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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

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Original Post
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.
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

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