Had to put then diagonal on the racks for them to fit. Before cooking I set the smoker to 250 and preheated with 3 pieces of alder until smoke was coming out the vent hole for 10 minutes, then turned the temp down to 200. I removed the filets from the rack and sprayed the racks with Pam, then put the filets back on and placed them in the smoker. After 65 min the internal temp was 140, so I dialed the temp setting back to 175 and waited 20 min. At the end the internal temp reached 145. I removed the racks and used two oversized spatulas to pick up each filet (slid off the racks perfectly without sticking) and place it on aluminum foil and wrapped them up and took them to the dinner (5 min away).

They were a smash hit. Perfectly done, tender, and just the right amount of smoke. Even my friend who also has a 25 (an older model) and who prides himself on his smoked salmon was raving that my salmon was primo restaurant quality and wanted to know my secret. So I told him about your recipe on this forum, and he responded that he knew about the fourm but never read it, but now he will.

Bottom line: your recipe is solid gold! I'm not going to waste my time trying other smoked salmon recipes unless you recommend them.

Bottom line: your recipe is solid gold! I'm not going to waste my time trying other smoked salmon recipes unless you recommend them.


Bill, Thank you for the very kind words. Sounds like you did a very good job on them. You may also want to check the pictures out in the Seafood Forum, PICS- Hot Smoked Salmon dated May 31.

This recipe is the one I dare not change because it is so well liked around here. Just in case you can, the technique is different when canning.

Thanks again and please stay in touch.


P.S. My daughter works at the hospital and lives in Sierra Vista.
Last edited by Former Member
Just made my first fillet with a beauty of a sockeye. I ended up with an overnight pellicle formation (didn't really look any different) after a 24 hr brine.

Smoked up to 145 and then cut it. Let it rest for an hour and then wrapped up and rest more in the fridge for 8 hours and JUST when the wife got back scarfed down the first bites.

Outstanding recipe ! I make a small 2 lb batch to try it out and I was very pleased with it. I brined for 24 hours and then air dried with the help of a fan for 3 more. I used 3 oz apple and got the smoker going at 200F letting the initial white smoke disapate before putting the salmon in. Once it hit 145F I lowered the smoker temp to 145 and held it for 1/2 hour. After it cooled we tried it out an it was truely awesome. Thank you MrT !


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