Wednesday, November 4, 2009 to catch, great to smoke

So, you've caught some salmon or perhaps found a great deal on them at the supermarket. Now, you've got to decide how to prepare them. There are many great ways to prepare salmon but I like smoked salmon the best for a couple of reasons. First, everything just tastes better smoked. Secondly, smoking salmon allows for a much greater ability to share with your friends and to do it over a long period of time. This method freezes extremely well and I think eating previously frozen smoked salmon actually makes this smoked salmon even better as it gives the smoke time to move throughout the fish and mix with the oils of the fish to provide an incredible smoke flavor in the fish.

I cannot take credit for this recipe (as much as I'd like to). This recipe comes from a friend in Alaska that I met on the Bradley Smoker forum. One of the things on my bucket list is to join him up in Alaska, catch some salmon up there and make this recipe with fresh Alaskan salmon. In the interim, I'll just have to continue making it with Lake Michigan salmon.

Now that you've caught your salmon, how do we go about preparing it for the smoke? You can smoke the fish whole if you desire or you can give this a try. I like this method quite a bit because it allows people to eat it without having to mess with the entire fish. First, you'll need to fillet the fish (if you've bought the fish at the grocery store, chances are you've bought it already filleted.

Now, if your trays in your smoker are large enough to handle the fillets, you could definitely smoke the fillets in this state and you'll still have some great smoked salmon. I like to take it a step further to make it easier to get as little or as much as a person would like. Additionally, I like to leave the skin on the fish while smoking but this is not a necessity. If you do leave it on, make sure you scale the fillets or you'll have scales on the meat. While this won't ruin the meat, why deal with scales if you don't have to? Also, you'll want to take the time to get as many bones out as you can as there is nothing worse than having to remove bones while you're eating the fish. The bones are large in this fish and are easily removed. I use my wife's eyebrow pluckers (when she's not looking anyways) and they're easily removed. Most salmon bought at the grocery store is usually de-boned as well.

Here's how I cut up the salmon:

I try to cut up the salmon in strips around 1/2" wide but it isn't an exact science. I just do it this way for ease of eating. You can cut it up anyway you'd desire and still have an excellent product. I leave the skin on because I believe the meat will stay more firm in this state but again, if the skin's not on, you'll still be fine. Now that you've gotten the fish in the form you'd like to smoke it in, you're going to need the ingredients for the brine. This recipe calls for very basic ingredients. Here's what you'll need for this recipe:

1 gallon cold water
1 quart teriyaki or soy sauce (sometimes I feel a little dicey and go 1/2 teriyaki and 1/2 soy)
1 cup pickling salt
2 Lbs brown sugar
2 Tbsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp cayenne pepper

Now, you can add whatever spices you think will add to the flavor of the fish. I've found that 3 Tbsp of cayenne gives it enough kick to satisfy my taste but not too much that the kids won't eat it. Sometimes, I'll leave the cayenne out and add some diced jalapenos for the heat. You're only limited by your imagination on what you can add to this to make it your "special" recipe.

Take your ingredients and place them in a container large enough to handle the fish and the brine. I like to mix up the brine with a handheld electric mixer because it can take a while for this to mix well in the cold water. Once you've got the brine mixed up, simply place the fish in with the brine like so:

After you've got the fish in the brine, you want to let it sit in the brine from 12-24 hours. I usually try to time it so it sits in the brine from 12-18 hours. I then like to place a plate or some other item on top of the fish so that it ensures the fish is completely submerged in the brine. I'll then put the fish into the refrigerator (She Who Should Be Obeyed mandates that I use a different refrigerator than the one in the kitchen) and let it sit soaking up the brine. You can also put the fish in a cooler with the brine and add ice to keep it cold if you desire.

When the designated time you've decided to soak the fish in the brine has come, you'll want to pull the fish out of the brine and have it sit so that it forms a pellicle. This is really nothing more than a glossy shine and the fish will feel tacky on touch. Sometimes my fish will get a pellicle that is easily discernible and sometimes it won't. Generally, this process takes anywhere from 2-4 hours. I simply place the fish on a drying rack and then will turn the fish over a couple of times to help with the process. You want to avoid the pieces touching if you can as this will help with the pellicle forming process. You can also use a fan to aid in the drying process if you desire. The only thing to be concerned about at this point is that the fish isn't in warmer temps so long as to spoil the fish.

Once the pellicle forms and you're ready to start the smoking process, follow this procedure with the smoke rolling the entire time:

100°-120°F for 1-2 hours, then increase to
140° for 2-4 hours, then increase to
175° for 1-2 hours to finish

Use the longer times given for thicker/higher oil content fish. As a general rule, the higher temp you use or the longer you hot smoke, the more the meat cooks the oils out, however, the meat becomes dryer/tougher in the process. The times used are guidelines and I like to inspect the fish to determine when to increase the heat. You really have to try hard to ruin the salmon and leaving them at these temps for a longer period of time will not destroy the fish so if you get sidetracked, don't worry because chances are that your fish will still turn out excellent. The one thing you do want to watch for is if you're doing fish of different sizes. During this smoke process, the steelhead were smaller fish than the king salmon, so you want to watch the smaller fish more closely as they'll get done sooner. Additionally, if you've got a place that's hotter than another in your smoker, you'll want to rotate the fish so that you get some uniformity in temps when smoking. You may find that your fish is developing white "boogers" (didn't want to make this too technical) when smoking. This simply means that you're smoking the fish too hot/too fast. Back the temp off a little and you'll be fine. The boogers won't hurt but will make the final product a little less appealing to they eye but not the palate.

After all of this is complete, you should end up with a delicious treat that looks something like this:

I like to remove the skin after the fish has been smoked because my family prefers not to have the skin on and it makes the skin removal extremely easier after the smoking process than before.

This doesn't take a whole lot of work but the results will make you a hero in the eyes of your friends and family. It does come with a word of caution: If you make this, you won't like the taste of store-bought smoked salmon anymore as this will blow any store-bought smoked salmon out of the water.

Obviously, you can smoke this with any type of smoker, although temperature regulation may be more difficult with a stick smoker versus other types. If you don't have a Bradley Smoker, I highly recommend you take a long hard look at them. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bradley Smokers are as close to set it and forget it as you can come. They're perfect for smaller smokes and extremely easy to use. I'm not employed by Bradley and I don't get any type of remuneration from them but I am a huge fan of theirs and believe that if you're new to smoking or you're looking for an easier way to smoke your food, this is the way to go. Additionally, if you're in the market for one, I would only go one place to purchase one: The owners are friends of mine through a smoking website and I've found no one else that provides the type of customer service that they provide. They are a delight to deal with and will give you a great deal to make your smoking process as economical as possible. I will only recommend items and businesses that I would recommend to my family and I guarantee that Yard and Pool will satisfy every smoking need you could have with regards to Bradley Smokers!

I hope you enjoyed this post.....I'm really excited about this time of year. Thanksgiving is coming up soon and that means smoked turkey. Deer season is right around the corner and that means smoked venison sausage. Please check back often as there will be some great recipes to be found!


  1. Hi Marc!
    It's great to see you back at it and I am enjoying your new posts big time!

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    It's good to be back. Times got tough for me but you just push through. I've enjoyed your latest posts as well. Well done!