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I botched my first batch of sockeye....please help!

post #1 of 41
Thread Starter 

i just kinda botched my first ever attempt at smoking sockeye that we caught this summer on the Kenai..


here's what we did....thawed frozen fillets, washed, dried, brined (4C dark brown sugar and 1 C kosher salt), let brine for 10 hours. took out. ( there was still some brown sugar on the bottom of the bin that didn't dissolve-maybe we didn't brine it long enough?), rinsed. put on racks to dry for 4 hours (with a small fan). NO PELLICLE but a little (very little) tacky feeling (maybe we didn't dry it long enough)

. smoked in big chief (wrapped in insulated blanket) for 4 hours. used 3 pans of alder chips, which we changed out every 45 minutes (3 times, then finished the smoking with out adding more chips),outside temp was about 71 degrees, no wind. the fish came out dry with a hard, leathery top. what did we do wrong??????????

we want to do more batches, but am afraid until i hear from some experts. thanks

post #2 of 41

Welcome to the board! Sounds like too much smoke/time. You can really play around with salmon and make it hot and fast or cool and slow. Even if it turns out dry and intense, it can go into a spread for snacking in small amounts.

post #3 of 41

I'm no expert, but the results you got sound like exactly what I'd expect from the method you used. The question is, what results were you trying to get? The importance of the pellicle gets blown way out of proportion around here in my opinion. Yes, you want proteins on the surface to aid in the absorption of smoke, and yes, you want the surface to be somewhat dry. However, drying in front of a fan for hours can't help but create that leathery shell. That's great for jerky, but it sounds like you just wanted a nice piece of smoked fish for dinner. Next time just blot it with a paper towel and sit it on the counter (use the fan if you must) just until it's tacky on the surface. About a half hour. As for the dry meat, you simply overcooked it. The smoker you used runs at a pretty low temperature if I remember correctly, which is good. But its not cold smoking it. Use a meat thermometer and take the fish only to 145f. It'll be cooked through but still moist. It should also have plenty of smoke flavor. If not, invest in a cold smoke generator.

post #4 of 41

First of all welcome to the site. I just finished a whole bunch of steelhead and I did it like I always do it and it came out great. I think you might have been trying to acheive the texture of store bought smoked salmon? Or lox? Is that correct? I like my fish like good thick soft jerky. It lasts and holds up well in the backpack. If you are going for a more candied and delicate texture you will have to change your procedure. What was the temperature of the smoker? What was the air temp? Did your brine consist of anything else other than what you listed? That is a pretty low salt brine in my opinion but I don't know if that is what happened or not. I smoked my last batch for 30 hours with apple in the little cheif and it did not get too hard at all. I brined for 48 hours and air dried with a fan at room temp for 8 hours. Was the skin on or off? Pictures would help.

post #5 of 41
Thread Starter 

mdboatbum, thanks for the quick response...

we are looking for a moist smoked fish. we had some professionally smoked in alaska and it was just what we wanted to achieve here-moist, not leathery.

before i received your reply, i was thinking we didn't dry it long enough after brining. but you're saying just the opposite, which makes sense. when we let it dry (with fan) it was already appearing leathery and tough. thought that was what we were trying to achieve, but i guess not.

so, here are our thoughts now...

after brining, dry as you suggested. then we'll smoke it without the insulated blanket. maybe the smoker temp got too high with the insulation. we're in arizona so it's pretty warm (high 60's, low 70's).

i truly appreciate your help---we worked hard to catch the fish and process it in alaska and don't want to ruin it -


post #6 of 41
Thread Starter 


i don't think i want "lox" texture, but also don't want "jerky" texture...looking for a semi-moist smokey taste. we used kosher salt (1 cup) for each 4 cups of dark brown sugar. also added minced garlic (lots!)...

the flavor we got was good-maybe a bit too smoky. we used alder chips but will probably try to start with alder than switch to apple or cherry for the second (and third) pans.

i'll try to get some pictures posted at various stages soon.



post #7 of 41

Sorry about your fish, boy did I just learn a bunch



post #8 of 41
Thread Starter 


yes, we love smoked salmon salad (made with cream cheese and sour cream)...so do all our friends! we've gotten invited to so many homes since we got home from alaska!   :)

so, the taste of our first batch isn't bad-a bit too smokey perhaps (we'll switch to apple or cherry after the first alder pan)

the meat is just very dry (but not quite jerky). we just made brunch with scrambled eggs and the salmon and it was good.

we just need to figure out what dried it---too much cooking time (we can't adjust heat on the big chief) or too short of a drying time...but, after what i just read, maybe we dried it too long...it was leathery before we put it in smoker....

so confusing  

post #9 of 41
Thread Starter 

gary s

yes, that's what is great about forums...we all learn from each other!

so glad there are so many people willing to help...!     :)

post #10 of 41

Hi Suzi,

I too live in AZ and smoke salmon but from PNW. Hitting AK next year though.

I pat my fish dry with paper towels and leave it under a fan till it is dry and tacky to the touch.

I think the insulated blanket might have cause your chief smoker to run warmer than you wanted! I brine mine in a wet brine and smoke for 6 hours starting out at 100 or 110 and taking it to 170. I pull the fish at 145 IT and it comes out very good. My very first batch was like leather, I contributed that failure to have cutting my pieces to small and using to much heat.

I know that those using the Chief smokers in colder climates wrap them or put them in a box to help keep them warm. Don't think that is needed in Arizona unless you start out smoking very early in the morning on one of our "winter" days.

If you are interested in trying a wet brine..I have one that everyone loves that has tried it.

Good luck with your next attempt, Sockeye is terrific smoked! I had some done with my recipe by a friend at Thanksgiving and it was awesome.

post #11 of 41

If you want to make Kippered salmon, you need a really fatty fish....    it is brined and rinsed and dried with toweling.. placed in a 120 degree smoker for an hour, no smoke dampers wide open so the fish will dry..  a fan can be used to dry also....  then heavy smoke while the temp is raised to 225 degrees in the smoker...   about 2 hours it is done.....  the salmon is usually cut into 2-3" wide strips from belly to back....  essentially it is a baked smoked fish...  the 120 no smoke time is used to form a pellicle....  the pellicle is the most important part of the process as it totally seals the fish so there is no moisture loss....   It is tough to do without practice...

post #12 of 41
Thread Starter 


first, i'm envious of your upcoming trip to alaska. we feel so lucky to have been able to spend a lot of time there in our rv. we've been there a couple of times-if you haven't been there and want any info i'd be happy to help out...

as for the fish-what is your recipe? would love to see it.


post #13 of 41

Sent a PM......

post #14 of 41

Sorry it took me so long to chime in. Wuz too busy smokin' I heard you like your Salmon a little crunchy....yes? LOL

I guess my first question is, were you smoking your Chinook to make an entrée dish or just a typical (if there really is one) smoked salmon dish which to me is like a side dish or something you normally serve with cream cheese & crackers, etc. If an entrée then I could see why you might want it a little moisture and delicate, maybe something between what I call the typical smoked salmon and lox. I have never attempted to make smoked salmon as an entrée as I described above. Most of my Salmon main dishes are grilled on a cedar plank, etc.

Brine-The brine you describe is very similar to what I do (4/1 ratio of dk brown sugar / salt + lots of minced garlic). I have had great success with it.
My "typical" filet process is, brine for 7 hours, rinse and room dry for 2 hours (no fan), smoke for 3+ hours until I reach and IT (internal temp) of 140* Of course if the filet's are extra thick then I up my brine and smoking times.

Thermometers - Looks like you need to get a digital dual probe thermometer to watch the temp of the smoker as well as the IT of the fish, but honestly for fish, I only watch the temp of the smoker and when I have reached near the 3 hour mark then I'll use my thermapen to briefly check the IT of the fish. I do not leave a probe inserted in the fish all the time.

Mr. Big Chief - As you had inquired, yes I have converted both of my big chief smokers to an adjustable 1000 watt element. Wish I had done this long ago. Before the conversion, I was using a Auber controller which you plug the chief into the controller. Plug the controller into your AC outlet. The controller also has a temp probe that you locate the end somewhere in your smoker. The controller actually controls the heating element to come on and off as needed to achieve a certain smoker chamber temp. These controllers are not cheap. Thus when I got my 2nd chief, I figured it was time to think of another way. Another plus of my conversion is that I now have 1100 watts so if I want to crank up the heat when the air is pretty crispy, I can. I basically rip apart a 5th burner such as the following Proctor Silex and integrate it's guts into the chief.


If only you lived closer to me for I'd be happy to convert your chief.
post #15 of 41

I agree with Mdboatbum.  The pellicle was formed much earlier, one pan of chips would have been sufficient and it was way overcooked.


Maybe the following will help.  Mr T's "Smoked Salmon From Go to Show" w/Q-View


Suggest you try practicing with a small amount of product each time and make changes slowly, like one at a time.


Hope this helps, relax and enjoy you experiences remembering to keep good notes of your progress.



post #16 of 41

That is a pretty inexpensive route for a 1000 watt element!

Looks like a nice mod..

post #17 of 41

The only mod needed......   Right Craig.....  



post #18 of 41

Yup Yup Mr. Totem.



Also a couple more comments to Suezi,  that since I installed the adjustable elements I now "typically" start out at around 130* for an hours, bump to 145* for an hour then 165*+ for another hours until I reach the IT of 140*.    Something you just can't do in a stock chief.

Edited by cmayna - 1/27/15 at 10:46am
post #19 of 41
Thread Starter 

wow, you guys are great...so many ideas and thanks to all for taking the time to try to help...

i am defrosting another few pieces and will give it another try, using your input.

here's some more stuff i realized that might help you diagnose what i did wrong:


fish is a bit salty tasting. we used 4:1 ratio of dark br sugar to kosher salt with almost a whole head of minced garlic

fish was kinda tough feeling after brining. we left it out for the pellicle to form, but it never got sticky-just tough outer skin

put smoked fish in refrigerator overnight until i had a chance to vac-seal it and there was ALOT of oil (or brine?) in the bottom of the dish when i checked it the next morning...

the fish tastes good (maybe a bit smokier than i'd like-we used alder but will alternate with apple or cherry next time) but it's more like a jerky than i wanted...


in answer to a question above, the fish we had professionally processed in alaska (at $3.95/lb) was lightly smoked and moist. they smoked it with the skin on and when i opened the vac packs, the skin was moist also, yet the meat came away from the skin kinda easy. my smoked fish skin  can be used for shoe leather! (anyone need a new pair of loafers?)


now, in hindsight i wonder if we should've had more fish professionally smoked???  hope we didn't make a mistake!


i'll try again and let everyone know the outcome

post #20 of 41

Try non iodized salt instead of Kosher.


Try 1/3 adler first,  then 2/3 apple or cherry afterwards.


If you can,  try brining using a couple different recipes as some other members have suggested.  Go back and review my dry brine schedule if you are going to do more dry brining.


But most importantly, I totally disagree with your comment about should have had more done professionally.  You can do it.  It's just a learning curve.  If you are going to continue to use a Chief, consider doing the modification I talked about earlier.  You need to control the temp.

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