Dry brine smoked salmon

sgwill122

I've posted enough I should edit this section
Feb 21, 2011
1,844
2,003
Redmond/WA/USA
Name
Stephen
Boat
'Lady Karen' 28 Duckworth Offshore
I have been asked by a few folks about how I smoke my salmon so thought I would post here to make it easier with pics. I have done it a lot of different ways but found the easiest and most consistent is dry brining it.

Step 1: Catch some fish, chinook being the best but coho will do. Give the humpy to your neighbors.
24BF3E4F-7C8B-4929-BB6C-AA1921FD6253.jpeg


Step 2: Filet the fish making sure you remove the stomach membrane. I leave the pin bones in but you can pull them out with pliers if you really hate the bones. Cut the filets into 4-6" sections depending on your serving size preference. Slice the sections every 3/4-1" but do not cut through the skin. These slices allow the brine/sugar mix to penetrate the meat and make the end product sweeter. Salt penetrates pretty easily but not sugar which is pretty important on thicker filets but I do it on all my fish. Some guys do a glaze to try and make it sweeter at the end but I have found the slices get the job done plus they make for easy grab size pieces.

14EC2E54-A99E-460F-94BB-089910D33D45.jpeg


Step3: The dry brine, mix brown sugar and salt in a 8-1 ratio using non-iodized granulated salt. A 25lb bag from Costco is the way to go. If you use course salt the ratio will go down depending on how course the salt is, probably more like a 4-1. I generally use about 10 cups of dry brine for 3 10-12lb whole salmon. Place a layer of about 1/2" of dry brine mix in the bottom of a tote or large pan lined with a plastic garbage bag(makes clean up easier and is necessary if using a metal pot to avoid metallic flavoring). Place the first layer of fish skin side down. Now pour dry brine mix on top of the first layer of fish. Use your fingers to push the dry brine mix in between the slices in the meat. Make sure the first layer has a decent covering of dry brine and lay the next layer of fish on top skin side down and repeat the process of covering and working brine into the slices. Once the second layer is covered flip it over so the 1st and second layer are facing meat sides with a layer of dry brine between them. Cover the skin side of the second layer with 1/2" of dry brine and then add a third layer of fish skin side down. Repeat the process till you are out of fish. Don't skimp on the dry brine, it is cheap and easy to make. I cinch the plastic shut and put the tote in the fridge for 36-48 hours. After 24 hours there should be quite a bit of liquid in the tote, I open it up and mix everything around as there will be clumps of dry brine not dissolved and some pieces inevitably are not as covered in brine as others. Put back in the fridge for another 12-24 hours.
DCAD9437-A274-4141-8259-6FE27C7DB321.jpeg

Step 4: After 36-48 hours in the fridge I wash the brine mixture off in the sink and let drain for a few minutes. I do a quick rinse on the meat side just to make sure I get off any undissolved clumps of brine and do a more thorough rinse on the skin side.

8EE4A665-5194-4CB3-AB9D-3A0402859865.jpeg

Step 5: I set the sections of filets out on a paper towel to start drying and cover in black pepper. You could get exotic and add cayenne or garlic powder if you were so inclined.

52CA0CAC-43B8-4B9C-91E6-85E980FE695B.jpeg

Step 6: I use a Big Chief smoker, I have tried my Traeger but it gets too hot. Spray the smoking racks with cooking spray to make sure the fish filets will come off easily after smoking. Load the smoker with the thickest pieces on the bottom and thinnest on top. Set a fan in front of the open smoker for an hour to let the fish surface air dry and then shut the smoker and turn it on. I use four pans of alder chips. Every two hours I rotate the racks depending how fast each layer is cooking. Generally each layer ends up with at least an hour on the bottom rack. The fish is done when it feels hard on top and firm on the bottom(if it is mushy soft on the bottom it will be mushy when you eat it if it is hard then it will be dry. It is hard to get every piece perfect, Often you need to pull out some pieces early while others are left behind to finish. It usually takes 6-8 hours in a Big chief on a hot day. On cold days you can use the cardboard box it came in as insulation to speed cooking.

12D4E7A7-C589-40B3-A51E-C0718A29EC80.jpeg

Step 7: Start eating. Vac pack the sections you want to save for later after they cool down and freeze.

7971AE27-BA91-430A-AFC7-89534A9D32F7.jpeg
5FFB195E-17F2-4A45-8007-89A62F87A9BA.jpeg
 
Last edited:

Wild Bill

Remind me again why I own a boat
Aug 4, 2010
3,461
3,484
Camano Island
Name
Steve
Boat
Otter Craft
I also dry brine using similar ratio of salt and brown sugar. I do not sliced the fillets but will have to try that. I also have a spare fridge in my shop that I put the fish in over night to form the pellicle. I have a large reach in cooler converted to a smoker and usually do 30-50lbs at a time. A temp controller cycles two burners two maintain temp. I use these for smoke, utilizing pellets. https://www.homedepot.com/p/A-MAZE-...VkiCtBh2u1AbeEAQYAyABEgJ66fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds. I also utilize a temp probe to help ascertain when to pull the fish, shootIng for 130 degrees. I start with the probe in a thinner piece and pull all similar sized pieces at 130. I then go to the thicker pices and do the same. Many publications say 160 degrees internal to make it safe, which is fine if you like it very dry. As long as fish has been previously frozen, brined correctly and handled correctly during the pellicle forming and smoking process, It will be safe at lower target temps. Dry brining has made for some the best and consistent smoked fish I have ever had. Nice write up, thanks for sharing.
 

bdrlgion

I've posted enough I should edit this section
Apr 11, 2014
509
395
Seattle
Name
"Mulligan"
Boat
18' Tiderunner Runabout
I can attest to the quality of this product!

Looking forward to cranking up the Bradley later this week.
 
  • Like
Reactions: sgwill122

sgwill122

I've posted enough I should edit this section
Feb 21, 2011
1,844
2,003
Redmond/WA/USA
Name
Stephen
Boat
'Lady Karen' 28 Duckworth Offshore
I also dry brine using similar ratio of salt and brown sugar. I do not sliced the fillets but will have to try that. I also have a spare fridge in my shop that I put the fish in over night to form the pellicle. I have a large reach in cooler converted to a smoker and usually do 30-50lbs at a time. A temp controller cycles two burners two maintain temp. I use these for smoke, utilizing pellets. https://www.homedepot.com/p/A-MAZE-...VkiCtBh2u1AbeEAQYAyABEgJ66fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds. I also utilize a temp probe to help ascertain when to pull the fish, shootIng for 130 degrees. I start with the probe in a thinner piece and pull all similar sized pieces at 130. I then go to the thicker pices and do the same. Many publications say 160 degrees internal to make it safe, which is fine if you like it very dry. As long as fish has been previously frozen, brined correctly and handled correctly during the pellicle forming and smoking process, It will be safe at lower target temps. Dry brining has made for some the best and consistent smoked fish I have ever had. Nice write up, thanks for sharing.
Bill your setup sounds sweet, I am jealous. Good point on the temp recommendations.
 

Reel Hooker

“Ice Melter”
Sep 9, 2013
2,823
2,632
Carnation
www.metropolitandetail.com
Name
Benjamin
Boat
Parker 2320 Long Cabin 'REEL HOOKER'
this is a pretty dang good write up and most of it is very useful for the new smoker or someone who can't smoke fish consistently. the only input I have is to try brining your fish outside of the fridge and with no slices in the flesh. your observation of sugar not entering is not cause of lacking slices. its actually due to the temperature drop you are giving the fish in the fridge. if you are using a safe amount of salt in your brine there is no need to refrigerate, the salt keeps the bad bacterias from marrying with the meat. you'll find that once you brine it out of the fridge your sugars are absorbed much better and your flavor profile will also be deeper cause the flesh is not cold and keeping osmosis from happening, which is a balance of salinity. also one more point on salt ratios, the size of the grains of salt don't matter as long as you use the same weight!!! if you measure by volume then you better use the same type/size salt each time.


Also for the love of god don't use KOSHER SALT from morton!!!!!!!!!!! It contain Yellow prussiate, and anti caking agent.......BUT it is also used as a flux on welding rods, it is converted to blue prussian once added to the iron of welding rods, but not safe and not healthy. if you have yellow prussiate in your salt then when your fish sits on a metal (Iron, chrome, or any other ferrous metal) you may notice some places of your fish, usually around the fat that drips amy have a small blue drop pf oil, yeah that shit is poison!!! also sodium ferrocyanide, or yellow prussiate when combined with acid of any kind can form gaseous cyanide, and that not good either, so stay away from Morton kosher salt, for all types of cooking and marinades, not healthy, and yes meat has enough iron to convert the salt to Blue prussian when heat (BBQ) is added as a catalyst. this all stuck in my head from my 300 level organic chemistry classes in college, facts maybe slightly incorrect, but you can google if you want the real story of it.
 

bdrlgion

I've posted enough I should edit this section
Apr 11, 2014
509
395
Seattle
Name
"Mulligan"
Boat
18' Tiderunner Runabout
this is a pretty dang good write up and most of it is very useful for the new smoker or someone who can't smoke fish consistently. the only input I have is to try brining your fish outside of the fridge and with no slices in the flesh. your observation of sugar not entering is not cause of lacking slices. its actually due to the temperature drop you are giving the fish in the fridge. if you are using a safe amount of salt in your brine there is no need to refrigerate, the salt keeps the bad bacterias from marrying with the meat. you'll find that once you brine it out of the fridge your sugars are absorbed much better and your flavor profile will also be deeper cause the flesh is not cold and keeping osmosis from happening, which is a balance of salinity. also one more point on salt ratios, the size of the grains of salt don't matter as long as you use the same weight!!! if you measure by volume then you better use the same type/size salt each time.


Also for the love of god don't use KOSHER SALT from morton!!!!!!!!!!! It contain Yellow prussiate, and anti caking agent.......BUT it is also used as a flux on welding rods, it is converted to blue prussian once added to the iron of welding rods, but not safe and not healthy. if you have yellow prussiate in your salt then when your fish sits on a metal (Iron, chrome, or any other ferrous metal) you may notice some places of your fish, usually around the fat that drips amy have a small blue drop pf oil, yeah that shit is poison!!! also sodium ferrocyanide, or yellow prussiate when combined with acid of any kind can form gaseous cyanide, and that not good either, so stay away from Morton kosher salt, for all types of cooking and marinades, not healthy, and yes meat has enough iron to convert the salt to Blue prussian when heat (BBQ) is added as a catalyst. this all stuck in my head from my 300 level organic chemistry classes in college, facts maybe slightly incorrect, but you can google if you want the real story of it.
what types/brands of salt would you recommend instead?
 

keithsalmon

I killed a fish and I liked it
May 28, 2012
102
361
buckley, WA USA
Name
keith board
Boat
The Kimberly Marie
I use a similar brine and add fresh diced garlic. Not the shit in the little jar, that can have a funk to it, I add 6-8 cloves diced fairly fine per 4 cups of brown sugar and rinse it off with the brine.
 

Reel Hooker

“Ice Melter”
Sep 9, 2013
2,823
2,632
Carnation
www.metropolitandetail.com
Name
Benjamin
Boat
Parker 2320 Long Cabin 'REEL HOOKER'
what types/brands of salt would you recommend instead?

Well, there are lots that are just fine, any table salt that is non-iodinized will work.

If you are asking what I would use then that's a different story, cause my family doesn't eat anything processed or lab made.....within reason......for this reason I use pink salt for everything from canning to brine, to salting food on table. it does not dissolve 100% is the feed back most people mention. but actually the salt does dissolve, just the minerals and clays are left behind. Its just important to make sure that you measure salt by weight, not volume when changing salts if you were a measuring cup kinda guy. just weigh your previous dose and now you know how much pink salt to use. it may increase your cost a bit, but its so cheap till that being healthy is way more important. you will notice less of a metallic taste to your smoked meats if you have been a kosher salt kinda guy.....you'll notice it even if you didn't notice the metallic taste before, its there. would love to hear feed back if you decide to change salts.

cheers
 

Frosty Jax

Well-Known "Member"
Jul 31, 2009
88
22
Olympia, WA
www.ramseycoinc.com
Name
Jack Ramsey
Boat
255 Grady White Sailfish
Sounds like a good process. Good to know about the salts. I use a similar dry brine and I love Black Pepper.

I don't have a decent freezer. I have a frost free (see also freeze dryer), anything that is not vacuum packed very tightly will get freezer burn. Consequently, I have been getting way into canning. I use the same brining and smoking process, but the Salmon needs to be brought up to between 90 and 100 degrees internal temperature. Any higher and it gets quite dry in the jars. The nice part of it is that at 90 degrees the skin falls off and the meat is still flexible enough to roll into the jars. It keeps for a long time and if the power goes out you don't loose you food stash

There will be some oil that comes out of the fish in the jars, but when I do it right there is very little difference in texture or taste between canned and frozen. I always have a jar or two with me just in case. I found one under the seat of my truck the other day that was 3 years old. It was delicious.
 

TooManyHobbies

The guy that makes the glass stuff
May 10, 2010
1,731
1,132
White trashville
Name
Garrett
Boat
21' SeaRay Laguna CC "Sea 'Scape"
You use just straight salt/sugar mix? No other seasonings?
Ryan, I do mine pretty much the same; I prefer Mediterranean sea salt, and I season with black pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes and ginger powder, while it's in the drying (pellicle) phase. Adding spices in the brine.. they just seem to get lost, IMO.
 

Reel Hooker

“Ice Melter”
Sep 9, 2013
2,823
2,632
Carnation
www.metropolitandetail.com
Name
Benjamin
Boat
Parker 2320 Long Cabin 'REEL HOOKER'
Ryan, I do mine pretty much the same; I prefer Mediterranean sea salt, and I season with black pepper, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes and ginger powder, while it's in the drying (pellicle) phase. Adding spices in the brine.. they just seem to get lost, IMO.
oh you are using the wrong spices then!

nothing worse than a frost free freezer, they work by thawing for 15-20 minutes, which lowers the freezer temp obviously, this leading to the ice crystals and freezer burn.

a properly cured, smoked piece of fish should last vacuum-packed for almost a year in the fridge, no freezing needed. if you need to freeze smoked fish to keep from spoiling then you have lowered your slat content to much.....lots lessen salt for diet reasons and that is making your fish no longer shelf stable. a non table salt will be less salty and allow you to use a proper ratio of salt and not need a freezer to preserve an already preserved food.

more food for thought. I just love the science behind food preservation.
 
  • Like
Reactions: FishPimpII

SureThing

Well-Known "Member"
Dec 12, 2011
51
18
Enumclaw/wa
Name
Mark
Boat
22' Arima SureThing
If I’m understanding the ratio properly it is 8 parts brown sugar and one part non-iodized salt?
I have never tried a dry brine before and would like to try. Thank you for the write up I enjoyed it.
 
  • Like
Reactions: sgwill122

Justin Joy

Newbie
Sep 7, 2019
8
4
Vista Ca
Name
Justin
Boat
None
My tried and True Method is 8 cups brown sugar 1 cup Non Iodized salt. 1/4 cup garlic powder 1/4 cup onion powder and 1/4 cup black pepper.

add fish to let stand in a fridge for 24-48 hrs remove rinse Add fresh cracked black pepper and smoke with Apple and Alder Mix. People that did not like salmon Loved my smoked salmon I used the same for steelhead also. I alway left the skin on Man Do I miss Living in Auburn Wa.
 

Reel Hooker

“Ice Melter”
Sep 9, 2013
2,823
2,632
Carnation
www.metropolitandetail.com
Name
Benjamin
Boat
Parker 2320 Long Cabin 'REEL HOOKER'
4:1 brown sugar to salt is actually correct, and that is based on food preservation......not taste or preference, or your experience.....rather food safety.


just like when canning you vent for 10 min and process 90 min. some say you can skip the venting, and some say you can lower processing time and sure maybe you can and they have success with it. but that doesn't make it right or safe.

8:1 is most certain the reason that people end up having to freeze preserved food.....this is not a good ratio for preservation. No doubt it tastes great, but you are not preserving food, you are merely cooking it and freezing it.

if people are getting fish that is to salty, your brine time is to long. an 8-12 hour brine is all that is needed. its no wonder people are brining for 48 hours, you guys have no salt to cure the meat in your recipe, and are depending on sugar to help cure, when in fact the sugar is only there for flavor.

I challenge anyone who uses an 8:1 to try to reduce it to 4:1 or increase your salt by 1 cup, and reduce your brine time,,,,,actually don't go by time, go by texture of the meat. notice it is floppy and soft when it is first dry brined. then after 6 hours feel it, you will see that it is enough for most fish less than 1" thick, it will be firm and possibly even hard on the flesh's surface. this is excellent and will increase the production of the pellicle, which is the break down of proteins that forms a skin or glaze on the fish. and once it is there (some use a fan to aid drying, but time is better as it is actually a protein breakdown vs just drying the surface, FYI) you can start your smoking.
-one more tip, if you raise the temp slowly and not close the door for the first 30 minutes the you won't quickly cook the outside and seal the rest of the meat from getting smoke. you will have deeper richer flavor from this added step.

thicker salmon filets may need longer but usually not more than 12 hours if you have 25% of your mixture salt.

you can put what ever spices you want, and amounts you want, but don't screw with salt ratio.

the forming of the pellicle is also the key to a moist piece vs a dry piece that is of the same batch and brine and brought to the correct temp.

the only way to make good smoked salmon is by making bad smoked salmon first.
 

EJ Swanny

Three Generations of Uff-Dah
Nov 30, 2010
2,662
1,469
Redondo/WA
Name
Erik
Boat
"Riley-J" 2006 21' Proline Tourney
I always wanted to dry brine. Just can't get over wet brining as I think it infuses it more.

One cup Kosher Salt, One Cup Brown sugar, to a gallon of water. Brine 12 hours, pat dry, let stand 1-2 hours to get a glaze.

Wet or Dry brining, here is where it gets serious. Do Not, over smoke your salmon, it becomes bitter. One pan when you put the racks in, and one pan to finish it. (for pan smokers only). Brush with 100% maple syrup an hour before done as well.

I used to think the more smoke the better...NOT
 
  • Like
Reactions: Frosty Jax

Reel Hooker

“Ice Melter”
Sep 9, 2013
2,823
2,632
Carnation
www.metropolitandetail.com
Name
Benjamin
Boat
Parker 2320 Long Cabin 'REEL HOOKER'
@EJ, very interesting input, and thought. i Won’t get into your brine cause you know my feeling on kosher salt. and I won’t touch bases with you on wet vs dry brining because you have clearly stated that you “think“ wet is better.

BUT, you said something that actually isn’t true and since you only made the statement and didn’t have a reason for it I thought I’d touch that. The ‘bitterness‘ you get from more than two pans is NOT from to much smoke. This is a common mistake, you are not the only one that thinks this. Its from raising you temperature to quickly. It seals the flesh like a good sear on a steak and then all your smoke for the whole smoking time is just sticking to the outside and building up........AND.....since you are using kosher salt and raising the temperature quickly you have now added your catalyst to you friend “yellow prusiate” and a little iron from your metal smoking racks and ba dah bing you have you new friend BLUE PRUSSIAN a toxic compound used as flux and anti corrosive agent on welding rods. Oh and wouldn’t you know it, but that shit is bitter....

I know Nineball loved this read too!
 

TooManyHobbies

The guy that makes the glass stuff
May 10, 2010
1,731
1,132
White trashville
Name
Garrett
Boat
21' SeaRay Laguna CC "Sea 'Scape"
@EJ, very interesting input, and thought. i Won’t get into your brine cause you know my feeling on kosher salt. and I won’t touch bases with you on wet vs dry brining because you have clearly stated that you “think“ wet is better.

BUT, you said something that actually isn’t true and since you only made the statement and didn’t have a reason for it I thought I’d touch that. The ‘bitterness‘ you get from more than two pans is NOT from to much smoke. This is a common mistake, you are not the only one that thinks this. Its from raising you temperature to quickly. It seals the flesh like a good sear on a steak and then all your smoke for the whole smoking time is just sticking to the outside and building up........AND.....since you are using kosher salt and raising the temperature quickly you have now added your catalyst to you friend “yellow prusiate” and a little iron from your metal smoking racks and ba dah bing you have you new friend BLUE PRUSSIAN a toxic compound used as flux and anti corrosive agent on welding rods. Oh and wouldn’t you know it, but that shit is bitter....

I know Nineball loved this read too!
FYI Benjamin, 99% of 'Kosher salt' has nothing in it but salt. No Iodine, no anti-caking crap, nothing. That's why it's 'Kosher'. I mentioned I only use Mediterranean sea salt for similar reasons. It's got nothing else in it and I think it tastes better.

Eric, here's why I prefer the dry brine.. When done right, the salmon already has a crust/skin on it when you take it out of the fridge. Contrary to what Steve said, I always try to keep my temp below 120 F. Also, I only smoke fish on rainy or overcast days!
 
  • Like
Reactions: TwoTapPat

Reel Hooker

“Ice Melter”
Sep 9, 2013
2,823
2,632
Carnation
www.metropolitandetail.com
Name
Benjamin
Boat
Parker 2320 Long Cabin 'REEL HOOKER'
FYI Benjamin, 99% of 'Kosher salt' has nothing in it but salt. No Iodine, no anti-caking crap, nothing. That's why it's 'Kosher'. I mentioned I only use Mediterranean sea salt for similar reasons. It's got nothing else in it and I think it tastes better.

Eric, here's why I prefer the dry brine.. When done right, the salmon already has a crust/skin on it when you take it out of the fridge. Contrary to what Steve said, I always try to keep my temp below 120 F. Also, I only smoke fish on rainy or overcast days!
you're only partially right Garret, I mention the use of Morton Kosher salt, and that is not why it is kosher salt. Kosher salt is a salt that is used to make kosher meats kosher, by removing blood in a salt water bath. Kosher salt is coined KOSHER cause in making kosher foods you must use large course grains for extracting blood before cooking. It is true that there are Kosher salts out there without anti-caking agents, but you are better off just staying away because they don't have to mention the use of anti caking agents if less than a certain amount and its one of the ways that the square crystalline structure is disrupted and the kosher salt gets its unique flake size and shape. I know most of the time people just like to so and don't like a bit of science so I rarely spew my input on bringing and salt....so take it how you will and please brine and smoke as you like....take my input like a grain of salt. But I know a thing or two about keeping kosher and being kosher.

there are lots of holes in my posts about kosher salt cause it is very boring to most.

I would however put my salmon against anyone else. and the only reason I don't enter it in any local competitions is cause they require the recipe and I will only share the salt and sugar ratio

Next time I see you in westport im giving you a pice of salmon and a beer
 
  • Like
Reactions: FishPimpII

KimH

Someday I'll live the dream.
Mar 4, 2009
2,438
2,087
Tacoma/Westport WA/USA
Name
Kim
Boat
26' Duckworth..."Mayhem"
Interesting.....I've done both but tend to do dry. But....
My deck boss in Alaska married an Alaska native. Their village Scammon Bay is North of Nunivak Island a ways on the mainland.

Anyway her mother smokes salmon the way it has always been done in her family. Brine, hang, dry/smoke. You can look up this method of preserving/smoking in various places. Terris was telling me their brine of choice is.....seawater....so I guess a wet brine.
 

TooManyHobbies

The guy that makes the glass stuff
May 10, 2010
1,731
1,132
White trashville
Name
Garrett
Boat
21' SeaRay Laguna CC "Sea 'Scape"
you're only partially right Garret, I mention the use of Morton Kosher salt, and that is not why it is kosher salt. Kosher salt is a salt that is used to make kosher meats kosher, by removing blood in a salt water bath. Kosher salt is coined KOSHER cause in making kosher foods you must use large course grains for extracting blood before cooking. It is true that there are Kosher salts out there without anti-caking agents, but you are better off just staying away because they don't have to mention the use of anti caking agents if less than a certain amount and its one of the ways that the square crystalline structure is disrupted and the kosher salt gets its unique flake size and shape. I know most of the time people just like to so and don't like a bit of science so I rarely spew my input on bringing and salt....so take it how you will and please brine and smoke as you like....take my input like a grain of salt. But I know a thing or two about keeping kosher and being kosher.

there are lots of holes in my posts about kosher salt cause it is very boring to most.

I would however put my salmon against anyone else. and the only reason I don't enter it in any local competitions is cause they require the recipe and I will only share the salt and sugar ratio

Next time I see you in westport im giving you a pice of salmon and a beer
I learned something new today!

I will look forward to that piece of salmon!


Hey wait a sec.. Are bbq'd pig brains kosher?? LOL