Kosher salt is not iodized.
Measure your salt by weight rather than volume.
You can totally do this. I haven't modified my Big Chief (yet!) but I've smoked lots of fish in it. I only use the insulating blanket when it is less than 60 degrees outside. I do have a hole for an instant read thermometer to go in so I can keep track of the temperature inside the smoker. The last batch of fish I did was when the outside temperature was about 30 degrees so I had the blanket on the entire time. The temperature inside the smoker (according to my thermometer) maxed out at 165 F but that was in the third hour in the smoker when it hit that. I did about 5 pounds of fillets and I use a 4:1 brown sugar to kosher salt ratio for my brine.
If it was too salty to your taste, just drop the salt somewhat. I did a batch of 10 pounds of whitefish fillets and I went with 4 cups of brown sugar to about 3/4 cup of kosher salt. I leave the skin on all the fish I smoke except for catfish. I typically let mine go overnight in the fridge which turns out to be around 12-16 hours but I've gone a lot shorter when I didn't have tons of time.
I've also had some of the salt and sugar not completely dissolve as well. No big deal. I like a lot of smoke flavor but I've found that depending on the thickness of the fillets, I may only do 4 hours with two pans of chips (alder, hickory, and apple are my favorites). Even if I have a lot of thick fillets, I usually only do about two pans of chips. I might throw in a handful of chips after the second full pan turns to ash if I feel like it and let it go for another hour (thicker catfish fillets can even go 6 hours for me if they are big).
I like the fish to be moist on the inside and leaving the skin on (especially on salmonids!) helps retain some of that moisture. I get the internal temp to 140 and that is good enough for me.
Don't give up. There is a ton of great info and helpful people here. I've learned a ton in the short time I've been a member!
thanks for the encouragement! we have another batch brining now...we just put it in refrigerator at 11:30pm so it will go for at least 8 hours or so...
we'll let it dry (no fan this time) until it's tacky (hopefully we'll get it this time).
then keep track of the IT of the fish. I guess we'll check after 3 hours and see where we stand.
i'll let everyone know how it turns out this time...
Depending on how thick your pieces are you might consider checking the temp a little sooner, especially since you cannot control the heating element. Oh BTW, what model big chief do you have? Top or front loader?
For most of my salmon smokes, I usually smoke for the first 1.5 - 2 hours. The remainder of time with no wood.
And just remember........
we brined for about 15 hours (we intended for 8-10 hours but had an unexpected issue come up that caused us to wait before we could rinse the brined fish).
we just finished rinsing and will air dry over night...
here are pix as we dry them:
we didn't use the fireball on the salmon, but we did need it after all the work we did!!!! :)
Keep in mind that the Sockeye fillets are not thick so watch you temp and time....low and slow for me! I do Kokanee which are landlocked Sockeye and usually 16 to 17 inches with head and tail, I still do 6 hours but just watch your temps. That is the key "in my opinion".
Fish looks good at this point! Sockeye have great color!
Looks good. That's a lot of tails. Who was your guide service? Capt Steve of Ninilchik? Looks like his trade mark with the slits. Can't wait to hear about the finished product. Azbohunter said the magic words "watch your temps" Did you get a thermometer to test the fish after a couple three hours? To me being that thin and especially after brining so long, I don't think it will take very long to come up to temp.
No fireballing while smoking You might forget to temp test.
got up at 6am to start smoking this morning!
finally put them on at 8am...we are a-smokin' now!!!! :)
started with 2/3 alder and 1/3 cherry. switched to all cherry after 45 minutes. will open and check after 1 1/2 hours.
no insulating blanket this time...temps about 59 degrees, so i'm hoping that will keep the smoker a bit cooler and slow down the process.
in answer to the questions:
we didn't use a guide. were fortunate to secure an rv spot for 1 month in soldotna, 3 miles from the river. went to river EVERYDAY for 30 days...it was so much fun. we developed a little "family" each morning. stayed until we limited out (3 each). fish was soooooo incredibly fresh and red. hard not to sample some sushi at the rivers edge while my husband cleaned and filleted them..!
yes, they are thin. we chose to smoke the tails and bellies because we think they are tastiest smoked. this saves the thicker body meat for grilling, sauteing, pan frying, etc...we've been eating salmon almost daily since july...we love it!!!
ok, i'll report it soon..
again-thanks to everyone for your help and support...
I assume while you were at Fred Meyer's in Soldotna that you picked up a couple jars of the infamous British Columbia Salmon rub? Fantastic for them thicker pieces you will be baking, grilling or broiling.
4 1/2 hours and still smoking. cooler temps out today-no sun..
nice, slow cook. i think (hope) that's good...
wish i had $1 for every golfer that went by and commented on the smell!!!!! maybe i should start selling the stuff to pay for my next trip to alaska!
I personally like to leave it on mostly because no matter how good I spray the grates with non stick pam the dang fish still sticks sometimes. I would rather the skin come off than have my filet fall apart and down into the smoker. Also I think it protects the fish from any spikes in heat like when the chips flare up in a little breeze or something. I just peel it off right before vac. sealing. It is also much easier to peel it off than to have to cut it off. Especially if it isn't a huge fish. Trout are tough to filet good in my opinion. I do it anyway. I actually used to just steak my trout without filleting. You do end up with a bit more meat but the bones are a pain that way..
ok guys--final report on my smoking saga...
WHO WANTS TO BUY A SLIGHTLY USED BIG CHIEF?????
i think we did everything right. the last batch of fish tastes good but it's so dang dry.
when we had the fish processed professionally in alaska it was moist-no hard outter shell. it tasted slightly smokey (we had some done with garlic/pepper, some cajun).
the fish we smoked ourselves is more like "squaw candy"-it has a hard outter shell, semi-dry meat. it's tasty ( i added cayenne pepper and garlic to the brine) and then added additional lemon pepper to some pieces, montreal steak seasoning to other pieces, and left some without additional seasoning. i even experimented by putting in two pieces without brining at all. it still dried out.
i used a regular meat thermometer and cooked unitl IT was 140-145 (it was hard to tell since the tails are so small).
however, we also smoked the bellies and they are juicier (more oil in them ) and moister.
maybe what i consider to be smoked fish is different than what you can achieve at home.
now i don't feel so bad about spending $4/lb to have the fish processed and vac-sealed in soldotna.
live and learn......
Sorry to hear............remember how close we are to each other. I think I am going to drag some Chinook out of the freezer over the weekend and fire up the smoker. Might get a sample your way next week if interested.
Sorry, I don't have Sockeye but ahhhh, I do have some Kokanee. Same fish, just never seen salt water.